A teenage blacksmith with social anxiety is forced to go on the run to protect the world from the most powerful magical sword she’s ever made…
Read an excerpt from Blade of Secrets, the first book in Tricia Levenseller’s exciting new YA fantasy duology—available May 4th from Feiwel & Frienads.
Eighteen-year-old Ziva prefers metal to people. She spends her days tucked away in her forge, safe from society and the anxiety it causes her, using her magical gift to craft unique weapons imbued with power.
Then Ziva receives a commission from a powerful warlord, and the result is a sword capable of stealing its victims secrets. A sword that can cut far deeper than the length of its blade. A sword with the strength to topple kingdoms. When Ziva learns of the warlord’s intentions to use the weapon to enslave all the world under her rule, she takes her sister and flees.
Joined by a distractingly handsome mercenary and a young scholar with extensive knowledge of the world’s known magics, Ziva and her sister set out on a quest to keep the sword safe until they can find a worthy wielder or a way to destroy it entirely.
I prefer metal to people, which is why the forge is my safe space.
The heat is relentless in here, even with all the windows open for ventilation. Sweat beads on my forehead and drips down my back, but I wouldn’t give up being a smithy for anything.
I love the way a hammer feels in my hand; I love the sounds of metal chiming against metal, the slight give of heated steel, the smell of a raging fire, and the satisfaction of a finished weapon.
I pride myself on making each of my weapons unique. My customers know that when they commission a Zivan blade, it will be one of a kind.
I drop my hammer and inspect my current project.
The flange has the right shape. It’s the sixth and final of the identical pieces that will be attached to the mace’s head. After quenching the blade, I take it to the grindstone to sharpen every curve of the outer edge. I’ve already made grooves into the mace using a hammer and chisel. Now all that’s left is to weld all the pieces together. Using separate tongs, I place everything into the kiln and wait.
There’s plenty to do in the meantime. Tools need cleaning. Scraps of metal need disposing of. I work the bellows to keep the kiln over 2,500 degrees.
Shouts interrupt the peace of my workspace.
My sister, Temra, mans the shop at the front of the forge when she’s not assisting me with larger weapons. From there, customers can purchase more simple items, such as horseshoes, buckles, and the like. My magicked horseshoes ensure the horses run faster, and my buckles never break or lose their shine. It’s a simple magic—nothing like what’s involved in bladesmithing.
“Ziva is not seeing customers now!” Temra yells from the other side of the door.
That’s right. No one steps into the forge. The forge is sacred. It is my space.
Judging the steel to be ready, I pull the mace head and first flange from the oven, lining up the blade with the first groove.
“She will see me!” a voice screams in response. “She needs to answer for her defective work.”
That word prickles. Defective? That’s unnecessarily rude. If I were a person who handled confrontation well, I might go out there and give the customer a piece of my mind.
But I needn’t have worried; my sister is that type.
“Defective? How dare you? Get yourself to a healer and stop blaming us for your idiocy!”
I wince. That was maybe a bit too far. Temra never has been much good at controlling her temper. Sometimes, she can be downright terrifying.
I do my best to block out the argument and focus on my work. This is the part where the magic will set. The metal is heated, primed. I thought long and hard about how I would make this weapon special. A mace is used for bashing and smashing, something that requires brute strength to wield. But what if I could increase the power behind it? What if every time the weapon absorbed a blow from an opponent, I could transfer that energy into the next swing?
I close my eyes, thinking on what I want the magic to do, but I jolt upright as, to my utter horror, the doors of the forge slam open.
I feel the extra presence in the room as though it were a weight pressing down on my shoulders. For a moment, I forget entirely what I’m working on, as I’m unable to think on anything but the discomfort coursing through my veins.
I hate feeling as though I don’t fit right in my own skin. As though the anxiety takes up too much space, pushing me aside.
As footsteps draw closer, I try to compose myself. I remember the mace and focus on it like my life depends on it. Maybe the intruder will take the hint and leave.
No such luck.
Whoever he is, he stomps to the other side of my anvil, where he’s now in my line of sight, and shoves an arm under my nose.
“Look at this!”
I take in the large gash across the man’s lower arm. Meanwhile, a ball of nerves roils in my stomach to have a stranger so close.
“Get out of here, Garik. Ziva is working!” Temra says futilely as she joins us.
“This is what your blade did to me. My sword arm! I demand a refund!”
My face heats, and I can’t think for a moment, can do nothing but stare at the man bleeding over my workspace. Garik is perhaps in his early thirties. Lanky rather than well built, with a hooked nose and too-big eyes. It’s no surprise that I don’t recognize him. Temra handles most of the commissions that come through the shop so I can focus on the actual forging.
Garik looks at me like I’m stupid. “Your weapon is defective. It cut me!”
“You cut yourself!” Temra shouts back. “You will not come in here and try to blame the weapon for your carelessness.”
“Carelessness! I am a master swordsman. The fault certainly doesn’t lie with me.”
“Really? How else does a man cut his sword arm with his weapon? What were you doing? Practicing twirls? Throwing the weapon up in the air and trying to catch it? Was there a large audience to see you stumble?”
Garik sputters for a good minute as he tries to find his words, hinting that Temra’s guess is exactly what happened.
“Perhaps you should try acrobatics if you’re going to use your sword in such a manner instead of how it was intended,” Temra bites out.
“You stay out of this, you little heathen! I’m taking this up with the smithy. Or is she incapable of speaking for herself?”
That has me dropping my tools and giving the foul man my full attention. It’s one thing for him to come in here and attack me, but to call my sister names?
“Garik,” I say with confidence I don’t feel. “You will leave now before we bring the city guards into the matter. You are no longer welcome in the forge or the shop or anywhere near our land.”
“My arm—” he tries.
“Is not nearly as hurt as your pride, else you would be at a healer’s and not here.”
His face grows red as blood drips onto the ground.
I can’t look at him any longer. It’s too much. My eyes find the laces at his shirt instead and focus there. Maybe that was stupid. Did what I say even make sense? If I say something more, would I only be rambling?
I decide to add, “I would be happy to take a look at the weapon to ensure its effectiveness. Perhaps in front of all your friends? Though, by the excellent gash in your arm, it appears to be working just fine.”
That does it. He storms out the way he came, but not before taking a swipe at the worktable along the way and sending my tools cascading toward the ground.
Then he’s gone.
“Horrible man,” Temra says, and she goes to put the worktable to rights.
But I can’t really hear her. I’m looking at my tools, then back at the spot where Garik once stood. The entire ordeal is replaying in my mind over and over again, completely out of my control. He was here. In my forge. I had to speak. Had to question myself. Had to feel like I was going to boil from the inside. Logically, I know neither of us was in any real danger, that such confrontations don’t mean the end of the world is nigh, but that doesn’t mean my body is convinced.
I can’t breathe. Or maybe I’m breathing too fast.
“Ziva? Oh dear. Everything is okay.”
Everything is not okay. Temra tries to approach me, but I step backward, nearly falling over as I do so. My hands are shaking, and my body temperature goes from uncomfortably hot to unbearably so.
“Ziva, he’s gone. You’re safe. Look around the room. It’s just us. Here, hold your hammer.” She thrusts the instrument into my hand. “Now listen to my breathing and match it.” She exaggerates the sounds of her own breath, slowly dragging it in and out.
I fall to my knees in front of my anvil, my head level with the unfinished mace, my hammer held loosely in my hand.
You are no longer welcome.
I can’t believe the things I said. I insulted him. He’s going to tell other potential customers about the ordeal. Everyone will know that I said something stupid. They’ll all want to take their business elsewhere. I’ll be ruined. Humiliated.
Everyone will know there’s something wrong with me.
“Breathe. You’re safe. Breathe,” Temra says, cutting through my tangled thoughts.
“What if the sword was defective, and I just—”
Temra says, “The sword was perfect. Don’t think like that. Come on, Ziva. You’re amazing. Just breathe.”
Time falls away as I try to crawl out from under the weight of my own panic.
I’ve no sense of how long it takes before the attack recedes, before my mind can understand that there’s anything else besides impending doom. But it passes, easing out of me like a fruit being juiced.
I’ve always been a naturally anxious person, but being around people makes it so much worse. And sometimes these attacks happen—when it’s a particularly nasty encounter or if I’m simply feeling overwhelmed.
I’m tired and overstimulated, but I still welcome the hug my sister wraps me in. She lets me decide when to pull away.
“Thank you,” I say as I set my hammer back on one of the many worktables in the forge.
“I’m sorry, Ziva. I really did try to keep him from entering.”
“Trust me, I heard. But I hope you know that if anyone is acting dangerous, I insist you show them in. I don’t ever want you in harm’s way.”
She scoffs. “How can a man who injures himself with his own weapon be dangerous?”
We share a laugh, and I turn back to the unfinished mace, trying to decide whether to continue working or to rest for a bit.
Only… the weapon has already been magicked.
There’s no physical change that I can see, but I sense it. A slight pulsing of heat.
I pick up the mace by the metal handle and bring the head toward my face for inspection, careful of the single flange that is still cooling.
“Something happened,” I say.
“Did Garik ruin the weapon?”
“No, it’s already imbued with magic.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing. I was welding the first flange on, and then Garik came in. I set it on the anvil, and then…”
“Then?” Temra prompts.
“And then I couldn’t breathe.”
I head outdoors, Temra following. Our city is located in the middle of a conifer forest. It rains every other day of the week, and the sun is constantly battling the clouds for dominance in the sky. Today the sun shines brightly, warming my skin through the light breeze.
Our parents kept chickens and a goat in the backyard when I was little. I remember helping Mother collect the eggs each morning. But neither Temra nor I care for such responsibilities, so the land mostly just serves as an area for me to demonstrate my weapons.
When I judge myself to be a safe distance from the house, I grasp the mace tightly before taking a swing in the direction of the old cedar tree.
Nothing magical happens.
Though rare, there have been a few times when I’ve unwittingly magicked a weapon and had to figure out how it worked.
It’s rather frustrating.
I try bringing the shaft down against the dirt-packed floor, but that does nothing either. On a whim, I breathe onto the mace, since my face had been so close to it during my attack.
“Let me try,” Temra says.
“Absolutely not. You might hurt yourself.”
“I’ve handled your weapons before.”
“But oftentimes my weapons have long-range effects. Until I’m sure what it does, I won’t let you—”
Temra falls to her knees, her hands going to her throat as she makes a gasping noise. I’d started twirling the weapon over my head, and I immediately stop and rush over to her.
“What happened?” I ask. “Did you swallow something?”
A burst of air fills her lungs, and she stares wonderingly at the weapon. “I didn’t swallow anything. It’s the mace. Do that again.”
“Spin it over your head in a circle.”
I give one full rotation of the weapon, and this time Temra is ready. “I can’t breathe when you do that.”
I stare at the mace in shock before handing it over to her. “Now you can try.”
She does, and I feel the effects instantly. The mace is sucking the air away from me, toward itself. I step farther and farther away. Once I reach about ten feet, I can breathe again.
Temra stops the motion. “Incredible!”
“I’m glad my sheer panic is good for something.”
Temra looks on me sadly. “It’s all right, Ziva. Whenever it happens, I’ll be here for you.”
As the older sister, I should be there for her. But more often than not, she is the one saving me. Temra should have been the one to receive our mother’s gift for magic. She is so much stronger and braver than I will ever be, but I don’t think she realizes how much my gift took away my own childhood.
I’m glad that, at sixteen, Temra is able to focus on more trivial tasks, like flirting with boys and focusing on her schooling. But me? I’ve been providing for us since I was twelve. I often wonder if spending so much of my formative years locked in a forge somehow made me fearful of everything else. At eighteen, I hate to leave the house and be around people.
Or maybe it’s simply an effect of the magic itself. I’ve no one to ask for answers about magic. Mother was killed when I was five, long before my gift manifested.
“The local tournament is only months away,” Temra says. “I’m sure we’ll have many more customers passing through the city between then and now. Everyone is going to want a Zivan blade.”
She’s trying to make me feel better. I appreciate the effort, but I’m still reeling from the effects of my attack.
“It’s a phase,” Temra says, reading my thoughts. “It will pass eventually.”
“I’m sure you’re right.”
But I don’t believe it for a moment.
Excerpted from Blade of Secrets, copyright © 2021 by Tricia Levenseller.