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Authors: Rachel Neumeier

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BOOK: House of Shadows
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“The deisa will help her. Lily will keep them in order,” said Narienneh, with a peculiar and specific naïveté all her own. That she did not check Leilis for her impudence in offering an unsolicited opinion indicated clearly enough that she was worried, however. Possibly she even suspected her own blindness, around the edges of her conscious awareness.

Leilis modestly glanced downward and bowed her head, deliberately using a keiso trick to draw attention to herself, trying not to feel the irony of using keiso mannerisms to influence Narienneh when she would never in her life become a keiso.

Mother’s eye was drawn by that movement, despite her own deep knowledge of all the keiso tricks. She shook her head. “I am quite certain that will not happen again.”

Leilis bowed her head a little lower, to point up the irretrievable damage that deisa jealousy could do. If such damage could happen once, was Narienneh truly so confident that it could not happen twice?

Her own loss still bit deep; Leilis felt the teeth of it now more keenly than she had for years. Maybe she really
have left Cloisonné House and memory behind. But truly, even if she was forever barred from the keiso life, where else was there a place for her but in the flower world? She told herself, as she had a thousand times, and she knew it was true, that she was lucky Narienneh had made a place for her in Cloisonné House.

But the Mother of the House would not want to risk having to make such a place twice. Especially when her newest deisa had cost the House so dearly and showed such fine promise to win back her price doubled and redoubled. Leilis waited a moment, then murmured, “What a pity the girl is not already nineteen. A keiso is an asset to her House; a deisa merely an expense. If this girl must be too old for deisa, as well she were old enough to be made keiso at once.”

Mother tilted her head, her fine-boned face going thoughtful. “Even if she were nineteen, I fear her elder sisters would resent such swift advancement.”

Leilis did not let herself glance up, lest Mother should see the satisfaction hidden in her eyes. She could not have made a better opening if she had worked till dawn for it. She murmured, “Rue wouldn’t,” and rose, bowing gently to excuse herself, leaving that thought to mingle with the taste of the wine on the back of Narienneh’s tongue.


audde thought there was a fair possibility that he was going to find himself under arrest and on his way to some grim, silent dungeon within the hour. They had good dungeons in the Laodd, or so he’d heard. Prisons where a man could be locked away from light and music for a long, long lifetime… This situation must be due to some unrecognized carelessness. The wages of rampant stupidity, his grandfather would say. Bad enough to come to Lirionne at all, especially with the peace imposed by the Treaty of Brenedde so nearly at an end; worse still to dare Lonne itself;
foolish to be caught breaking the Seriantes ban. But
worst of all
of blazing stupidity for a fool to completely miss whatever mistake had given him away!

Taudde could all but hear the old man’s acerbic tone in his mind’s ear, and at the moment he would have been hard put to refute a word of it. But—a poor saving grace—neither did he have leisure just now to indulge in recriminations. Taudde glanced warily from Lord Miennes to Mage Ankennes. If he’d merely had a lord of Lonne to contend with, he would have had more options. Lord Miennes knew that, of course. The mage’s presence was hardly a coincidence.

Mage Ankennes, a big man with powerful hands and opaque gray eyes, looked deliberately into Taudde’s face and smiled. That smile was not exactly a challenge, because a challenge would have invited opposition. There was no such invitation here. The mage
truly believed that Taudde was going to yield. That he wouldn’t even try to fight. Nor flee. That very confidence was intimidating. Taudde was afraid to reach for his flute, or even use perfectly ordinary tricks of tone and intonation.

Sometimes, aside from questions of intimidation and nerve, discretion was indeed the wisest course. Taudde put down the surging anger trying to rise into his eyes, his throat, and—dangerously—his voice. Instead, he smiled, lifted his cup, sipped, paused consideringly, and said casually, “Enescene, of course. A Tamissen gold, I think. From, oh, perhaps, the middle of the Niace regency? I don’t think I can come closer. I did warn you I am not a connoisseur.”

“Close, close,” answered Miennes, smiling at this refusal to engage. The lord leaned comfortably back in his chair. His eyes, an ice-pale gray, glinted like cold stone as he watched his prey struggle on the hook. But his voice was as warm as his wine, and nearly as sweet. “You do yourself too little credit. For a young man, you have a most educated palate. Tamissen, yes, though from nearer the end of the Third Kesiande’s reign.”

Taudde made a vague gesture indicating polite self-deprecation. An extract of goldenthread would be undetectable in any sweet wine. So would Tincture of Esidde. Did the mages of Lonne know of that decoction? He tried to decide whether there was any trace of tingling or numbness in his lips or tongue. Any sudden flush of cold through his body. He could not detect any such sensations. Yet.

“Of course, both periods boasted hot, dry summers and long, lingering autumns,” commented Miennes, still in that pleasant, mellow voice. “It tastes of autumn, this wine, I think. Rich and golden, apple scented and suggesting the merest hint of smoke.”

Following this lead, Taudde murmured, “You entirely surpass me. I might agree with you about the apples. But I think only because you suggested it to me.”

Mage Ankennes, too, was smiling. Unlike Miennes, the mage did not trouble to disguise the hardness under the smile. “Some
men do not care for it. It is too sweet to suit every palate, even as an evening wine.”

“Life holds enough that is bitter,” murmured Lord Miennes, always ready to turn a courtly phrase. “Surely one should cherish the captured warmth of lingering autumns to remember through the long winters. Especially when the spring to come may be troubled.”

Taudde said nothing.
Especially when the spring may be troubled
, indeed. He knew very well that Lord Miennes expected Kalches to resume its long war with Lirionne immediately after the solstice, when the Treaty of Brenedde at last reached its term. Everyone expected that.

Taudde knew, as few of the people of Lirionne would have believed, that the King of Kalches faced the prospect with resignation rather than bloody-minded enthusiasm. But Seriantes avarice was insatiable, and Geriodde Nerenne ken Seriantes certainly no less ambitious than his ancestors. No king of Kalches could possibly allow the Seriantes Dragon to keep his grip on the lands Lirionne had stolen from Kalches fifteen years ago. Those lands were too close to the heart of Kalches. One could indeed be quite certain that the coming spring would be

Taudde had expected to return home before the war resumed. He had even been glad to watch the solstice approach at last, except as the turning of the year would interfere with his studies in Lonne. He vividly remembered the field of Brenedde. That battle had ended with his father’s body sprawled loose-limbed in the dirt before the Dragon of Lirionne. He had been a child, then. Too young to try for vengeance. And then the treaty had forced him to set the thought aside for fifteen years. Those years had seemed long to him. Now they were past, and the spring rushed toward them, and he was assuredly not the only Kalchesene who would be grimly satisfied to see the year turn.

Whether Lord Miennes or this mage of his was eager for the coming spring was harder to judge.

“Indeed, the winters in this city are long enough,” Ankennes
murmured. The mage glanced out the wide windows to the white clouds shredding against the jagged peaks. Then he turned his attention deliberately back to Taudde. “Though never so long nor so cold as those of… your homeland.”

“What, Miskiannes?” Taudde said, just for something to say.

Both of the other men smiled tolerantly. Neither bothered to state aloud that Taudde was not from Miskiannes. Neither one seemed at all concerned about any threat Taudde might pose to them. Or, evidently, to Lonne.

Miennes sipped more wine and sighed, shaking his head in mock wistfulness. “Every year when the mists come down from the mountains, I wonder why I do not move my establishment south. Yet how could one choose to abandon the civilized sophistication of the Pearl of the West? And, indeed, the cold teaches one to appreciate the warmth. Though, of course,” he added without any change of tone, “as Ankennes said, you would know more of cold than we.”

Taudde did not bother, this time, to deny it. It was too clear denial would not serve.

“Why did you come to Lonne in the first place? From, ah… Miskiannes.”

Taudde lifted his eyebrows. “Does a man need a better reason than desire to see the Pearl of the West?” He paused for a heartbeat. “Does it matter?”

“Not at all,” Miennes said, at the same moment that Ankennes said, “Of course it matters—” The two men glanced at each other. Miennes said, “My friend, I don’t believe one must search over-diligently for reasons a young man from… Miskiannes… might venture to Lonne just in this season. Yes?”

The mage opened one broad hand, conceding the point.

Miennes said to Taudde, “As long as you abandon your original purpose, whether it was spycraft or assassination or some other manner of disruption—as long as you abandon that intention, I say, we needn’t inquire too closely as to what it was. So long as you are amenable to the little task I—we have for you. You may even find our purposes run close coupled.”

“Yes?” Taudde inquired, in his politest tone.

Miennes paused and held his goblet up to muse on the pale wine. “As you seem to approve this vintage, perhaps I will serve it with the sweet course tomorrow evening. You will join us for the occasion, I hope? There will be a guest we would particularly like you to meet.”

“Of course I will attend. Your attention flatters me.” Taudde set his cup down with a tiny precise
of porcelain against marble. The wine, he surmised, was not drugged. And an acquaintance with this guest was clearly the price of this forbearance. Not, he suspected, a lasting acquaintance. Miennes, unless he was very much mistaken, meant to make Taudde into something like his own private assassin… It was an ugly idea. But he suspected that such an ugly use was exactly what a man such as Lord Miennes would think of, for a Kalchesene sorcerer who had fallen into his hands.

And even that might be preferable to such use as Ankennes might intend. Everyone knew that what a mage would comprehend, he took first to pieces, as though by mapping out its constituent elements he would learn to understand the whole. Taudde did not want to imagine what a Lonne mage would do with a captive Kalchesene sorcerer and a free hand. Strange to think that Miennes might be an asset to him, under these peculiar circumstances.

At least, even if Miennes and Ankennes were both subtle men, probably neither was the type to set up this dance and counterdance merely as a ruse to trap a Kalchesene bardic sorcerer for the Laodd authorities. No. They could have done that more safely and surely in a dozen ways, mostly involving far less personal involvement. Taudde was surer by the moment that these two meant to keep their newest toy fast in their own hands. Taudde met Miennes’s eyes. The lord smiled. Taudde smiled in return. Ankennes smiled. Everyone smiled.
Ah, yes, we are all fast friends here.

“How fine a thing, travel,” Mage Ankennes said warmly. “It broadens the mind and strengthens the will, I believe the saying goes. I am sure you will benefit from it, young man. And we here in Lonne will surely benefit from it as well.”

That was the subtle way they delivered threats in civilized, sophisticated Lonne. Taudde wished he were back in Kalches, where both speech and threats were clear and straightforward.

The streets were indeed cold, Taudde found, once he was at last able to take his leave from Miennes’s great gray house. The late sun shone forth with little light and less warmth, fading notes in the closing movement of the day’s symphony. Even now the cold evening mists were creeping down the steep slopes into the city streets.

Taudde might have hired a conveyance, but it was not far to the townhouse he was renting, and perhaps the chilly air would help him clear his mind. He strode down the street, keeping well to the side to avoid getting afoul of the mounted traffic in the middle. Open carriages for wealthy merchants, closed ones for noble ladies, high-stepping horses for sleek young courtiers full of their own importance—very few of any sort would go to much trouble to avoid trampling a man on foot. But the streets were clear enough at this hour that Taudde could think while walking.

BOOK: House of Shadows
9.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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