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silver-gray stallion to match them with the proper degree of cool courtesy.
Known as he was for his indulgence in horseflesh, he had a tenacious
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disposition for level thinking. Against Arithon's insouciance at the
waterfront, Havish's liege exacted his grave style of revenge.
He showed no favor, but settled in comfort on his dais and allowed his packs
of courtiers to sate their voracious interests as they chose.
Princess Talith could have warned of the mistake. She had observed, front and
center, nine years in the past, when Arithon had been presented to Etarra's
pedigree elite as the prince sanctioned for
Rathain's sovereignty. If he looked no day older for the years that had
passed, his skill at evasion had sharpened. The finery he chose, then as now,
was expensive, but simple to the point of severity. He wore no jewels; no
leopard device. Rathain's royal colors of green, black, and silver commanded
no aura of respect. He had grace, but no majesty;
no overweening presence of muscular height or size. This caused the men,
infallibly, to underestimate him. Their more observant women disregarded his
slight stature, but looked instead at the way he filled his clothes.
For their fawning, their advances, their unwelcome prying questions, they
discovered too late the word, the fast quip, deployed in small malice like the
sting of a briar masked in ivy. They found that
Arithon could move through a crow shadow itself and shame his clumsier pursuit
to embarrassment. Inside of three hours, his wishes were made clear.
He invited no close acquaintance, no female company, no circle of wishful
admirers. Of his gifts of shadow or his upbringing by mages on
Elur beyond West Gate, he would make no display for entertainment.
Eldir regarded the blunt failure of his retaliation and the stunning rebuff of
his courtiers with his cleft chin parked on steepled fingers.
His eyes stayed peat brown in thought.
"Your prince is dangerous," he said in outright judgment to Sethvir.
"He has no heart in him at all."
"Do you think so?" The Warden of Althain moved veined knuckles and set a bread
crust to one side, unmindful as his transition from vagueness left the ends of
his beard in peril of wicking up gravy. "I should venture, instead, what you
see is a man too long hunted."
"My caithdein Machiel's not like that." Eldir gestured with his meat knife as
Arithon came to rest in a particularly dim corner, his back to a tapestry and
his lips flat set in distaste.
Sethvir's reply was very quiet. "Your clan steward only stood guard for his
life. This prince lies under siege for his spirit.
Look, you shall see." The Sorcerer crooked a hand and beckoned.
Insignificant as the gesture appeared, Arithon saw. For the Warden of
Althain, he came in willing, incongruous respect.
"Ostermere's court has established no patronage," said Sethvir as
Arithon paused beneath the dais. "The treasury's too scant and the trade
ministers are uncultured. His Grace has no titled hard in residence."
Althain's Warden finished in a bracing rebuke that startled
Eldir to attention. "If you won't make conversation, I charge you by your
office. You owe this court the music you were made and trained to share."
Arithon's carriage hardened to chiseled anger.
In the face of s'Ffalenn rage, that a half breath might trigger, Sethvir gave
a smile that unstrung his victim for sheer pity. "It hurts. I
know this. I ask in Halliron's memory. This realm is neutral, and I
believe the old master would not have your name be reviled on false grounds.
You will play and leave nothing to the mercy of unkind hearsay."
To the king's page who hovered in mouse quiet to one side, the
Sorcerer said, "Fetch a lyranthe from the gallery."
Arithon accepted the beautiful, varnished instrument with a word for the boy,
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but no bow for the king, and scarcely a glance at Sethvir.
He was shaking; no one close at hand could fail to notice. A stool was
fetched. He sat mute and tuned each silvered string.
This was not the exquisite instrument left under glass in the captain's cabin
aboard his brigantine. Only Talith and Sethvir shared past knowledge of the
other lyranthe, smashed in Etar-ra by Lysaer's hand in a fit of curse-driven
Here, where mishap might turn the best-laid plans, Arithon chose not to risk
the treasure inherited from Halliron. The princess was aware he held rank as
a hard, but had never before heard him play; like Eldir and his courtiers, the
experience took her by storm.
His skill tore their hearts, bled them white, and then bound ffortless as
wind, in haunting sweet resonance like coins them, thrown down through a
rainfall. He made them cry tears for sheer joy.
His was a talent not seen on Athera for more than a thousand years, Sethvir
admitted through the salt-damp folds of his napkin.
When at the last, silvered string was damped still by the hard, the court had
been wooed and won over.
They had seen the jewel in their midst in all its rare splendor, and
no matter how thankless its cutting edge, nothing could make them give it up.
Rathain's prince would have no surcease now, however he bristled and snapped.
He snatched what refuge he could in rough sports.
hawking, matches at arms, then contests with Hunting bows on horseback:
Arithon showed them a competence that humiliated, and won back his right to
reserve. He handled a sword with a killing polish even the softest trade
minister could respect. If Sethvir's intent was undone by a fraction, no one
any longer risked baiting Rathain's prince to plumb the mettle of his
Four days before solstice and the arrival of her ransom, Princess
Talith perched in the gallery above the high king's main hall, looking down on
candlelit tables and the tossing press of courtiers who languished replete
from the feast. The air smelled of lilies, almond sauces and lavender, almost
too cloying to breathe.
Talith had climbed the stair to clear her head. Beside the bench she chose
for refuge, swathed in borrowed cleric's robes, the Mad Prophet stood with his
elbows stubbed against the marble rail and his knuckles matted through his
beard. The irony caught the princess's notice, that the man the pair of them
tracked like choice prey was the inimitable
Prince of Rathain.
Like Talith, Dakar seemed to ache for a fact intrusively, even desperately
denied: that Arithon's viciousness stemmed not from cruelty but from too
terrible a gift of compassion.
"He strikes out because of his vulnerable heart," Talith shared in dismay to
the rotund prophet propped by the cushions where she sat, silk skirts fanned
about her like frost over glass in stilled shimmers of pearls and embroidery.
"Why should you wish to pull him down? I
have my husband's royal honor to defend. What reason do you have to hate?"
"The same, nearly." Dakar hunched his shoulders, her perception unwanted as
the prick of a rapier at his back. "Prince Lysaer has been my best friend." [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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