Authors: Sharon Green
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Epic
“Then throw away some of the books in your apartment so you can move
in,” Selendi had countered reasonably, determined to make things work out right. “Or get Father to throw away some of his, and put them in the library. I don’t care
you do with them, as long as you get them out of
“Someone should have mentioned to you sooner that you don’t own this house,” Leta had said with a sound of ridicule that had made Selendi feel completely incensed. “If Father wants the books moved then I’ll move them, but you have no say in the matter. Try to confine your selfishness and spoiled-brat behavior to your own life. Mother has to put up with it because she caused it, but I didn’t so I don’t.”
And Leta had started to turn away, arrogantly considering the matter settled. That had brought Selendi up to true fury, and without thinking she’d reached toward Leta with her talent. She’d actually done very little practicing with Air magic until then, but what she’d lacked in finesse she made up in strength. She thickened the air around Leta, just enough to make it unbreathable, knowing Leta’s feeble Air magic would never be able to save her.
And Leta’s Air magic hadn’t. It was Leta herself, obviously holding her breath, who turned back to Selendi and slapped her so hard across the face that Selendi was knocked down. In deep shock she’d half-lain on the floor, her ears ringing and her cheek blazing with pain, and Leta had bent down to take her by the hair and painfully yank her head up.
“It’s a shame this must be the first time anyone has ever raised a hand to you,” Leta had growled softly in a voice that sent shivers through Selendi. “If you’d been properly punished sooner, I would have been saved the trouble of having to do this. Listen to me, you little slut, and believe what I say: if you ever try to use your ability against me again, I’ll kill you. Afterward I’ll be hysterical because of the ‘accident’ and everyone will commiserate and comfort me, and you’ll be dead. Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m not serious. If you have to learn the truth the hard way, you’ll never learn anything beyond it. And from now on stay completely out of my way.”
She’d shoved Selendi away then and had straightened and left, but it had been quite a while before Selendi had been able to leave herself. Leta had terrified her, and as much like Father as Leta was, Selendi didn’t doubt for a moment that Leta had spoken the absolute truth. She’d taken pains to stay away from her sister and her sister’s possessions after that, but her hatred of Leta had grown stronger and stronger over the years.
So she had to do
to get even with her sister once they were in power, but she didn’t know what or how. She couldn’t very well face Leta personally, but maybe one or two of the men… Yes, that might work, especially when they needed
cooperation to win the Throne. She would cooperate in return for a small favor, one they owed her anyway simply because she was there. She’d have to mention the point after they spoke to that agent, and the loathsome man was gone.
Selendi, once again more pleased with the world, settled back to enjoy the rest of the ride. Being involved with men somewhere other than bed might not be so bad after all, but which ones should she send after Leta? She’d have to think about it for a while, but one of them would have to be Delin Moord. He’d be able to frighten even Leta, if even half of what she’d seen in his eyes the time or two he’d let his mask drop was true…
Homin Weil, Water magic
Homin crept through the bedchamber, holding his breath to keep it from coming out in great, noisy gasps. His father’s new wife Elfini was currently taking her nap, and the last thing Homin wanted to do was waken her. She’d certainly arranged things so that he
awaken her, but it was just possible he might get around that. Actually he
to get around it, as the time to leave for the meeting was fast approaching. Going through the litany would take much too long, but if Elfini awoke she would certainly insist on it…
“What are you doing in my bedchamber, Homin?” Elfini’s voice came suddenly out of the dimness, nearly making Homin’s heart stop dead. “This is supposed to be my nap time.”
“I—I need my—identification bracelet,” Homin croaked unsteadily, his insides tightening with every word. He hadn’t even straightened out of his hunched-over posture, and probably wouldn’t until he was out of there again. “I—took it off for my—bath, and when I returned from the—bath house it was gone. I—looked everywhere for it—before realizing you must have—accidentally walked away with it. I can’t go to the meeting without it, so—”
“So you came barging into my bedchamber as if I were one of the maids,” Elfini interrupted, her tone very flat. “But now that you
here, we can review the lesson. You do remember the lesson, don’t you?”
“Elfini, please,” he begged in a whisper, unable to look at her where she sat up in the bed. “I’m not my father, and I don’t enjoy this sort of thing. I just want my identification bracelet back, and then I can—”
“How dare you try to be impertinent with me, boy?” she interrupted again to demand, her voice much colder than it had been—which he hadn’t thought would be possible. “Recite the first of the lessons I taught you, and do it now!”
“Elfini is the mistress of this household,” Homin recited at once, too frightened not to. “Elfini is also the mistress of everyone
the household. If anyone in her household disobeys or displeases Elfini, she will not hesitate to discipline them. Please, Elfini, I’m going to be late—”
“And you claim to understand what you just babbled out?” Elfini said, scorn dripping from every word. “You insist you disliked your first taste of discipline, but your actions fairly beg for another dose. But I do have to remember how delicate you are. Go to my special wardrobe, and fetch out the light whip.”
“Lord Rigos will force me to tell him why I’m late!” Homin blurted out, his desperation almost as great as his fear. “You know how frightened I am of him, and when he turns those eyes on me I simply can’t lie. He’s already said he’ll take stern measures with anyone who tries to disrupt our group, and the anyone includes our families. Lord Rigos is—”
“I know who Lord Rigos is!” Elfini snapped, furious anger now rippling her control. “We’ve known and hated each other for a number of years now, and he’d just love to interfere with my—Homin, your bracelet is here on my night table. Come and get it and then go to your meeting, but report to me as soon as you return. You’re a very naughty boy, and I don’t allow naughty boys under my roof.”
The flood of relief made Homin stagger, but he caught his balance then forced himself to go closer to where Elfini sat. Because of the dimness he was just about on top of the night table before he saw the bracelet, and after a nervous glance at his stepmother he snatched it up. He’d almost expected her to grab his wrist when he reached for the bracelet, but that wasn’t the way she did things.
“Come directly home after that meeting,” she said, her shadowy face and inflexible voice sending shivers through him. “And don’t say a word to Lord Rigos beyond what you absolutely must. If he disturbs my household, you’ll be the one who pays for it.”
“Yes, Elfini,” he said as quickly as possible, now backing away from the bed. “I’ll be home as soon as the meeting is over, and I won’t say a word.”
She made a sound that was probably dismissal, but in any event that was the way Homin took it. He turned and fled her bedchamber, and didn’t slow down until he was through the house and out the front door. His carriage waited outside so he climbed right in, told the driver to take him to Kambil Arstin’s house, and only when the carriage began to move did he make the effort to try to relax.
Sweat beaded his forehead so thickly that he needed to blot it with the handkerchief from his pocket to keep it from rolling down into his eyes. Homin was no stranger to fear, but Elfini was somehow worse than his mother had been. Mother had been the same sort of woman, incredibly strong and a firm believer in discipline, but she’d given most of that sort of attention to Father, who actually craved and needed it. Only occasionally had she felt it necessary to teach Homin his place, and the lessons had been hard but not unduly harsh. Elfini, though…
Elfini apparently wanted to break him, just as if he were strong and virile and defiant. Homin whimpered softly as he hid his eyes behind the handkerchief, at a loss to understand how she could think of him like that even for a moment. He hated and feared discipline and so made every attempt to do exactly as Elfini wished, but she still wasn’t satisfied. If only Mother hadn’t taken sick and died…
But Mother was gone and Father had been so overcome with grief and loss that he’d married Elfini almost immediately. Homin had the feeling Father partially regretted his haste, but it was much too late now to change things. Father might be rather powerful and even feared in his government bureau, but at home he had no more say over matters than Homin did. Possibly less, now that Homin had been drafted as a member of a competing Blending.
Time and distance were working together to drain the tension from Homin, so he took the handkerchief from his eyes and leaned back in his carriage seat. The drive would be long enough for him to pull himself together, but the day was rather warm and he needed something to help calm him even further. To that end he brought down some moderately cold water from the upper reaches of the sky, applied it to his brow, then sighed in temporary satisfaction.
“Very temporary satisfaction,” he muttered, already beginning to dread the meeting with Lord Rigos. No one of their class had any interest in wasting time being part of a pretend Blending for the competitions, not when everyone knew who had been chosen to win this time. But the Advisors needed challenging Blendings from the nobility to make the sham look good, so they sent out agents like Lord Rigos to coerce people into cooperation. He still didn’t understand how they’d been chosen, not when people without normal ability were somehow involved.
been chosen, along with the other four, and now the other four had embroiled him in some sort of secret plot. Homin had been very tempted to tell Lord Rigos about it and then withdraw completely, but the thought of what he might achieve had stopped him. If their rather silly little plot succeeded somehow, they each would have their own wealth, power—and households. He would no longer need to share his father’s house, and would never need to see Elfini again. He could look for his own woman, one who would be gentle with him, just as Mother had been…
And he would no longer need to lie, as he had about Lord Rigos. Homin had taken the chance that Elfini would, at the very least, be wary of Lord Rigos, and that part of his desperate, hastily-made plan had worked. She did indeed know the Advisory agent, but hadn’t needed to bother threatening Homin into silence. Lord Rigos couldn’t have cared less about the five of them, as long as they were all able to make
kind of showing in the competitions.
Homin’s carriage now passed the fringes of a pretty little park, a taste of the countryside in the middle of the city for those who didn’t care to travel out to the real countryside. It would have been wonderful to have his driver turn into that park and drop him off, with orders not to come back or tell anyone where he was. Losing himself would have been marvelous, but he couldn’t have stayed lost. As soon as the next mealtime came around he would be forced to return home, where Elfini would be waiting even more angry than she was now.
And he couldn’t face the thought of her discipline, he really couldn’t. Faint beads of sweat formed on his brow again at what would be waiting for him when he returned home, but he had no idea how to avoid it. There were days and days yet before he would need to stand with the others in the competitions, so even if he begged Lord Rigos’s help he wasn’t likely to get it. He’d be over the disciplinary session by the time he was needed, so Lord Rigos would simply sneer and dismiss the matter.
But maybe someone else wouldn’t. Homin sat straighter when the thought came, an idea he hadn’t considered before. The trouble with Elfini was affecting his practice performances, and the others in the group would be unhappy over that. They’d all agreed that they would work to be at their very best, and then they’d have no trouble winning over Adriari Fant’s group. Delin Moord had spoken to each of them individually, supporting and encouraging them, scolding them when they needed it, using his charm to get unanimous agreement.
So maybe Delin would be willing to use his charm on Elfini. Homin had promised not to speak to Lord Rigos, but he hadn’t said a word about Delin. And Delin
said they were to come to him with any problems they might have. It might work, it just might actually work…
Homin dabbed at his brow one last time before putting his handkerchief away, now actually looking forward to the meeting. Or rather to the time after the meeting, when he would be able to speak to Delin. His membership in the group might turn out to have more benefits than he could have possibly imagined…
Kambil Arstin, Spirit magic
“Since your guests should be arriving soon, I’ll get out of the way, Kambil,” his grandmother said, giving him one of her usual warm smiles. “But if you need me for anything, don’t hesitate to call. I won’t be doing anything important.”
“You’ll be working on your poetry, and you’re the only one in the entire world who doesn’t consider that important,” Kambil countered with a snort as he took her hand and helped her out of the chair. “It’s this meeting that’s unimportant, Grami, so don’t even think you’ll be disturbed. If necessary,
see to it.”
“Don’t do anything rash with that Lord Rigos around, love,” Grami warned, her smile having disappeared. “He’s as nasty and dangerous as his father before him, and the fact that he has no talent to speak of is a point of pride with him. He hates those who do have strong talent because of his jealousy of them, but he’ll never admit that.”