Fool of Fate

Fool of Fate

Ricardo Bare

June 2014 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-506-6

Book 2 of The Novels of the Seven Courts

Our PriceUS$15.95
Save wishlist

Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy

Heartless. Until Cassandra awakened the memory of his human emotions, Jack willingly hunted and killed the enemies of the Lady of Twilight, a witch who locked his beating heart away along with all his pain.

Now Jack has won a temporary reprieve from the Lady so that he and his giant friend, Minnow, can find the fabled city of Argent, where Cassandra languishes inside a dark tower.

With time running out, Jack must ally with Moribrand, a charlatan he once stalked. Their desperate search leads them into treacherous mountains where wind spirits control the skies and powerful wizards battle to locate Argent first.

In the quest to prove his heart to Cassandra, Jack may remember how easily it can be broken.



Coming soon!



THE HUMMINGBIRD wasn’t just a hummingbird.

There was something more to it, but it couldn’t quite remember what it was at the moment, even though it had seemed like the most important thing in the world a few days ago.

Not that there was anything dull about regular hummingbirds. It couldn’t think of a more elegant, wise, or handsome species. That splash of vermillion on its throat was nothing to be ashamed of, nor was the coat of emerald foil flashing on its back. It had wings that twitched along at speeds impossible to track, wings that let it zip around in the blink of an eye or hold perfectly still in midair. All of that power and agility tucked into a body barely bigger than a man’s thumb.

But it was tired.

At any moment, the hollow frame of its bones was going to snap like dry kindling from the excruciating effort it had already spent to keep its wings beating day after day and night after night. A powerful urge to simply go limp and fall from the sky like a stone threatened to overwhelm the bird’s will.

Its eyelids drooped. The thrum of its wings stuttered. The ground rolled and bucked beneath it, surging upwards while the hummingbird sank. A frantic voice cried out in its mind. Don’t give up! Find the tower! The words sent a jolt of adrenaline through its tiny body. Awake and alert suddenly, the bird shot back up and hoped no one had seen its momentary lapse. It would have been deeply ashamed.

Which was a strange thing for it to think if it really was just a normal hummingbird. Why should a bird care to be seen faltering in the air? Or even ask itself such questions in the first place?

What sort of creature am I?

A hazy memory rose to the forefront of its mind. It pictured an old man with a beard like spider-silk and skin crawling with wrinkles. The hummingbird knew the old man. His open mouth was like the knothole of an ancient birch, which it had flown into countless times.

The bird’s brain clung to that image, questions ticking now as fast as its wings. Who was the old man? His master? No, the old man was only a house. A sort of cloak that could be put on and off. Which seemed like yet another bizarre thought. Why should it live in the skin of some senile old fool? And why did it think of itself as wiser than a man? It must be a delirium brought on by the fatigue, but if it was a delirium, it was a strangely pleasant one.

The bird’s mind whirled. Obviously, it was proud. The cleverest and brightest of its kind. That was why the old man had chosen it. Or had it volunteered? It didn’t matter.

One feverish thought piled onto the next and the hummingbird gained the peculiar notion that it was a spirit. And spirit had made its feathers and flesh manifest in the first place, and the power of spirit coursed through its little body now. Suddenly it remembered what it really was—a small yet vital part of a greater whole, and that greater whole was something powerful and vibrant and old as the trees and valleys that flowed by beneath the hummingbird now.

The thoughts and desires of that greater spirit echoed faintly in the hummingbird’s mind, even though the connection was nearly stretched to the limit. The more distance it flew, the harder it became to hear those echoes and the louder the instincts of its little bird body became—instincts that insisted it should swoop down over the brilliant faces of those flowers passing below for a sip of sweet nectar, or flutter its wings on the surface of that pond to cool its burning muscles.

But for now, it remembered, so it kept its wings buzzing fiercely, driving forward despite the fact that it had lost count of the number of sunsets and moonrises it had already seen.

Don’t give up. Find the tower.

Other thoughts poked at the edge of its memory. Before it had begun its ambitious flight, it remembered spending time at the bottom of a well with a black-eyed boy. The bird was fond of the boy, or maybe its greater self was fond. Either way, it knew it wanted to help him. So the hummingbird had flitted in and out of the well every morning, carrying nectar and honey in its craw.

It had visited him with delicate, lightning-fast sips of its slender beak. Eventually, the boy had stirred. The bird gave nourishment, but it had taken some things as well. Borrowed, really. They would find their way back to him eventually, when the bird was done with them. It carried the boy’s voice for one thing. Not all of it, of course. It would never have left the boy mute. Only a few precious whispers the boy had let slip while he dreamed. Things he would likely never be capable of saying were he awake.

That, and a tiny pink pebble it carried curled up in its left claw. The stone was warm against its belly, and if the bird wasn’t vigilant, the weight of the pebble made it drift to one side. The hummingbird had wriggled into the boy’s satchel and plucked it out, driven by a strong impression from its greater self that the pebble would be necessary wherever it was going.

The hummingbird sensed that it was close to its goal now. It sought a monstrous tower that soared high into the ceiling of the world like a tree made of glass. Once it found the tree it would need to find a way into its dark interior—some crack in the crystalline bark that only a tiny creature like itself might squeeze through.

On the horizon, a broad expanse of ocean came into view, and then a shoreline, white and wriggling away to either direction. Far below, near the shore, people meandered like insects around low square shapes. This was not where the tower was, it knew, but it took heart since it sensed the tower waited somewhere across the water.

The hummingbird flashed out over the sea darting for the horizon, where the blue of the sky blended with the glittering crawl of the ocean waves. At any moment it expected to see the vague hump of an island or some distant hill emerge from the haze, but instead the air grew thicker, heavy with moisture and a suffocating warmth.

Its heart drummed erratically. It wheeled around and realized the shore it had come from was lost now. Even the water below it was shrouded from view. Dense mist gathered around it, forming a white void in every direction.

The bird’s internal compass spun wildly. It didn’t know which way to go. There was nothing to do but push into the blank fog and hope it broke through before its body finally surrendered to exhaustion.

The bird zipped forward, fighting down panic. It changed directions multiple times, but there was no way to be sure it wasn’t flying in circles. By blind luck, the mist began to thin ahead, but when the haze cleared enough for it to make out the shape of the land, the bird’s heart sank. It was same shore it had left from.

A furious determination flared up its breast, and it darted back into the wall of mist, but again it emerged facing the same shore.

The bird’s strength fizzled. Its wings felt numb and detached, as if it were only a floating head and somewhere off in the distance its wings moved of their own accord. The bird sank lower, skimming the foamy peak of a sea wave. It strained to climb, but no matter how hard it willed its wings to beat, they only produced brief spasms. The bird’s vision dimmed. The sparkle of the water bloomed large and dazzling.

It gave a last desperate flutter until the shore sped by underneath. The earth rushed toward the hummingbird like a wall. Its thoughts were nearly all bird thoughts now. The spirit’s echo was gone. All it could think was sleep, food, rest—and then its thoughts ended with a violent crash.

The hummingbird lay perfectly still for a long time on its side, its mind darkened and silent. After a while, its vision lightened to a hazy and indistinct glow. Its breath whistled through the holes in its beak. With the return of thought came surprise that it was not yet dead.

But then, something heavy and ponderous scratched at the dirt. The bird cracked an eyelid as a hulking shadow fell over it. A paw spread on the dust in front of its beak. The bird could hear urgent snuffling, low and dog-like. Or was it a jackal? Bright fur, like fiery opal, dazzled its eyes. It couldn’t tell what it was, only that it soon felt the creature’s hot breath wafting against its feathers.

Whether it was a jackal or a hound or something else entirely didn’t matter, because in the next moment the beast’s jaws opened and the hummingbird was swallowed up.



Chapter 1


IN FIVE WEEKS, Jack would be dead.

He exhaled, long and slow. His breath vanished into a wind that had rushed up from some Underworld hollow. The wind scraped across the frozen lake, moaning as it fled and whipping up curls of snow from the surface. Nits of ice clung to his eyelashes and piled on his bare shoulders where they refused to melt because his own skin was just as frigid.

The surface of the lake was the flattest place Jack could find to spread his cloak. Four stones pinned the corners to the ice and kept the gusts from skimming under the edges and lifting the night-blue fabric away. Jack sat cross-legged in the center, staring at the constellation of broken glass in front of him. A handful of the fragments fit together into a jagged patch of silver, only a hairline gap betraying that they had ever been apart.

Jack drew another shard from the satchel at his side and held it up, turning it from side to side. It glinted in the pale morning light, a crystal splinter as long as his finger. This was one of the larger shards, but some were as small as his pinky nail. He knew every piece intimately—each ragged contour, each miniscule warp and bubble, whether it was an edge piece or an inner piece, and whether it was dangerously sharp. Most of them were. A crosshatch of slender lines on his palms and fingertips proved it. He tried to slot the new piece next to another triangle of glass, but it wasn’t a match. He set the piece down and clenched his hands.

He had been at it half the night and all morning while his companions slept, but there were hundreds of pieces. Despite his obsessive study, he still couldn’t complete the old shape. The problem was the middle—some of the pieces seemed to match in more ways than one, or they matched imperfectly. Which led him to wonder if he’d lost a piece, some tiny fragment that would make sense of the jumble and bring everything together.

He rocked back on his haunches and hugged his knees, considering the scattered pieces, the partially completed arc of the outer ring. He could visualize the finished product easily—a beautiful mirror the size of a shield. But it wasn’t the mirror he wanted to see. It was the face of the girl who used to be in it, her bright eyes staring up at him as if from the bottom of a well. Slightly sad, but also brimming with an intensity that punched out of that horrible darkness she lived in. A face that had turned Jack’s life upside down.

It had been his fault the mirror broke, severing his only link to her. The words still echoed through him every time he thought about it—my fault!—but like the wind, it provoked no visible reaction other than a slight twinge at the corner of his brow. Even that was a lot. It would be easy for him to just get up and walk away, leaving the pieces to vanish under a slow crush of snow and ice.

He’d tried on occasion, just to see if it would kindle some feeling— holding the bag over a frozen trench, tempting himself to dump out all the shards like trash. To forget them. To ask his former mistress, the Lady of Twilight, to forgive him and take him back into her service. But he always stopped. He couldn’t feel why he stopped, but it was like a wall inside him. A promise he’d made to himself.

He took another piece out of the bag—the last one. A half-moon. It slotted in just at the bottom edge with a satisfying crystalline click.

He had promised—he wasn’t going to let Cassandra die. Not because of him.

A foot crunched on the shore behind him, followed by the hiss of Moribrand relieving himself into the snow. When the wizard finished, he staggered out onto the ice and stood over Jack, scowling down at the shattered mirror.

"Every night, the same thing.”

The statement hung in the air, accusing.

Jack turned to meet the wizard’s glaring, piggish eyes. Moribrand tried to hold his gaze, but cleared his throat and wrapped his robe tighter, tucking his chin against the intermittent gusts of frigid air. The wizard’s wormy lips were badly chapped. He had always been portly, but the flesh of his normally bloated chins had shriveled to a loose waddle since they’d started traveling together two weeks ago.

Moribrand’s mouth twitched, but he stopped himself from further comment, showing an unusual amount of restraint, Jack thought. In fact, it was more likely due to the pain of his wounds. Thick scabs like long black slugs marred one side of his face where The Lady’s gentle caress had turned into gouging nails, ripping into the tender pad of his cheek. The wounds seemed to tug one nostril a bit to the side and leave that corner of his mouth perpetually on the brink of a smirk or a sneer, depending on his mood. Eventually, it would result in a hideous scar.

After a moment of standing there shivering, Moribrand jammed his hand into one of his pockets and produced a crumpled mass of parchments. He tried to unfold one, but the wind plucked it out of his trembling hands. He hurried after it, grasping wildly as it fluttered just out of his reach. When it lit on the ice he pounced with the toe of his boot, but slipped, his legs sliding painfully apart until he fell back on his rear. A moan lifted up along with a puff of steam.

The paper soared away again. Jack watched it twirl through the air, circling back around, as if mocking Moribrand. For a moment, it was a bird in Jack’s eyes, a brown dove, drifting up and down, turning playfully. When it came close he extended his hand and caught it easily. He held it out for Moribrand.

The wizard rose and snatched the map away from him, his face flushed. "You’re playing at children’s puzzles while I’m trying to find our way!” His hand jumped to his cheek and he winced at the pain his shout had triggered.

If Jack had any trace of humor still lurking in him, he knew he might have laughed at the fact that, of all people, Moribrand now suffered every time he opened his mouth to speak. The reversal was not lost on Jack. But as it was, the wizard’s agony aroused neither amusement nor sympathy. Only numb assessment and a rigid stare.

"You said you’d been to Argent,” Jack said.

"Of course I’ve been to Argent. The problem is not ‘where is Argent?’ The problem is ‘where in all the Seven Courts are we?’ Obviously, we’re in the mountains, but where in the mountains?”

He swept his arm in a wide circle, as if introducing Jack to their bleak surroundings for the first time. They were in a narrow gash of land scraped out of the earth as if by a colossal talon, with just enough space at the bottom for a strip of frozen lake pressed between steep piles of black rock and pale snow drifts. Beyond the canyon walls, the grim bulk of the mountains shot skyward, huge serrated ridges and toothy peaks that sawed at the underbelly of the cloud cover.

Always the hollow muttering of the wind followed them wherever they went, but even when the wind died, they were left with long stretches of deep uncomfortable silence punctuated by violent reverberations that echoed down the length of the canyon—strange grumbles and shattering creaks. To Jack they seemed like warning growls, as if the land knew that their feet were foreign, vermin crawling through the furrows and rocky creases. The mountains would chew them up. Grind them into nothing.

Moribrand turned in place. He jabbed the paper with one of his long slender fingers. "Are we here?” He jabbed again, over a smudge of wrinkly mountains. "Or here?” Then he threw all the papers onto the ice and kicked them. "These maps are worthless. Scribbled by ignorant herdsman. A blind mule could draw a better map with its hooves.”

"We’re lost?”

Moribrand looked at him. He licked his cracked lips. "No... non­sense! Lost is for fools with no concept of geography. We are only dislocated within a region I am well familiar with.”

Jack began to collect the broken glass one piece at a time, carefully setting each one into the bottom of his satchel.

"There should be a city here,” Moribrand muttered. "Gale.”

"We’re lost.”

Moribrand frowned at Jack, then watched the maps he’d thrown down shift along the ice in front of him, threatening to blow away. After a moment, the wizard jerked forward and scooped up the loose parchments again.

They had been travelling now for two weeks, climbing higher and further into the Great Divide that split the northern half of the world from the southern. They had hoped to find the city of Gale, which was the nearest center of civilization they’d heard of from the herdsmen in the lower valleys. From Gale, Moribrand had promised he would be able to plot a course to Argent, which was all Jack cared about in the end. Reach Argent. Save Cassandra. There was nothing else.

"We should continue to the end of this gorge,” Moribrand said. "I’m certain we’ll find a trail or some other sign of the city.”

From the shore, Jack heard something heavy shift in the snow. Moribrand turned toward the sound. Minnow was awake. The wizard’s massive slave rolled onto his back, huffing and snorting like a bull. Overnight, sheets of ice had crusted over the stiff hide of his shirt and breeches, hardened in his shaggy hair. As he moved, the ice cracked and snapped, falling off in great chunks. He sat up, smacked his lips, and began to shovel heaps of snow into his mouth.

Moribrand watched the giant with a growing look of disgust. "Perhaps I was a fool to agree to this,” he muttered.

"You didn’t have a choice,” Jack reminded him.

Moribrand scowled. "Here we are, half-freezing to death, no warmth, not a bite to eat.” Moribrand extended an arm and a stiff finger toward Minnow, who continued to mash snow in his huge jaws. Minnow’s dark eyes glittered from under a brow that thrust out like a stone shelf. The giant plucked up a rock the size of Moribrand’s head and dragged his broad tongue across the underside.

Another quiver passed through Moribrand’s shoulders, and he immediately thrust his hand back under his armpit. He turned back to Jack, speaking in a hushed but severe tone. "And let’s not forget—it’s been some time now since he ate.”

"Minnow isn’t going to eat us,” Jack said.

"Oh really? How do you—”

Jack held up his hand, cutting him off. "Shh.”

Moribrand stiffened at being shushed, but he held his tongue.

As Jack listened, a succession of deep thumps echoed across the sky, sending vibrations through the ice under his boots, and then faded away. It was like the rumble of far off thunder, but broken apart, sharper and faster. A drum-like staccato.

"A storm,” Moribrand guessed. "Or an icefall.”

Jack cocked his head, doubtful. He stared down the flat corridor of the lake, then swept his gaze across the sloping heights of the canyon, but nothing stirred that he could see.

"I’ll tell you another thing,” Moribrand said, continuing the thread. His eyes bulged and his voice squeezed into a hiss. "That bridge-keeper still stalks us. I saw him.”

Jack turned his attention back to Moribrand. "When?”

"The other night. I couldn’t sleep. I saw something squirming in the snow. Watching us from the trees.”

"How can you be sure it was him?”

"Those hideous legs are unmistakable at any distance.”

Jack stood. All the pieces of the mirror were tucked safely into the bottom of his satchel, which now bulged with sharp angles and pokes. He lifted his cloak from the ice and gave it a good snap, letting the Twilight material roll and billow in the air before whirling it over his head and onto his shoulders. The cloak snagged and tightened around him momentarily, an alien embrace that made his skin crawl, then it slackened. He lugged his falchion onto his back and let his hand linger on the warm grip. He looked at Moribrand and took a deep breath.

"I only have five weeks left. Cassandra... maybe even less than that. If you can’t get us to Argent then you’re no use to me. If she dies...” Jack pressed his lips together. He knew he shouldn’t threaten the wizard, but the words had been there, ready to march out. "I could have killed you. I was supposed to, but I didn’t. She’s the reason I didn’t. You owe her. You owe me.”

The wizard’s jaw clamped and the wounds on his cheek jumped, but he said nothing.

"Now, which way do we go?” Jack asked.

Moribrand swallowed and pointed toward the far end of the valley.

Five weeks. It had been seven, but two weeks had already slipped away. Those were the terms of the new bargain Jack had struck with the Lady of Twilight. It was only a short reprieve, delaying the inevitable punishment she would bring down on him. The Lady had ordered him to kill Moribrand, a task he should have accomplished without a stray thought or wayward feeling. That was why she’d made Jack the way he was. Unquestioning. Relentless. Heartless. But he’d fallen short in every respect as soon as he met the girl trapped in the glass. He’d disobeyed the Lady. And disobedience meant death.

Now he had just over a month to do something not wholly worthless with his broken life. Five weeks to reach Argent and find Cassandra.

Jack turned away from Moribrand and began marching across the frozen lake.



Please review these other products:

Jack of Hearts

Ricardo Bare

April 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-260-6

Slave. Loner, Assassin.

Some boys throw their hearts away. Jack let a witch take his.

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more