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Ward Against Death

Ward Against Death, an epic fantasy / YA fantasy and the first book in the Chronicles of a Reluctant Necromancer series by Melanie Card

High Fantasy
Entangled Publishing, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-937044-09-1

Ward de’Ath expected this to be a simple job—bring a nobleman’s daughter back from the dead for fifteen minutes, let her family say good-bye, and launch his fledgling career as a necromancer. Goddess knows he can’t be a surgeon—the Quayestri already branded him a criminal for trying—so bringing people back from the dead it is.

But when Ward wakes the beautiful Celia Carlyle, he gets more than he bargained for. Insistent that she’s been murdered, Celia begs Ward to keep her alive and help her find justice. By the time she drags him out her bedroom window and into the sewers, Ward can’t bring himself to break his damned physician’s Oath and desert her.

However, nothing is as it seems—including Celia. One second, she’s treating Ward like sewage, the next she’s kissing him. And for a nobleman’s daughter, she sure has a lot of enemies. If he could just convince his heart to give up on the infuriating beauty, he might get out of this alive…


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Even in death, Celia Carlyle was beautiful. Sculpted features framed by a pool of blue-black hair gave her an unearthly appearance. Her long eyelashes rested dark against skin that was likely pale before death.

Ward gripped his physician’s bag with both hands, but they kept trembling. He could wake her. He had to. He’d spent his last quintaro this morning, and while his room was paid for ten more days, he still needed to eat. And there was no way he was going home to face his family as a failure twice.

Sweat dripped from his jaw, and the copper-rimmed spectacles he wore to make him look older than his nineteen years slid down his nose. He tugged on his red velvet physician’s jacket and brushed a quick hand along his hairline to ensure his curled and powdered wig was straight. Despite the slight breeze blowing in from the open windows, Brawenal City’s summer nights were too hot for such things, but he had an appearance to maintain and a job to do.

He sucked in a quick breath.

An important job. One that could establish his fledgling career. If he just focused on the details, turned the situation into an intellectual problem, he might be able to forget her father waited across the hall.

He concentrated on the young woman swathed in silk sheets on a monstrous canopy bed.

How heartbreaking that someone his age could fall sick and die. Because of her beauty, her death must have been an emotional, political, and possibly financial blow to the family. In his summons, her father, Lord Carlyle, said she had died of a sudden illness. But there was no abnormal discoloration on her cheeks or around her eyes, nor any dried mucus around her lips or nose, which would have suggested an imbalance of her yellow bile. There were so few clues to this fascinating puzzle.

Ward set his bag at her feet and reached out to push back an eyelid.

No. Stupid.

He jerked his hand back. This was not a necropsy on a body he’d stolen from a graveyard. He hadn’t been hired to determine her cause of death. This was a wake. All of her family—her very powerful family—waited a wing away for word that they could have a final fifteen minutes with their beautiful and cherished daughter. Besides, when he woke her, he could just as easily ask what her symptoms were before and during the illness—even if that was cheating.

With another breath, he opened his bag and removed a vial of cow’s blood. He eased the stopper from the vial, dipped his little finger into the dark liquid, and drew an open goddess-eye on her forehead.

He could do this.

He imagined the power of the cow’s spirit igniting the innate gift within him. Grandfather said it felt as if his entire body tingled, but Ward had never experienced that sensation, or any sensation related to his gift for that matter. He was blind to it, unable to sense the ebb and flow of life energy, but still able to manipulate it. Maybe that was why he struggled to perform anything more difficult than a wake.

Or better yet, maybe he wasn’t destined to be a necromancer, but a surgeon. Surgery, however, had yet to be made legal, and his expulsion from the physicians’ academy had ended his prospects of becoming a doctor.

And that was just the way things were.

Unclenching his jaw, he resigned himself, yet again, to his situation. He placed his left hand over her heart, his right hand on her forehead, and closed his eyes. He called on knowledge from the Light Son, power over the dead from the Dark Son, and grace and well-being from the Goddess. He envisioned the veil between worlds, a gauzy film of writhing mist—or so his grandfather said—opening, and the spark of her spirit flying back through it to her body.

She gasped. Icy blue eyes flew open and examined him, her gaze jumping from his face, to his wig, to his jacket, and back to his face. Her eyes narrowed and her hand snaked under her pillow. “It’s not wise to enter a lady’s bedchamber without her consent.”

Ward plastered on his calmest, gentlest expression. The newly wakened dead often assumed they had just roused from sleep. “You’ve been unwell.”

“Unwell? Is that what my father told you?” A hint of dark colored her tone.

“Yes, well…in a manner of speaking.” She wasn’t acting the way she was supposed to. Noblewomen, particularly those around his age, were usually demure or aloof. They weren’t…suspicious.

“Well, I’m fine, and I’m sorry my father troubled you.” She threw back the covers, sat up, and stepped onto the thick rug. “Now go, be a good doctor, and tell my family I’m healthy and sleeping.” She punctuated her last word by pulling her nightdress over her head, revealing a slim waist, athletic muscles, and pale skin marked with the purple bruises of livor mortis along her back. And no other clothes.

“But—” He flushed and spun around to face the wall. “What are you doing?” No. Wait. What was he doing? He’d seen a dead naked woman before. Just never like this.

She chuckled. “I’m going for a walk.”

“A what? No—You can’t.” She really wasn’t acting the way she was supposed to.

“I beg to differ.”

The situation was spiraling out of hand. Damn it, he had to take control. He was the necromancer, she the newly awakened. She was supposed to listen to him.

He turned to confront her. Thankfully, she was fully dressed—in men’s clothes, but at least she was dressed. “Listen, I—”

She slipped her hand under her pillow and removed a sheathed dagger.

Great Goddess! She kept a dagger under her pillow? Ward inched toward the door to block her escape without appearing obvious, although he had no idea what he’d do if she fought him. Why did he always get stuck with the difficult corpses? Grandfather never mentioned anything about noblemen’s daughters with daggers who insisted they were alive.

She shoved her feet into well-worn boots, grabbed a bulging rucksack from a nearby chair, and headed to the window.

He scrambled after her. “No, wait.” His voice cracked and he gulped air, doing nothing to still his rising panic.

She hopped over the sill into the shadow of a lilac bush.

“Please. Stop. You’re dead.”

“I don’t feel dead,” she said over her shoulder in a singsong voice as she eased through the leafy branches.

Ward scurried out the window and crashed through the bush to keep her in sight, but tripped over an ornamental rock covered in dark moss. He landed on his hands and knees in the coarse grass at her feet. The sharp chirp of crickets and the high-pitched buzz of cicadas suddenly stopped, leaving his ears ringing at the silence. Behind her lay the dark rim of a reflection pool, its semi-circle pressed against the stone wall of the tiny garden and guarded by red and white roses.

“You took ill,” he said, before she could climb the garden wall.


He nodded. “You were sick. Do you remember?”

She stared at him as if unable to understand. His heart pounded, and he waited for her to say something, anything. She sagged onto the rim of the pool, her expression stunned.

A breeze rustled the leaves on the rose bushes, making them hiss and sigh, whispering secrets.

“Then they’ve done it already.”

“Done what?”

“Killed me.”

A cricket gave a shrill chirp.

“Excuse me?” What an insensitive thing to say. She’d just said she’d been murdered.

Her expression softened. She knelt before him and cupped his chin in her hands. “I need your help.”

“You what?” He’d barely worked his mind around the thought that she’d been murdered, and now she wanted help. His help. No. This was all wrong. She was all wrong. One moment she was suspicious, the next begging for help.

Her bottom lip quivered. She was so close, her breath caressed his forehead, and her subtle, heady perfume intoxicated him. Was it roses or lilacs? It was difficult to keep his thoughts straight. He’d never had such a beautiful woman pay this kind of attention to him before.

“Please. The Goddess sent you to me. She must have.” She grabbed his hand and held it tight. “There isn’t much time. My father will discover we’re gone and…” A single tear traced a line down her cheek.

His head swam, a wave of dizziness numbing all sensation, as if he was suspended in a dream. A beautiful, mesmerizing fantasy, but her words didn’t fit. There was something wrong with them; he just couldn’t concentrate enough to figure out what that was. It seemed preposterous she’d ask him for help.

“You were ill,” he said, one final, weak protest.

“I wasn’t, and you know it. Do I look ill?”

He shook his head, although she also didn’t look as if she’d been beaten or strangled or stabbed. Some illnesses showed no signs or symptoms, but as soon as he thought it, he knew it wasn’t true.

“Please. My father is sly,” she said as if reading his thoughts. “Probably a rare poison, but I need proof.”

He swallowed. It broke his heart to say it, but she had to know the truth. “You’ll only be awake for fifteen minutes.”

“I can prove it.” Her eyes shimmered with more tears.

Goddess, how could he say no?

She was just so beautiful and so desperate, he had to do something. “There is another spell, a Jam de’U.”

“Then cast that.”

“It requires time and components.” That, and he’d never attempted it before. He didn’t even know if he could cast it, but he had to try.

An angry yell from within the house made him jump.

“What am I saying? If I’m caught—”

She pressed his palm to her cheek, her eyes wide and filled with fear. “Please. You have to believe me. I’m the only one who can bring me justice. My father is too powerful.”

Could she really prove her own murder? This was ridiculous. She had to go back to her room. If they found her in the garden they’d accuse him of trying to steal her body, and he didn’t want that kind of trouble…not again. He reached for the goddess-eye brand on the back of his neck. It burned with remembered pain. Was there room for another Inquisitor’s brand, or would he lose a body part this time?

“You’re a doctor, right? You’ve taken the Oath?”

“Yes.” But at the moment he was a necromancer, not a physician.

“I ask on your Physician’s Oath.”

His breath caught in his throat. Did the Oath he’d taken in the second-to-last year of his apprenticeship apply when the person was already dead? It said he couldn’t refuse any soul in need, but surely the Master Physicians had meant soul in a literal sense. Of course, they didn’t have the mystic senses of a necromancer. Would the Goddess see the distinction when it was his turn to cross over? If he refused Celia and her soul counted as part of his Oath, he’d face an eternity of torture for being an Oath-breaker.

“Don’t let me die a tormented soul.” She stood and met his gaze. Her eyes were still desperate, but there was a hardened determination there as well.

His heart contracted. He was ten times a fool and there was nothing to be done about it.

He nodded. Up down. Side to side. It didn’t matter.

He followed as she climbed the garden wall, his hands finding holds in the stone, his body, of its own volition, dragging him up and over. All the while his mind, like a chorus in a mummer’s tragedy, jeered and moaned the end of his career on the slim chance he’d saved his eternal soul.


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