Table of Contents
Afterward The King Who Was an Emperor
Characters and Ships in TREASON’S SHORE
Also by Sherwood Smith:
Copyright © 2009 by Sherwood Smith.
eISBN : 978-1-101-10872-7
All Rights Reserved.
DAW Books Collector’s No. 1482.
DAW Books Inc. is distributed by Penguin Group (USA).
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
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My heartfelt thanks to Hallie O’Donovan, Francesca Forrest, Kate El liott, Shweta Narayan and Faye Bi for their generosity with their time and insight in beta reading, to Tammy Meatzie for her patience and generosity in proofreading for me, and to Gregory Feeley for the title suggestion.
Anyone interested in extra information, there is a wiki full of Sarto rias-deles geekery here:
including a “what happened after” timeline.
It’s difficult to pin down music that is close to what one hears, but there are three pieces that can provide a vector: the soundtrack of
, “Chale Chalo,” from
Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India
, and “Azeem O Shahen Shahenshah” from
, as well as some cuts from the Scottish band Albannach.
HE arched window over Tdor’s bed glowed with the faint blue of impending dawn. She rose, pushing down the covers on the inside so no cold air would disturb Inda, her husband of one night. Inda slept on, an unmoving mound under the quilt.
Below, as the sun began to crest the eastern hills, Inda’s mother Fareas-Iofre walked through the castle and to stable, courtyard, and garden as people shuffled out to begin their day. She spoke to each, requesting quiet movements so that Inda could sleep.
Many looked up at Tdor’s bedroom window, smiling at the memory of Inda’s wedding the night before. Others remembered how old he had looked on his long-awaited arrival home. Not old, no, but hard, though he had just turned twenty-one—hard and covered with scars. They picked up their tools with care, and spoke in lowered voices, if at all.
Tdor was too preoccupied to notice the unusual quiet. She stood for a short time, looking down at Inda’s sleeping form. Her palm ached with her desire to caress him, but she knew he needed rest.
So she flung her waiting robe around her chilled flesh and crouched down before the battered trunk that had held her clothes since she had first come to live at Tenthen Castle when she was two years old. In the weak light the trunk was barely discernable as a bulky rectangle; the carved horse heads with tangled manes could only be felt, not seen. Her fingers ran from those to the top edge, between the iron hinges. At the left end, the pattern of carved leaves had been marred by a dozen or so rough notches, gouged long ago. When Tdor left the castle nursery at age eight, Fareas-Iofre had told her,
This trunk belonged to Inda’s grandmother. When she was a girl she made those notches to commemorate happy days. It is now yours.
Tdor had made notches on the right-hand side. Not many, though she considered her life a happy one. But days when the cup of light inside her heart so overflowed it seemed to spill out into the world, those were the days she’d used one of her wrist knives to make a mark of her own.
She ran her fingers over them, recalling each occasion. The earlier ones seemed childish now, like the first day she hit the target center with every arrow. The day she’d successfully translated a whole line of Old Sartoran without resorting to the gloss. The day she’d beaten Inda’s cousin Branid in a not-quite-friendly fighting match. After she turned thirteen, for a long time she hadn’t made any, not with Inda away in exile for so many years, and so many other bad things going on. During that interval she’d only made two: the first on the day she left for the queen’s training, and the second the day she returned (she thought) forever.
More recently she’d added another pair. One when her foster-sister, Joret Dei—who had been betrothed to Inda’s brother until Tanrid had been killed—married a prince over the mountains. The last one she’d made was after the day she commanded a successful castle defense war game the previous spring.
Tdor slid her knife from its wrist sheath and worked it into the wood, slow and silent. It must be done now. In the future when she touched it, she would remember kneeling here the morning after her wedding ceremony, pooled in happiness. Inda had come back from his long exile. He had led the kingdom in battle against the invading Venn despite terrible odds. He had regained honor and place—and he’d come home.
She pressed the blade deeply into the wood, then sat back to impress every detail into memory: the rough stone of the walls stippled with a faint honey color; her worn rug of green yarn, the dark green broken by the two lighter patches that she had worked in herself to mend worn spots—they hadn’t found the exact green dye to match. The strengthening light glowing in the window began to reveal the two shades, once so annoying, but grown familiar, and then dear.
A movement from the bed snapped her gaze up. The warming light outlined the shape of Inda’s shoulder, one relaxed hand, his brown braid with curls straggling loose. He slept on, so she continued her survey, breathing deeply of the familiar smell of stone, of horse, of mingled sweat. She cherished each, even the cold mottling the skin on her own hands as she gripped her knife.
I am so happy,
Tdor thought, rising to her feet. The lightness of joy intensified to the sweet anguish of gratitude, making her giddy—almost afraid—as she looked across the room at Inda breathing deeply in the tangle of sheets.
Fear of a proximate threat was pragmatic; fear of the imaginary threat was just craven. She picked up her knives and her clothes and eased noiselessly from the room to run down to the baths.
The sun had appeared, shafting spangles over the gently steaming water when she forced herself to leave the hot bath. Inda’s lover, Dag Signi, had obviously used her magic to renew the water-cleaning spells and whatever mysterious magic it was that took light and heat from the day’s sun and hoarded it in the stones below the baths to keep the water warm. The familiar dank smell, strengthening slowly over the past year or so, was entirely gone.
Tdor consciously extended her gratitude to include Signi, the lover Inda had brought back with him. Tdor hoped before long that welcoming Signi within the family circle would be unconscious, as effortless as her own love for Inda.
Tdor was mentally ordering her day when she emerged from the women’s side, walking at her usual brisk pace, and ran right into a tall, strong figure just emerging from the men’s side. A flash of long, glossy wheat-gold hair, a beautiful hand gripping her arm to steady her: she looked up into dark-fringed golden eyes. “Tau?”
Each stepped back. Tau was mildly surprised to see Tdor awake; she was far more surprised to discover him dressed in his foreign clothes: a long vest over a loose shirt and narrow trousers rather than the ubiquitous blue coat worn by Marlovan Runners. “You’re leaving? Does Inda know?” She flushed, hoping the question wasn’t wrong. So much of In da’s life was unknown, even strange. “I mean—”
“It’s all right.” Tau uttered a soft laugh. “I’m leaving, and Inda doesn’t know. Do you remember Jeje?”
Tdor smiled at the vivid image of the short, dark-browed woman her own age whom Inda had brought to the royal city when his exile had ended. Jeje had called herself master of a scout craft, which Tdor understood had something to do with boats. Jeje had been part of Inda’s pirate fighting fleet. They’d only conversed once, but Jeje’s pungent opinions and her matter-of-fact outlandishness had entertained Tdor immensely.
“I think I told you that she left us early on. Said she had a quest of her own, which I had assumed was to find her family. Late last night Jeje wrote to me by one of those magical letter cases.” Tau tapped an inner pocket of his vest. “It seems she’s found my mother. She won’t tell me how she found her, or how my mother wound up where she is. It appears I’ll be required to cross half the continent to discover what happened. And as Inda will not need me in the royal city, where he will no doubt find plenty of Runners far better trained at running than I, well, I may as well get started.”
Was there just a breath of laughter, of self-mockery in his pleasantly spoken words? She did not look up. In the few weeks Tau had been among them, she had discovered that his expression—almost always mild and friendly—rarely changed.
“So here is a suggestion.” Tau stopped on the stair. He held out a hand and Tdor stopped as well, looking up in surprise. “When Inda is bad in the mornings put willow-steep in his coffee.”
“Willow,” she repeated, and started down the stairs again. “But that’s so bitter. And what do you mean by bad?”
“Wakes up with stiff joints. Mostly when the weather is wet—I don’t know why. Not always. Don’t ask him. He’ll just say he’s fine. Give him the willow. He won’t notice, I promise you.”
“He rarely noticed his food when small.” For some reason Tdor’s eyes stung. “He just shoveled it in. He was always planning what to do next. He organized all our games.” She gulped. “It’s so odd he never told you that. Talked about us. It’s as if he wanted to forget us.”
“No.” Tau’s voice was quiet, but resonant with conviction. “I think he missed his home so much he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, talk. But he’s got you all back again.”
But he doesn’t have his home back,
she thought as they passed through the children’s dining room with its plain plank table and worn mats.
She cherished the dilapidations that had shocked Inda the day before. Though she knew she was happy—she was aware of the glowing cup inside her—the thought of leaving diminished some of the joy. But the royal city and their new lives were an unsurpassed honor, she reminded herself. Hadand was there.
I will be happy there, too
“How will you get to where you are going? You can’t travel over the mountains now—winter is almost on us. It takes half a year to get through when the passes are clear.”
“No more mountains!” Tau gave a soft laugh. “I thought I’d see if a ship or two miraculously survived the pirate attacks.”
“Plenty of ships. No miracle.”
They turned around to find Whipstick Noth, the beech-thin, tough, weathered Randael assigned to the Algara-Vayirs by the former king after Inda’s older brother Tanrid was killed.
Amusement flashed through Tau as Whipstick went on. “Now’t the pirates and the Venn seem to be gone, my dad tells me people’re bringing out fisher craft and even trade ships they hid along the inlets until the troubles were over.”
In the east, good manners required that if you overheard another’s conversation, you pretended not to, and excellent manners obliged you to step out of earshot. Among Marlovans, Tau had discovered, if you heard it, you were a part of it.
“Maybe I can talk my way on board one, then. Work my passage.” Tau flexed an arm.
Whipstick eyed Tau as they took up plates and helped themselves to fresh rye pan biscuits. The fellow was an anomaly here in Tenthen. Not so much his spectacular looks—though that was certainly a part of it—but his manners, his fine clothes, his outland habits, like teaching the steward to sew ribbon along the edges of the linens to make them last. But first he’d had to teach the weavers how to make ribbon.
You’d think, with those looks and his finicky ways, he’d be on the strut, but he hadn’t been at all. More, he was tough. Whipstick had discovered that after his first offer of a practice session on the mats. Their strength was a match, but Tau always won because he was trained in some new type of contact fighting that Inda had learned while a pirate. Tau had used it fighting beside Inda at the end of the Venn War, where—according to rumors preceding Inda—the two of them had scythed down hundreds of Venn all by themselves, ending with the surrender of the commander himself. Whipstick knew how numbers of dead inflated with every telling, and he was waiting to discover the truth behind the rumors, if he could.
“You tell them who you are, that’ll get you passage,” Whipstick said.
Tau grimaced very slightly. It was brief, Whipstick almost missed it, and Tdor did; she was leaning against the prep table, staring out the window.
Whipstick realized Tau—for whatever reason—did not intend to tell anyone at Parayid Harbor who he was. Whipstick wouldn’t waste time trying to argue. Instead, he sat down with his food.
Tdor turned away and joined the fellows as they all settled on the mats at the table. From old habit Tdor sat across from Whipstick. How strange life was! Ten years ago, she’d sat here one spot down to the left, across from Inda, with Tanrid and Joret at her right, the best end of the table closest to the fire. Then five years later, Tanrid was dead and everyone expected Joret to marry Inda (if he returned) and Tdor to marry Whipstick, who took to sitting in Tanrid’s place, just because he could get up faster if called away.
Then Joret left to accompany Hadand, Inda’s sister and a new-married queen, on a diplomatic visit over the mountain border into Anaeran-Adrani. Hadand had returned, but Joret stayed to marry the crown prince. Here at home, Tdor moved over a spot, again because it was easiest if she was called away.
Now Inda was back, and the rest of them sat here out of habit in the children’s dining room; they still thought of themselves as the young generation because as yet there was not one younger.
Her reverie broke when Whipstick and Tau, who had been talking companionably, fell silent. The comfortable atmosphere had changed, and Tdor knew without looking up that Inda’s Cousin Branid had entered.
He walked into the room carrying his plate, his eyes flicking back in forth in that anxious, snakelike way that made Tdor’s innards tighten with dislike. Tdor had been shocked to overhear someone remark once that he was handsome. It was true that Branid was tall and he’d become muscular from his new devotion to drill. Alone of the Algara-Vayir blood relatives his hair had remained bright yellow, his eyes blue instead of the brown shared by Inda and his mother, but Tdor couldn’t think of him as handsome. His features always seemed distorted into a perpetual pout when they weren’t angry or sly.
She realized Branid had been standing there staring at them for several heartbeats. When Whipstick and Tau glanced up from their food, he forced a big grin. “Well, we should begin as we mean to go on, shouldn’t we? I’m heir to the Adaluin now. Or will be when I ride to Convocation and make my vows.”
Annoyance flushed through Tdor. She was about to remind him that this was the children’s dining room, and the Adaluin hadn’t sat in here for at least fifty years, more like sixty. But Whipstick just scooted down, leaving Tanrid’s old place to Branid.
Branid flushed with far more pleasure than the situation warranted; Tdor’s entire body tightened with resentment as he settled down, looking around with a smug, proprietary air at the room he’d been eating in all his life. “Why is everything so quiet? No one’s at work?”
“They’re at work,” Whipstick said. “The Iofre asked people to make as little noise as they could. To let Inda sleep.”
The mention of the Iofre caused Branid to abandon whatever he’d been intending to say. Instead, as he broke his biscuit, he turned Tdor’s way. “Inda needs sleep?” He grinned. “You wore him out, eh, Tdor?”
Scalding anger burned through her, so hot it made her ears tingle. At the sight of her blush Branid laughed with a knowing air that made her want to fling her platter at him.
But she controlled the urge, as she always had. She knew it was unfair, this reaction of hers: sexual jokes were common, even expected after weddings when the pair publicly go off together. She would even laugh if some of her friends among the guardswomen made the very same sort of joke later on. But somehow when Branid made them, with that insinuating tone, that leer, she felt as if worms had crawled into her clothes.
Don’t make a fuss,
she told herself. If you showed you were unsettled, or upset, he’d worry it like a castle cat with a trapped rat. So she pretended Whipstick had said it. “I did. Anyone want another biscuit?”
Her voice came out with only one quiver. Tau’s brows lifted; Whipstick went on eating. Branid paid her no more attention, and then she realized what his real intent was.
Her answer didn’t matter, it wouldn’t have had she indeed thrown her platter at him. Even dripping with egg, he would have got to what mattered the most, as he turned to Whipstick.
He’s going to start issuing orders,
Tdor thought, and hate fired through her. It was only right. The title was now Branid’s, after all these years. But she wouldn’t stay to listen to him ordering Whipstick around just to be giving orders that the Randael now had to obey.
She whisked herself out, shook her half-eaten eggs into the pig pail, and walked out the other entrance, into the servants’ end of the castle, though she wasn’t swift enough to avoid Branid’s voice, thick with triumph, “Whipstick, I’m thinking we should change the schedule around, so we can . . .”
Tdor broke into a run to avoid that voice, stupid as it was. She burst into the great hall, which was usually empty, so she could get control, then stumbled to a stop. She was not alone.
The tall, fair-haired woman turned, and Dannor Tya-Vayir smiled. Tdor’s heat of anger died down to a cold rock of resentment. From one horrible person to another: Mudface Tya-Vayir, who had forced her company onto Inda after his triumph in the north. Dannor had done her very best to lure Inda into setting aside his lifetime betrothal to Tdor and marrying her instead.
“How does it feel to be married?” Dannor’s tone was so cordial Tdor was taken aback.
“Fine.” Tdor strove to hide her wariness. When they were girls in the queen’s training, Dannor had never once had anything good to say to Tdor. Ever.
“Where’s Inda?” Dannor asked.
“Still asleep.” Tdor pointed upstairs.
Dannor smiled, one shoulder coming up. During their girlhood, Dannor had never taken defeat well. But Dannor made no remark about Inda or his marriage. “Is this hall always so bare?”
Tdor flushed as she took in the holly and ivy garlands still hanging from the torch sconces, the ivy now drooping and withered. Except for the magnificent raptor chair on the dais at the far end, the hall really was very barren, though the previous night she’d thought the decorations festive.
Even though Tenthen Castle was—strictly speaking—no longer her home, a lifetime of pride kept her reply short. “Yes.” And when Dannor turned her way, brows lifted, Tdor forced herself to smile, to be less abrupt. “We had a couple of old Iascan tapestries left over from the days when the Tenthens had the castle. Those tapestries were rotting, and we didn’t like them well enough to reweave them. The Algara-Vayirs had one tapestry that I hear was a good one, but it got burned by pirates when the Adaluin’s first family was killed. We’ve never had time or money to replace it.”
“Why didn’t you just make a new one?” Dannor asked.
Tdor sighed. “No one could agree on a design, then the tapestry weaver died of old age. No prentice, not after all the years of troubles. So the young weavers haven’t actually made one, though they all say they know how to set up the loom. But times being what they were, and no one good enough at drawing to make the design, it never happened.”
“That would make a splendid gift for the Iofre, then, wouldn’t it?” Dannor asked. “I mean, if, say, Inda found himself wealthy in his new place as Harskialdna, and could fund one.”
“That definitely won’t happen.” Tdor turned her back on the blank wall. It really did look bare, though she’d grown up used to bare walls. “Inda told me yesterday that the king says the treasury is empty.”
Dannor waved a hand as though shooing insects. “Oh, they’ll fill it fast enough. You watch. Evred-Harvaldar will squeeze the Jarls at Convocation, after speeches about triumph and glory. Men are all the same.” She rocked back on her heels, and laughed. “But they look good in tapestries, if you know how to make them.”
In their queen’s training days, Dannor had displayed an ability to draw. She’d done it seldom, as Tdor remembered. Dannor had been far too busy bossing people around. But once or twice she’d picked up a chalk, and with a few quick lines sketched a goose stretching up into flight. Or a horse running through a field of high grass, mane and tail flying.
Tdor fought to overcome her dislike. Even Dannor’s stratagem with Inda—attaching herself to him and doing her best to sway him into marrying her instead of Tdor—could be explained, if you looked at it from Dannor’s point of view. Inda had not been home for almost ten years. For all anyone knew, Tdor would have been just as happy marrying Whipstick or even Branid.
Meanwhile, until summer Dannor had been a Jarlan, head of the household. During the recent war with the Venn her husband was killed leading a desperate charge in Andahi Pass, far to the north. Dannor had no children, so she would not be senior woman of Yvana-Vayir. Dannor could either stay and be under the orders of the new Jarl’s wife or else go to her birth home, where she’d be under orders of her brother and his wife. No woman would want that unless she was fond of her family.
So it was time to return Dannor’s generous acceptance of defeat with generosity. “Speaking of the king, you know Inda and I will have to leave soon. Probably even tomorrow. If you’d like an escort, you’d be welcome to come with us. We’ve extra tents.”
Dannor smiled. “That is a kind offer. But I always liked drawing, and I’ve an idea for a tapestry. Why not sketch it out as a guest-gift for Inda’s mother? I’ll take a day or two to measure out the hall, then draw a design. As for travel, my Runner and I are used to moving fast. I get restless dawdling along the way you have to in cavalcade, dragging tents and gear.”
“All right. Though if you change your mind, know that you are welcome.” Tdor studied the wall as if trying to envision a tapestry there someday, afraid her relief would show. “I’m sure the Iofre would like some kind of commemoration. Even if it might be a generation or two before we can actually make the tapestry.”
Dannor laughed. Her intentions were clearly friendly, but that laugh was so sharp a reminder of their teen years, Tdor turned away to hide a wince she could not suppress.
Tiredness was making her giddy, and anyway she needed to set about readying for departure and take some of the burden off her First Runner Noren, who she knew was grieving deeply at the prospect of leaving Whipstick behind. As Tdor bustled around a corner, she wondered if it would be better to talk to Noren, or to let her choose the time to talk—
“Inda!” she exclaimed as she nearly stumbled into her new husband. His scarred face looked so tired, so . . . what was his expression? She always used to know what he was thinking, but he seemed so remote now.
“Overslept.” He gave her a sheepish grin, and she grinned back at him. That was her own Inda again. Joy refilled her being with light.
Then he looked around. “Where’s Signi?”
Her face must have changed; Inda’s smile faltered, and the biggest scar on his brow puckered as he stared at her, puzzled.
She clapped her hands together, rejecting the hurt of jealousy with a ferocious act of will. There was no more useless, no more utterly despicable an emotion than jealousy!
Now there are three of us,
I have everything I want, just more of it
She smiled, and took his hand. “Let’s go find her together.”
When the Iofre finished her rounds of the castle, she discovered Signi out beyond the pigs’ pen, whirling and dancing with slow precision. It looked a little like Tau’s knife warm-ups, only with no weapons, no threat: the small, plain Venn woman became light as a leaf, sinuous as a cat, full of grace.
Signi spun to a stop and put her hands together.
“I saw movement.” The Iofre opened her hands; Signi wondered if the Marlovans knew that this gesture was the old Venn sign of peace. “I did not mean to interrupt, or intrude.”
“I am finished,” Signi replied, and in her unremarkable hazel gaze, the lift to her sandy brows Iofre saw question.
“I asked everyone to let Inda sleep. He—I was shocked. He has changed so terribly. As if he’s been gone fifty years, not ten.”
The Iofre’s voice was low. Signi saw her anguish in the tightness of her body.
“He is—he was . . .” Signi pressed her fingertips together, reaching for the right words. “I do not have the formal healer training. I also do not have the words in your language.”
“Tell me what you can,” the Iofre begged.
“During the worst of the battle preparations. And its eve. He was . . . coming apart in pieces. It is the only way I can express it. But his friends, they did not see. They laughed when he goes like this.” Signi mimed rocking back and forth. “Or this.” She wagged her head back and forth, her lips loose. Then looked up. “Not in cruelty. They are used to it, they are fond of Inda and his oddities. He must have done that sometimes as a boy, yes?”
“He did,” the Iofre whispered. “In the early days I was watchful. I had a great-aunt, you see, who had begun life that way. But she never talked, nor saw you, even if you looked into her face, I was told. She would just give you lists of numbers, often relating to dates in history. These were always correct, no matter how far back they reached in time.”
“What happened to her?” Signi asked.
“None of the healers could get her to hear them, so the family sent her to Sartor. To where they train the healer-mages. After ten years, she became a scribe. My grandmother was sent by the family to see her. My great-aunt had come into the world enough to know people. She had a good life. But Inda has always known us. The healers had told my grandmother if a child starts life like that, imprisoned inside her skull, only love brings her out. When Inda was small, and I thought I saw similar signs, I told my people to help his mind stay present, with us. My nephew Manther was somewhat similar. Both boys stayed . . . present.” Fareas closed her eyes, her old companions grief and regret seizing her in their merciless grip. Two mistakes she had made, she had decided after long, watchful nights: one, permitting Tanrid to thrash his brother into obedience just because everyone else did it. And her second mistake, permitting Tanrid to see Inda favored by everyone, and never telling him why.
Signi observed the closed eyes, the tight expression of inheld pain, and mistook the cause. “Perhaps he will recover, given time.”
Fareas shuttered the emotions away with the practice of years. She must concern herself with the now. “I can talk to Tdor—no I can’t. She is going to leave.” The Iofre hesitated. Inda had been granted the highest honor in the land. And Tdor as well. Tdor . . . “All these years she kept faith with her remembered friendship for Inda. I hesitate to say anything now, when she must get to know him as a man, and one with so strange an array of experiences—”
Inda and Tdor stepped out of the kitchen door and into the truck garden. “Hold,” the Iofre called. “We will come to you.” She turned back to Signi, murmuring, “Evred-Harvaldar will surely look out for Inda’s welfare. They were fiercely loyal as boys. Is it not still true?”
Signi’s expression was impossible to interpret. “Yes.”
Whipstick finished his breakfast as Branid issued his long string of orders. Unlike the Algara-Vayirs (which now included Tdor), Whipstick had had plenty of time to think about what Inda’s promotion would mean to Castle Tenthen—and to talk it over with Noren, whom he would have married if she had not been a sworn First Runner.
Of course Branid would ride roughshod over those now under his chain of command, glorying in finally gaining the prominence his malevolent grandmother had tried to wrest for him all his life. But he did care about Tenthen, and Choraed Elgaer, though he had strange ways of showing it. Whipstick had decided how to deal with Branid long before Branid got his lifelong wish.
Let Branid strut. Order the men about. Whipstick would keep his temper and counsel the men to do the same, reminding them that Branid would all the sooner settle to the work that must be done. That was all that mattered, whoever gave the orders.
He did make certain of one thing, though, before he got started. As soon as he was done eating, he took Cousin Flatfoot, his Runner, aside. “I’m sending you to take Tau to Parayid. I’ll give you my reports on what Inda told us about things up north to carry to my dad. He’ll want to know. Then you introduce Tau to my ma. Tell her who he is, but tell her Tau doesn’t want any fuss. She’ll make certain he gets a good boat.”
Flatfoot chuckled. “Done.”
S soon as word traveled inward from the perimeter patrol outside Iasca Leror’s royal city that the king’s banner had been spotted, people put down tools and lined the main street behind the city gate. When low clouds rumbling overhead brought huge splats of rain, some ducked inside doorways, but no one returned to work or home.
At last the tower and the now-visible outriders exchanged the thrilling trumpet chords announcing the return of the king. The Bell Runners enthusiastically plied the ropes, and people surged from under cover to line the streets and began to shout and pound on hand drums.
The rhythmic shout gained volume as their young king rode through the city gates, tall and straight, his red hair darkened to the shade of his father’s by the rain, color emphasizing his cheekbones. They cheered him and his men all the way to the castle gates, and only when he was inside did they go back to work in small clumps, everybody laughing and cheerful. Innkeepers promised to draw an ale for everyone (many knowing that that would begin an evening of festive largesse) to cheer the northern victory as they looked forward to the stories the returning warriors would tell.
Inside the castle courtyard Evred slipped from his saddle, leaving his Runners to supervise as the last remnant of his army—the King’s Riders who guarded the city and castle—rode over to their barracks to dismount, unpack, and reunite with families for the promised liberty.
The warm splatters of rain dotting brown circles on the honey-colored flagstones began to merge as the young queen appeared, short like Inda, her wide brown eyes and unruly brown curls so much like his. But where Inda was broad in chest and shoulder, Hadand-Gunvaer was broad in bosom and hip. She and Evred clasped hands, and the tower sentries—men and women—sent up a cheer.
Deheldegarthe: a fighting queen, one who had by her own hand defended the kingdom. It, like
for the king, was the highest accolade—one that must be given, it could never be asked for.
The royal pair smiled upward, and as the rain abruptly increased walked inside together; Hadand observed her beloved’s distant gaze and waited for him to return from wherever his thoughts had taken him.
The air was motionless and warm inside the tower, assailing Evred with familiar smells, comfortable smells, which were now free from the power to harm; his uncle and brother had receded to occasional distorted voices in dreams.
When he and Hadand reached his outer chamber, he discovered chilled wine-and-punch waiting. “Ah,” he said on a long outward breath. “How good it is to be home.”
“Your last report via the magic case stated that all is well in the north.” Hadand dropped onto a waiting mat.
Evred sat down next to her and cradled the broad, shallow wine cup in both hands. “It is as well as can be expected. Ndand Arveas is there in the pass, holding Castle Andahi while Cama rides back and forth from Idayago to Ghael. We’ll have to find someone to back her until Keth is grown, though she’s strong enough to hold it on her own.”
Hadand’s lips parted. She longed to say,
So why don’t you make her a Jarlan, and let her pick her own Jarl? Why can’t women command castles?
It seemed so obvious—especially since it had been women who had held Castle Andahi in the teeth of the entire Venn invasion, down to the last one.
But now was not the time for new ideas. She had learned through letters from women across the kingdom that most of the men who had gone north to fight (those who returned) longed to resume the old ways, the comfort of tradition.
So she turned her attention to Evred even as he studied her. Out of a lifetime of habit, each tried to descry the inner workings of the other’s mind: as children they had shared everything, but time and experience had built personal boundaries that were difficult to surmount, despite their best intentions.
“We’ll have to establish watches all along the north coast,” Evred continued, sounding tired. “Something like Flash’s beacon system, which would have worked had there not been treachery from within. But I’m keeping our best dragoon captains up there, headquartered at Ala Larkadhe, since my twin cousins want to swap off yearly as Jarls of Yvana-Vayir and commanders of the northern force.”
“Aren’t they a bit young for that?” Hadand asked.
“A year older than I was when I was first sent north to command,” Evred said wryly. “And yes, my authority was limited. So will theirs be, at first. They know Cama is under Inda in chain of command, and they report to him. They accepted it without argument. Good boys, both of them. Though Beaver never seems to stop talking.”
Hadand said, “Will they keep swapping off by year?”
“For now. I hope by the time their cousin finishes here as a horsetail and can serve as Randael at Yvana-Vayir they’ll settle it among themselves . . . if we do not have any more wars.”
Hadand’s brown, unwavering gaze was so much like Inda’s—and yet not. Evred realized he was searching for Inda in Hadand’s eyes. His emotions roiled until he locked them down hard. “To finish with Ala Larkadhe, the Morvende archive in the white tower was closed to me.”
Her face changed from the tension of worry to comprehension. She knew what that archive meant to him. “Did the Morvende say anything?”
“Nothing. I permitted the archive to be used as a transport, which seems to have alerted them. But the closing was inevitable because I dared to lead an army to war.” He tried, and failed, to keep the bitterness from his voice. “It appears that no one wishes to hear my reasons.”
Hadand poured more punch, maintaining a compassionate silence. She perceived the effort he made to relax, to look up and around. “All seems well here.”
“Yes. But we had no war to contend with.” How it hurt her to see the effort he made; what could she do? She had worked hard to have everything just right when he came home at last, down to his favorite foods, now rapidly cooling.
He looked blankly at the biscuits, then up. “The war, yes. You must have questions. I know my reports were scant. Those magical boxes. I don’t really trust them. And even if I could send a sheaf of papers instead of quarter sheets folded small, there remained the matter of trying to find the time to write on them.”
“Indeed I have questions. Beginning with the Venn surrender. What exactly happened? I’ve heard several conflicting accounts, and Inda has never written to me. Tdor says he wrote only that he was still alive.”
He frowned, yet she knew Inda was all right. Tdor had sent a message when Inda arrived safely home, that they were about to marry. And though Tdor had not written since, Hadand knew that nothing disastrous had happened, or surely,
she would have heard.
“It was not really a surrender, though everyone believes it to have been.” He spoke slowly, hesitating between words.
She breathed in relief. The problem was not Inda. Absurd to have thought it concerned him! “What exactly happened with the Venn? Are they really gone? So many rumors have run ahead of you, and like you say, your report was scant. I have it by heart now, I’ve read it so many times, trying to wring extra meaning from every pen stroke.”
His smile was perfunctory. “Some of those rumors began just after the battle. I did nothing to interfere with them.” Evred drank his punch down, then pressed his fingers to his temples, eyes closed. “It seemed to hearten the men to think that Durasnir, the Venn Fleet Commander, surrendered to Inda. That he and Inda fought a duel. That he knelt before me and swore allegiance. None of those things happened. He asked for a truce, said that their king was dead, and that Prince Rajnir had to sail home to claim their crown.”
“That was all?”
“There was one more thing. It was very strange. I don’t know why I did it, but I asked if they were coming back.”
“He’d lie about that, of course,” Hadand exclaimed.
“So I thought the moment the words were out.” Evred crumbled a rye biscuit without awareness of what his fingers were doing as he thought back. “I braced for threat or dissembling. Scorn, even. We heard none of that. You must realize first that we learned before the attack that the one we have to fear is the mage Erkric, who was using magic to aid the war. According to Inda’s Venn lover, the Dag Signi—do you remember her?”
Hadand vividly remembered the small, older woman who had so kindly and quietly renewed all the castle magic spells for them, working all night while Evred and Inda raised the entire city to march to war. But Evred so distrusted magic that Hadand only signified assent without speaking.
Evred said, “She told us that Dag Erkric has attempted to strike a bargain with Norsunder in an effort to learn magic that will control minds. It is possible that he has done so.”
“I find that more difficult to believe than anything,” Hadand exclaimed. “You know how I’ve been researching magic ever since I could read, but I’ve never found mention of magic—in our present time—that does that. In the days of Old Sartor, perhaps. We thought it all figurative language.”
“I have trouble believing it, too. I retained my distrust of Dag Signi to the end, but something that Commander Durasnir said seemed to corroborate . . . well, you tell me what you think.” Evred leaned forward. “He asked Inda if he’d ever met Ramis of the
The mystery pirate who commanded the ship with black sails.”
“The pirate who Inda said caused the rift to the sky through which the Brotherhood of Blood command ships were forced. I remember that.” Hadand poured more punch in hopes of getting Evred to drink if he would not eat. “I always thought this mysterious Ramis was a, oh, a dream figure or something.”
“Inda insists he’s a real man. He met him. Spent some time with him in conversation. Anyway, Inda answered Durasnir. Told him that Ramis had said there were three men who were dangerous to Inda: Prince Rajnir, the mage Erkric, and Durasnir himself. After which Durasnir said, ‘Two of us must obey.’ And then he vanished by magic. Shortly thereafter, the Venn marched back down the pass, boarded their ships, and sailed away.”
“Two of them? But that just means the commander and the mage must obey the king.”
“Why did he not say so?”
Hadand’s eyes narrowed, bringing Inda forcibly to mind.
She said, “You think the Commander of the Venn, your enemy, was
you in some way? But that makes no sense. A threat I can understand. A warning?”
“If Dag Erkric truly does control their prince—now their king, surely—then the warning becomes clear. The danger we share is the threat of magic. Unfortunately Durasnir spoke in Sartoran, so of our people the only ones who understood him were Inda and Taumad.”
“Well, what does Inda say? He could ask Dag Signi.”
“They don’t discuss the war. It’s an honorable truce, and I understand that. As for Inda . . .” Evred touched a ring on his hand that she had never seen before. She did not often see his hands; though they were long and beautiful, he habitually hid them by clasping them behind his back.
“As for Inda, we did not talk to much purpose. He was either riding along the lines encouraging the men, especially the wounded, or else abstracted . . .” Evred paused, remembering the campfire conversations, painfully repetitive as Inda went over every move, almost every sword stroke of the fights he could remember. After a few weeks of that, Evred thought it a victory when Inda shifted from what he should have done to what he could have done.
Evred looked up. “We seldom had much time alone to discuss that.”
Hadand did not ask why the two most powerful men in the entire kingdom couldn’t send the whole army out of hearing if they did not want to walk apart. There were times when speech was insufficient, even impossible. She remembered the days following the Jarl of Yvana-Vayir’s conspiracy: the vivid memory images, the long pauses when she couldn’t remember where she was. Waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, reliving the worst, and wondering if she could have done something to prevent it. Words had come with difficulty, if at all.
She nodded agreement.
He closed his eyes and faced southwest. “He’s on his way.” And at Hadand’s questioning look said, “It’s a location ring. Inda wears the other one. We used them in the Andahi Pass so we would not lose each other.”
“So you trust this ring, but not the golden scroll-cases?”
Evred’s expression was always reserved, but now it tightened.
He made an angry, determined effort to lock away the conflict of emotions. The golden scroll-cases had been bespelled by Dag Signi; the location rings had been provided, Evred strongly suspected, by Savarend Montredavan-An, otherwise known as Fox.
Evred knew Inda’s loyalty to Iasca Leror—to Evred himself—was total. Yet Inda had somehow gained the personal loyalty of not only the Venn mage Dag Signi, but the potentially troublesome Fox, who now commanded Inda’s old pirate fleet and who had, it seemed, rescued Inda from certain death at the hands of the Venn.