They look like an everyday family living an ordinary life. But beyond the edges of this peaceful farm, unimaginable forces of light and dark have been unleashed.
Fallon Swift, approaching her thirteenth birthday, barely knows the world that existed before—the city where her parents lived, now in ruins and reclaimed by nature since the Doom sickened and killed billions. Traveling anywhere is a danger, as vicious gangs of Raiders and fanatics called Purity Warriors search for their next victim. Those like Fallon, in possession of gifts, are hunted—and the time is coming when her true nature, her identity as The One, can no longer be hidden.
In a mysterious shelter in the forest, her training is about to begin under the guidance of Mallick, whose skills have been honed over centuries. She will learn the old ways of healing; study and spar; encounter faeries and elves and shifters; and find powers within herself she never imagined. And when the time is right, she will take up the sword, and fight. For until she grows into the woman she was born to be, the world outside will never be whole again.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:1950
Place of Birth:Silver Spring, Maryland
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On the farm where she'd been born, Fallon Swift learned how to plant and grow and harvest, to respect and use the land. She learned how to move through fields and forests, silent as a shadow, to hunt and fish. To respect the game, and take no more than needed, to take none at all for sport.
She learned to prepare food grown or taken from the land in her mother's kitchen or over a campfire.
She learned food was more than eggs fresh from the henhouse or a well-grilled trout. Food meant survival.
She learned to sew — though she disliked the time spent sitting still plying a needle. She learned how to tan leather, far from her favorite lesson, and could, if given no choice, spin yarn. Clothes, she learned, weren't simply something to wear. They protected the body, like a weapon.
She respected weapons, and had learned from a young age how to clean a gun, sharpen a knife, string a bow.
She learned how to build, with hammer and saw, to keep the fences in repair, to make repairs on the old farmhouse she loved as much as the woods.
A strong fence, a sound wall, a roof that held back the rain offered more than a happy home. They, too, meant survival.
And, though she often simply knew, she learned magicks. How to light the flame with a breath, how to cast a circle, how to heal a small wound with the light inside her, how to look, and how to see.
She learned, though she often simply knew, magick was more than a gift to be treasured, a craft to be honed, a weapon to be used with great care.
It was, and would be, survival.
Even with food, with shelter, with clothing and weapons, even with magicks, not all had survived. Not all would in the times to come.
She learned of a world that had existed before her birth. A world crowded with people, a world of huge cities with towering buildings where people had lived and worked. In that world people had traveled routinely by air and sea and road and track. Some had even traveled into space, and to the moon that hung in the sky.
Her mother had lived in a great city, in the City of New York. Fallon knew from the stories told, from the books she devoured, it had been a place full of people and noise and light and dark.
A wonder of a place to her, one she vowed to see someday.
She imagined it often at night when she lay awake watching the faeries dance outside her window.
There had been war in that world, and bigotry and cruelty, just as there was now. She knew of the wars that had been from the books, from the stories. And she knew of the wars that were still raging from visitors who stopped at the farm.
Her father had been a soldier once. He had taught her to fight — with her hands, her feet, her mind. She learned how to read maps and how to make them, and imagined following them one day on the journeys she knew, had always known, she would take.
She had no attachment, as her parents did, to the world that had been before the Doom had killed so many. Billions, it was said. Many remembered when those great cities fell to the burning, the mad things, the dark magicks. The cruelty and greed of men still swam in the minds and the blood of those who'd lived through it.
When she caught glimpses of tomorrows, she knew there would be more burning, more blood, more death. And she would be part of it. So she often lay awake at night, cuddling her teddy bear, a gift from a man she'd yet to meet.
If those tomorrows weighed too heavy, she sometimes slipped out of the house while her parents and siblings slept, to sit outside while the little faeries flickered like fireflies. Where she could smell the earth, the crops, the animals.
Most often she slept the quiet and innocent sleep of a child with loving parents and three annoying little brothers, a healthy child with a questing mind and an active body.
Sometimes she dreamed of her sire, the man her mother had lived with in New York, the man she'd loved. The man, Fallon knew, who had died so she would live.
He'd been a writer, a leader, a great hero. She bore his name, just as she bore the name of the man who brought her into the world, who raised her, who taught her. Fallon for Max Fallon, her sire. Swift for Simon Swift, her father.
Two names, Fallon thought, equally important. Just as her mother wore two rings, one from each man she'd loved.
And though she loved her father as deeply and truly as any child could love, she wondered about the man who'd given her the color of her eyes and hair who, along with her mother, had passed powers to her with their mating.
She read his books — all books were gifts — and studied the photo of him on the back of them.
Once, when she was only six, she'd curled up in the library with one of Max Fallon's books. Though she couldn't understand all the words, she liked that it was about a wizard, one who used magicks and brains to fight against evil forces.
When her father came in, a stab of guilt had her trying to hide the book. Her dad had no magicks, but he had a lot of brains.
He'd plucked her and the book up, then sat to hold her on his lap. She loved how he smelled of the farm — the earth, the animals, the growing things.
Sometimes she wished she had eyes like his that changed from sort of green to sort of gold or just mixed those colors together. When she wished it, she felt guilty about Max.
"It's a good book."
"You read it?"
"Yeah. My mom really liked to read. It's why she and my dad made this room for books. You don't have to hide anything from me, baby. Not anything."
"Because you're my daddy." She turned into him, pressed her face to his heart. Beat, beat, beat. "You're my daddy."
"I'm your daddy. But I wouldn't have gotten the chance to be if it wasn't for Max Fallon." He turned the book over so they could both look at the picture of the dark, handsome man with strong gray eyes. "I wouldn't have my most beautiful girl if he hadn't loved your mom, and she hadn't loved him. If they hadn't made you. If he hadn't loved her and you enough, been brave enough, to give his life to protect you. I'm real grateful to him, Fallon. I owe him everything."
"Mama loves you, Daddy."
"Yeah, she does. I'm a lucky guy. She loves me, and she loves you, and Colin and Travis."
"And the new baby that's coming."
"It's not a girl." This on a huge, sorrowful sigh.
"Is that so?"
"She has a boy in her, again. Why can't she make a sister for me? Why does she always make brothers?"
She heard the laugh in his chest as he cuddled her. "Actually, that's supposed to be my job. I guess it's the way it goes."
He stroked her long black hair as he spoke. "And I guess that means you'll just have to go on being my favorite girl. Have you told your mom it's a boy?"
"She doesn't want to know which kind. She likes the wondering."
"Then I won't tell her, either." Simon kissed the top of her head. "Our secret."
"I can't read all the words. Some are too hard."
"Well, why don't I read the first chapter to you before we go back to chores?"
He shifted her so she could curl up, then opened the book, turned to page one, and began.
She hadn't known The Wizard King had been Max Fallon's first novel — or perhaps some part of her had. But she would remember, forever, that her father had read it to her, chapter by chapter, every night before bed.
* * *
So she learned. She learned about goodness from her father, generosity from her mother. She learned about love and light and respect from the home and family and life given to her.
She learned of war and hardship and grief from travelers, many wounded, who came to the farm or to the village nearby.
She had lessons on politics, and found them annoying, as people talked too much, did too little. And what good were politics when reports claimed the government — such a vague word to her — had begun to rebuild in the third year after the Doom, only to fall again before the end of Year Five?
Now, in the twelfth year, the capital of the United States — which didn't seem united to Fallon, then or now — remained a war zone. Factions of the Raiders, groups of the Dark Uncanny, and those faithful to the cult of the Purity Warriors battled for power, for land, for the smell of blood. Against each other, it seemed, and against those who sought to rule or govern.
Even though Fallon wanted peace, wanted to build, to grow, she understood the need, the duty to fight to protect and defend. More than once she'd seen her father arm himself and leave the farm to help protect a neighbor, to help defend the village. More than once she'd seen his eyes when he'd come home again, and had known there'd been blood, there'd been death.
She'd been raised to fight, to defend, as had her brothers. Even as the farm basked in summer, as the crops ripened and fruit hung heavy, as the woods ran thick with game, bitter battles raged beyond the fields and hills of home.
And her time, her childhood, she knew, was counting down like the ticks of a clock.
She was The One.
On days when her brothers deviled her — why had she been plagued with brothers? — when her mother understood nothing and her father expected too darn much, she wanted that countdown to hurry.
Other times she raged. Why should she have no choice? No choice? She wanted to hunt and fish, to ride her horse, to run in the woods with her dogs. Even with her brothers.
And often she grieved for what something beyond her, something beyond her parents, demanded she become. Grieved at the thought of leaving her family, her home.
She grew tall and strong, and the light within her burned bright. The thought of her thirteenth birthday filled her with dread.
She stewed about it — about all that was unfair in her world, all that was unfair in the world outside — as she helped her mother prepare the evening meal.
"We're going to get a storm tonight, I can feel it." Lana pushed at the butterscotch-blond hair she'd bundled on top of her head before cooking. "But it's a perfect evening for eating outside. Go ahead and drain those potatoes I've got parboiling."
Fallon sulked over to the stove. "Why do you always have to do the cooking?"
Lana gently shook a covered bowl. Inside slices of peppers fresh from the garden marinated. "Your dad's grilling tonight," she reminded Fallon.
"You made everything first." With that stuck in her craw, Fallon dumped chunks of potatoes into the colander in the sink. "Why doesn't Dad or Colin or Travis make it all?"
"They help, just like you. Ethan, too — he's learning. But to answer the point of your question: I like to cook. I enjoy making food, especially for my family."
"What if I don't?" Fallon whirled around, a tall, long-limbed girl currently all stormy-gray eyes and defiant scowl. "What if I just don't want to cook? Why do I have to do things I don't want to do?"
"Because we all do. Lucky for you, on next week's rotation you move from under chef to cleanup. I need you to season those potatoes for the grill basket. I already chopped the herbs."
"Fine, great." She knew the drill. Olive oil, herbs, salt, pepper.
Just as she knew they had the oil and spices because her mother and a witch from a neighboring farm had culled out three acres, and had cast a spell to turn it into the tropics. They'd planted olive trees, Piper nigrum for pepper, coffee beans, banana trees. Figs, dates.
Her dad had worked with others to construct olive presses for the oils, dryers for the fruits.
Everyone worked together, everyone benefited. She knew that.
"Why don't you go ahead and take those out, tell your dad to start the chicken?"
Leading with her foul mood, Fallon stomped out of the house. Lana watched her daughter, her own summer-blue eyes clouding. She thought: More than one storm's coming.
They ate at the big outdoor table her father had built, using colorful plates, with bright blue napkins and wildflowers in little pots.
Her mother believed in setting a pretty table. She let Ethan light the candles with his breath because it always made him laugh. Fallon plopped down beside Ethan. She didn't consider him as much a pain in her butt as Colin or Travis.
Then again, he was only six. He'd get there.
Simon, his mop of brown hair streaked from the sun, took his seat, smiled at Lana. "It looks great, babe."
Lana lifted her wine, made from their own grapes. "Credit to the grill master. We're grateful," she added, with a glance at her daughter, "for the food grown and made by our own hands. We hope for the day when no one goes hungry."
"I'm hungry now!" Colin announced.
"Then be grateful there's food on the table." Lana set a drumstick — his favorite — on his plate.
"I helped Dad with the grill," he claimed as he added potatoes, vegetables, an ear of just-shucked corn to his plate. "So I shouldn't have to do the dishes."
"That's not going to fly, son." Simon filled Travis's plate as Lana did Ethan's.
Colin waved his drumstick in the air before biting in. He had his father's eyes, that hazel that blurred gold and green, hair a few shades darker than his mother's going bright from the summer sun. As usual, it stood up in tufts that refused taming.
"I picked the corn."
Travis, already eating steadily, elbowed Colin. "We picked it."
"Vant," Simon corrected. "Irrelevant — and it's not."
"I picked most of the corn. It should count."
"Instead of worrying about the dishes — which you will do — maybe you should eat the corn," Lana suggested as she helped Ethan butter his ear.
"In a free society, everybody has a vote."
"Too bad you don't live in one." Simon gave Colin a poke in the ribs that had Colin flashing a toothy grin.
"The corn is good!" Ethan, though he'd lost a couple of baby teeth, bit his way enthusiastically down the ear. He had his mother's blue eyes, her pretty blond hair, and the sunniest of dispositions.
"Maybe I'll run for president." Colin, never one to be deterred, pushed forward. "I'll be president of the Swift Family Farm and Cooperative. Then the village. I'll name it Colinville and never wash dishes again."
"Nobody'd vote for you." Travis, nearly close enough in looks to be Colin's twin, snickered.
"I'll vote for you, Colin!"
"What if I ran for president, too?" Travis asked Ethan.
"I'd vote for both of you. And Fallon."
"Leave me out of it," Fallon rebuked, poking at the food on her plate.
"You can only vote for one person," Travis pointed out.
"'Because' is dumb."
"This whole conversation is dumb." Fallon flicked a hand in the air. "You can't be president because, even if there were any real structure of government, you're not old enough or smart enough."
"I'm as smart as you," Colin tossed back, "and I'll get older. I can be president if I want. I can be anything I want."
"In your dreams," Travis added with a smirk.
It earned him a kick under the table, which he returned.
"A president is a leader, and a leader leads."
When Fallon surged to her feet, Simon started to speak, to shut things down, but caught Lana's eye.
"You don't know anything about being a leader."
"You don't know anything about anything," Colin shot back.
"I know a leader doesn't go around naming places after himself. I know a leader has to be responsible for people, make sure they have food and shelter, has to decide who goes to war, who lives and dies. I know a leader has to fight, maybe even kill."
As she raged, shimmers of light sparked around her in angry red.
"A leader's who everybody looks to for answers, even when there aren't any. Who everyone blames when things go wrong. A leader's the one who has to do the dirty work, even if it's the damn dishes."
She stalked away, trailing that angry light into the house. Slamming the door behind her.
"Why does she get to act like a brat?" Colin demanded. "Why does she get to be mean?"
Ethan, tears swirling in his eyes, turned to his mother. "Is Fallon mad at us?"
"No, baby, she's just mad. We're going to give her a little time alone, okay?" She looked over at Simon. "She just needs some space. She'll apologize, Colin."
He only shrugged. "I can be president if I want. She's not the boss of the world."
Lana's heart tore a little. "Did I mention I made peach pie for dessert?" Pie, she knew, was a no-fail way to turn her boys' moods around. "That is, for anyone who clears his plate."
"I know a good way to work off that pie." In tune with Lana, Simon went back to his meal. "A little basketball."
Since he'd created a half court on the side of the barn, basketball had become one of his boys' favorite pastimes.
"I wanna be on your team, Daddy!"
Simon grinned at Ethan, gave him a wink. "We'll wipe the court with them, champ."
"No way." Colin dived back into the meal. "Travis and I will crush."
Travis looked at his mother, held her gaze a long moment.
He knows, Lana thought. And so did Colin, even if anger and insult blocked it away.
Their sister wasn't the boss of the world, but she carried the weight of it on her shoulders.
* * *
Fallon's temper burned out in a spate of self-pity tears. She flung herself on her bed to shed them — the bed her father had built to replicate one she'd seen in an old magazine. Eventually the tears died away into headachy sulks.
It wasn't fair, nothing was fair. And Colin started it. He always started something with his big, stupid ideas. Probably because he didn't have any magicks. Probably because he was jealous.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Of Blood and Bone"
Copyright © 2018 Nora Roberts.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Sword And The Shield,
Titles by Nora Roberts,
About the Author,