Authors: Dave Duncan
expect so,” Jalon said. “They usually are, aren’t they?”
the witch of the west is dead?” another asked.
minstrel looked blank and then said, “Yes,” uncertainly.
dwarf who’s replaced her-what do you know of him?”
nothing? Yes, nothing.”
of the stately matrons frowned at him severely. “Then the Four now
consist of three warlocks and only one witch, isn’t that so? Only one of
the wardens is a woman, Bright Water.”
looked even more blank. “Her Omnipotence Umthrum? She’s a woman, isn’t
was a long, puzzled pause, and then a little, ferrety sailor said, “She
died years ago. Before I was born.”
minstrel sighed. “I’m afraid politics is not a great interest of
had come from Hub itself, capital of the Impire. The honored guests, eager for
news and gossip, had been firing questions at him all evening, but he never
seemed to have answers. He was a very sweet young man, Inos thought, but as
insubstantial as a morning mist. She wondered how he ever found his way from
castle to castle or town to town; he was probably always fro-ing when he should
be to-ing, she thought, and chuckled to herself, with a glance in the direction
have heard rumors of much dragon damage in the southern provinces,”
another burgher proclaimed, meaning it as a question to Jalon. “On Kith,
the minstrel said. “I’m afraid I must have missed that.”
worthies of Krasnegar exchanged glances of exasperation.
sort of gowns are the ladies wearing in the Impire these days, Master Jalon?”
That was Aunt Kade, who must be worrying about all those fabrics and how many
of them she could purloin for her own use and where she would find enough
seamstresses to sew them all in the few days before departure.
high waists,” Jalon said firmly. “Flowing out like trumpets at the
floor, with fairly short trains. Puffed at the shoulders, sleeves tight at the
top, flaring at the wrist. Lace cuffs. Necklines are high, with lace trim,
also. Floral prints are very popular, in cottons or silk.”
table reacted with stunned silence to this unexpected note of authority. Inos
noticed that her father was grinning.
Jalon is a fine artist, also,” the king remarked.
there possibly be time for you to paint my daughter’s portrait before you
studied Inos for a moment. “Had I a lifetime to spend I could hardly do
justice to such beauty, Sire. “
felt herself blush and everyone else laughed. They did not have to laugh quite
so hard, she thought.
minstrel turned back to the king. “If I can lay my hands on materials,
Sire... they might not be readily available here. But a drawing, certainly. It
would be a labor of love. “
you sketch us some of these gowns you have just described, Master Jalon?”
Aunt Kade inquired, blinking eagerly.
Kade beamed with evident relief and turned to Mistress Meolorne to ask her
opinions on seamstresses.
looked longingly at the young folk beyond the tables. They were chattering and
laughing, Rap telling a story, Lin topping it. What use was it to be a princess
if you could not do as you pleased? Why did she have to be trapped up here with
all these stuffy old folks? Quietly she eased her chair back.
Kade’s head flicked round. “Inos?”
thought I might-”
her,” the king said softly. He did not say “It is the last time,”
but she thought that he was thinking it.
Inos rose, smiled a politeness around the guests, and muttered something
inaudible. Then she hurried across the so-empty center of the hall to the group
on the floor. The young ones saw her coming and started to open a path for her,
and they cleared an opening all the way to Lin and Rap. Rap shoved at a couple
of dogs, and Lin heaved himself aside one-armed. Now why did they all assume
she would want to sit just there?
she settled down, he turned to look at her and his big gray eyes grew even
bigger at the sight of the pearls.
smiled doubtfully at each other.
was the man-at-armsing?” she whispered.
grinned sheepishly. “Boring!”
smiled. Good! In that case... “I’m sorry I was nasty to you, Rap.”
turned a little pink, looked down at his knees, and said, “Then we can
still be fiends?”
sniggered in unison.
put her hand on the floor, next to his.
hand slipped over hers.
one would notice.
had big, strong hands, warm and calloused. Man’s hands. Yes, he was
taller. It had not been the boots, and his worn old doublet was tight across
the shoulders. A friendly smell of horses always hung around Rap.
about with stableboys, her father had said...
I’m going away!”
had not meant to mention that problem. He looked at her with surprise all over
his plain pudding face, though it was a lot less pudding than it used to be.
she said quickly. “To Kinvale. To learn how to be a lady. With Aunt Kade.
On the next ship.”
bit her lip and stared at the distant high table. The hall had gone rather
hand tightened on hers. “How long?”
year.” Inos took a deep breath and made a big effort to be regal. “You
see, the duke is a sort of relative-Duke Angilki of Kinvale. Aunt Kade was
married to his uncle. And my greatgrandfather’s sister was his... Oh, I
forget. Inisso had three sons. One became king here after him, one went south
and became duke of Kinvale, and one went to Nordland. Kalkor, the thane of
Gark, is descended from him. But it’s much more complicated...”
stopped, because Rap would not be interested, and it was not very nice to talk
of all those ancestors when he did not have any. Well, none that he knew of,
she decided. He must have had just as many as she had, only not of noble blood.
Her father said that the branches of her family tree were all knotted. There
were not many noble families in the north country, so they tended to intermarry
every few generations, as soon as it was decent. Inisso had had three sons.
Apparently that was important.
you are queen of Krasnegar, then I shall be your sergeant-at-arms,” Rap
would rather have you as master-of-horse, I think. “
“Both!” they said together, and laughed together. Apparently Jalon
was not going to start singing again just yet.
a few minutes nothing more was said, and Inos realized she was sitting smiling
like a dummy at Rap, and he was smiling just as stupidly back at her. Why
should she be smiling at a time like this?
away? To horrible Kinvale? What good was it to be a princess if you had to do
things like that? And creepy old Sagorn had hinted that she might start a war
if she ever fell in love with a man...
saw a God today. “
had not meant to mention that, either. In fact she had promised her father that
she would not.
Rap’s solemn gray eyes were waiting for her to explain. So she did. And
she told him about Doctor Sagorn and the silk and everything that had happened.
She was not sure why she did, but she felt better afterward. After all, Rap
could be trusted not to blabber to others, and no one was more levelheaded than
listened carefully and then ignored the God. “Who’s this Doctor
Sagorn? Is he up there?”
she said. “He was tired by his journey. Not a party man. “
you sure he isn’t a sorcerer?” He was being very serious.
of course! “ she said. The idea seemed so idiotic now--she had been a
fool. “He’s an old friend of my father’s.”
has not seen him in many years?”
but...” she said. This was not like Rap at all! “And even the God
had said...” No, They had not said; it had been Mother Unonini who had
said that Sagorn was not a sorcerer. She fell silent, worried by the look on
me again what he looks like.”
gray-haired. Big hooked nose. Deep clefts down here. Rather pale face. I expect
he doesn’t go out much-”
wrong, Rap?” Lin had appeared to be toying with the cast on his arm, but
he had been listening nevertheless. Lin was purebred imp-short and dark and
notably nosy. He had grown, also, Inos noted; but his voice was still treble. A
late developer. Rap was scowling. “Nobody like that came in today.”
heart jumped a beat and then carried on as if nothing had happened.
be silly!” she said. “You must have missed him. You couldn’t
possibly have seen every single person who came through the gates.”
said nothing, just scowled at the floor.
her, Rap!” Lin said.
me what, Rap?”
said hotly, “Thosolin was a pig to him, Inos. He put him on guard and
made him stand there all day in the sun. In armor! Didn’t even let him go
for a pee. No lunch. He does that with beginners. Testing, he calls it, but he
just likes to see them faint from too much standing.”
squeezed Rap’s hand fiercely. “Is that true?”
nodded. “But I didn’t faint.” He turned and looked hard at
her. “And your Doctor Sagorn didn’t come in the gate. “
Inos squealed. That was absurd! “I expect he walked in beside a wagon. I
went out that way. “
saw you,” Rap said, without smiling. “You walked right by me. But
no wagons came in today.”
was following me up the hill, he said. And it wasn’t very long after that
that I heard him talking to Father-less than an hour. “
did not come in the gate,” Rap said.
big jaw looked as stubborn as the rock of Krasnegar itself.
are gains for all our losses,
are balms for all our pain,
when youth, the dream, departs,
takes something from our hearts,
it never comes again.
And It Never Comes Again
wind is in the south, we shall have rain.
Rap’s mother would have said. Probably it had been true where she had
come from, but it was not true in Krasnegar. The wind was from the south, off
the land, so it was going to be another fine day. It was the north wind, from
the sea, that brought rain, or snow more usually. His mother used to have many
strange notions like that, Rap knew now, although he could not remember very
much of her. He could hardly recall what she had looked like, but he could remember
some of her strange notions.
of those was to wash every morning. That was not always easy in Krasnegar.
Sometimes in winter the ice was so thick that it had to be broken with an ax,
but in summer it was pleasant to wash in the mornings, and at any time he liked
the habit. It made him feel good, so he did it, although most of the other men
laughed at him or called him crazy or said it was unhealthy. A few of them
never seemed to wash at all, but he liked the tingle he got from water and the
way it wiped the sleep off his skin. And he often thought of his mother as he
morning he had not even bothered to take a bucket of water indoors. He was
standing bare-chested by the trough in the shadowy, dewy stableyard when old
Hononin came marching out, pulling off his shirt. Rap felt uneasy. Being
shirtless out in the fields was all right, but Krasnegarians were puritanical
about dress, and he felt uncomfortable at being discovered in a state of
seminudity. Seeing the old man like that was even worse, and quite
unprecedented. His skin hung loose on him and a patch of gray hair in the
middle of his chest looked as if it might have fallen off the bald spot on his
scalp. Rap wondered if he ought to leave, but he merely moved respectfully to
the far end of the trough and said nothing.
little old hostler seemed even more gnarled and grumpish than usual and he did
not speak, either, just thrust his whole head into the trough. That explained
emerged spluttering and shivering, then started cupping water with his hands
and rinsing his armpits and shoulders.
big one’s fixed,” he growled without looking at Rap.
you to take it out before the next tide.”
looked around to make sure there was no one behind him. There wasn’t.
Well! The sunlight brightened. A wagon ride was a much more enticing thought
than more sentry duty, even if Thosolin did not indulge himself in other petty
testings. South to the mainland, where there was more to keep a man occupied...
Inos expected to go riding and she would not have many more chances before she
left. He felt a sudden, nasty pang and told himself to grow up and be manly.
There was some evil in every good, as the priests said, and a man must obey
thought tides. It would need fast work to rig up four horses. “Who’s
today?” Hononin splashed his face again. Rap took a deep breath. Then
another. He tried to speak calmly.
going to mother me?” Ollo, probably. He was around and he had brought the
big one in.
put his head in the water to give himself time to think. It proved to be a
stupid idea, like being kicked. It filled his ears and ran up his nose and he
came up feeling much worse than when he went in. But then he had not been
drinking last night. Maybe it felt better than a hangover. He gasped and spat.
It had not helped his thinking much.