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Authors: Anne McCaffrey

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BOOK: Restoree
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At the opposite end of this bazaar mall, there was a sudden commotion, indistinguishable shouts, a startled milling of people and then a trio pushed into view. They were not very sober but not drunk enough to extenuate their obstreperous actions. The first man, a rough enormous fellow, charged with the ferocity of an angry gorilla, his long arms pushing way past those who did not move aside quickly enough. He looked from right to left, head thrust forward, bellowing at the top of his voice.

“Maxil, where is that little runt? Maxil, come here or I’ll break you. Maxil? Maxil!” His two companions followed, likewise yelling for the missing Maxil, stopping people and demanding to know where this Maxil was.

I turned to my young man and found him missing from my side, just as the gorilla charged up to the stand, beckoning violently to the counterman.

“He was with this lady a moment ago,” the man volunteered, not looking at me, but obviously frightened.

The lout turned on me, his liquor-heavy breath offensive, his sweating body odorous. He put his hands on my shoulders and started to shake me.

“Get your filthy hands off me, you stupid bully,” I said, seething with anger at this insult. “I said, get your filthy hands off me,” I repeated distinctly in the quiet that had fallen on the mall. There is some quality to righteous anger that has great strength in compelling obedience. He did remove his hands, swaying in front of me, while his thick drunken senses took in the import of what I had said.

“Who do you think you are?” the drunk asked.

“Maxil thought she was the Lady Fara,” the counterman said timidly. I shot him a look I hoped would silence him completely.

“Fara? Fara here,” the sot said, blinking at me, trying to see me clearly. “C’mere, Lort,” he beckoned his two cronies. “Is this Fara?”

The other two peered at me, hemming me in against the counter.

“Never seen her,” the one not named said. His breath was vile.

“Can’t see anything here,” Lort complained.

“He,” and the drunk’s finger jerked at the counterman, “said she was with Maxil. Everyone knows Maxil’s sweet on Fara. Not that it’ll do her any good.” He cackled at his own wit.

Before I realized what would happen, the gorilla had thrown his cloak over my head and I was hoisted to his shoulders. I kicked, I scratched, I screamed, and then someone hit me on the head.

When I came to my senses, it took me a few minutes to recall what had last happened. My head ached and my jaw and my arms felt sticky. I think it was a concern for the beautiful dress Gartly had lent me that stung me into full consciousness.

I was sprawled on a large bed in an elegantly furnished but barren-looking room. Somewhere beyond the windows a great deal of shouting, screaming, laughing and singing was going on. I rose, carefully because of my headache, and walked to the window. Below me lay beautiful gardens, fairylands of casually riotous blooms, spilling onto the winding paths, nudging against a variety of unusual trees, enhancing stonework and sculpture. Beyond the delicate metal filigree I could see the throngs of revelers and another wing of the building.

It took very little intelligence for me to assume I was in the palace itself.

“In Gorlot’s room?” I asked myself feeling very droll and wondering what I did now.

Yesterday everything had seemed very simple. This morning the plan had been foolproof. I sighed and felt like crying, but that would hurt my head more.

I did seek out the bathroom and washed my face and arms. I also dabbed at the stains I found on my lovely robes. When I heard a commotion outside, I hesitated briefly, wondering if a locked bathroom might not be preferable to what I would find in the room. I recognized one raucous laugh as belonging to the drunken gorilla and that decided me not to play the coward.

He was there, all right, propelling my young friend of the beverage stand into the room, roaring with vulgar laughter. I picked up a hairbrush I saw on the dressing table, hefting the handle, glad it was metal.

“You drunken Milrouser, how dare you,” I cried, and both turned toward me.

The ghastly sick look on the boy’s face enraged me as did his incredulous expression when he saw me tearing into the gorilla.

“How dare you kidnap me? This may be Eclipse, but there are limits to what is done. Get out of here, get out of here and leave us alone.”

I am absolutely positive I was never so mad before in my life. Not even the time the Travis boys tried their dirty tricks on an innocent twelve-year-old Sara in their father’s old barn. He had taken care of them with a razor strop and I took care of this oaf with a metal hairbrush.

If he had been sober, I should never have succeeded, but he and his two cohorts were definitely drink-fuddled and their reactions, for they did swing out to hit me, too slow for me. They howled when the metal brush contacted their arms and faces, and they backed out of the bedroom. I didn’t have to chase them across the living room. I stood in the bedroom doorway and threw whatever came to hand. As soon as they had exited into the hall beyond, I raced over to the outside door and slammed it shut, swinging a heavy bolt in place.

The boy, Maxil, for I was sure it was he, stood, open-mouthed with admiration, looking at me.

I mastered the trembling in my body, got back my breath and grabbed an applelike fruit from a bowl on the table by the door.

“Who was that?” I asked the boy who had started to come over to me, his eyes still shining with his respect.

He stopped at my question and pointed inanely at the door. “You didn’t know that was Samoth?”

“Samoth? No, why should I? I’ve never had the misfortune to meet him before.” I took a huge bite out of the applefruit. It occurred to me that I would probably never not be hungry again. Most of my waking time for the last few days had been consumed by eating something.

“Wait’ll I get that counterman,” I continued wrathfully. “Just wait. D’you realize he tattled on you to that oaf?”

“I guessed he’d have to,” Maxil said softly, sadly, looking down at his feet.

“Why?” I asked angrily. “Is everyone in this city scared of a trio of drunken bullies?”

Maxil found his ornate sandal very interesting.

“They have reason to be. You must come from out of the city,” he added, looking up at me quickly and then away.

“Jurasse,” I replied. “They thought I was the Lady Fara.”

He looked up guiltily, flushing. “The counterman overheard us, I guess. I’m awfully sorry. It was my mistaking you for the Lady Fara that got you into all this trouble and now you’ll . . .” his chin quivered and he turned away abruptly, striding to the window, his whole figure sunk with dejection.

“Now I’ll what?” I urged, trying to keep my impatience out of my voice.

“I can’t say it. But it is just horrible you’ve been dragged here like this. Samoth and the others’ll be back and they’ll . . . they’ll . . .” he turned toward me again, his face blotched with an effort to keep back tears.

“They’ll what, Maxil?” I said, going to him in my distress at his conflict.

“They’ll say . . . I’m . . . impotent,” and with that final dragged-out word he turned back to the windows, a pathetic young man.

“Well, of all the despicable, nasty-minded, indecent, incredible things,” I said, beginning softly and ending with full vent to my indignation.

The echo of another scene came faintly to my ears and I recalled how I had helplessly overheard my four older brothers taunting Seth because he had been unable to “make it” with one of the town tarts. Even at fourteen I had known how cruel and inhibiting such taunting was. I had been completely unable to help Seth, but in his name I could try to help this boy.

I took Maxil by the hand and pulled him over the low couch.

“Well, are you?” I asked him point-blank.

He flushed. “Well, I have,” he said tentatively. “But not when they’re around.”

“I should hope not. There
are
some things in this world that should be done at the proper time and place, in privacy.” And then I, too, was blushing furiously. All I could think of was my unfortunate borrowing of one of Harlan’s phrases and the circumstances under which he had said it.

“Aw, now don’t say you haven’t heard what they’re saying about me?” Maxil said, his face still not quite resigned to tears. “Gorlot’s got it all planned. As soon as he kills Ferrill off, he’ll have me denounced as unmanly and put that fat-assed gut-stuffer Fernan in as Warlord-elect.”

“Kills Ferrill?” I gasped.

“He’s so sick and it’s
not
his constitution. The Harlan clan is
not
weakening,” Maxil exclaimed with pathetic emphasis.

“No, it’s not Ferrill’s constitution. He’s been drugged.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to . . .” Maxil gasped and turned to look at me with startled eyes, “how did you know?”

“I know. And further, they drugged Harlan, too.”

Maxil stared at me. He looked at the bolted door. Nervously, he got up and went to the living-room balcony, opening the door and looking out suspiciously, before coming back to sit beside me again.

“I told myself that must have been what happened,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “Are you sure it’s true?”

“I’m positive. And furthermore,” I continued, “he’s no longer drugged. He’s free and he’s in this city.”

Maxil stared at me as if he thought I had gone mad or he wasn’t hearing properly. He blinked rapidly at me, swallowed his Adam’s apple bobbing just like Seth’s did when he was nervous.

“If you’re just saying this,” he growled in a tight, angry voice, “if you’re just saying this . . . to . . . to . . . I can still use my authority to . . .”

I put my hand on his arm, catching his eyes and holding his attention.

“Maxil, I’m telling you the truth.”

Gradually his face changed as he realized I meant what I said. Hope, concern and then despair crossed his face. Groaning, he turned from me, again lost in apathy.

“It’s too late,” he said sadly. “It’s just too late. And besides,” he turned back to me again, his eyes sparkling with anger and a sternness incongruous with his youth, “you shouldn’t go around
saying
that where just
any
one could hear you.” He gestured wildly, at the balcony, and the bedroom and the hall door, as if overgrown ears would come leaping out of the stonework to us.

“I’m saying it to you.”

“How do you know Gorlot doesn’t have me under control?” he argued violently.

I found myself speaking softer and softer in an unconscious effort to tone him down.

“Well, I doubt he does if he makes such degrading assertions about you. Besides, Jokan said you were terribly worried about Ferrill. You said you hated Samoth. Well, if Harlan gets the Regency back, you get rid of Samoth. All I’ve got to do is to get to Ferrill and tell him what’s happened and have him convene the Council.”

Maxil regarded me as if I had lost my senses.

“That’s all you have to do. Get to Ferrill and tell him to convene the Council,” he repeated as if reasoning with an idiot. “That’s all!” Again the broad dramatic gestures.

“I’m in the palace, aren’t I? Ferrill lives here, doesn’t he?”

It had occurred to me, suddenly, and I felt rather dense it took me so long to wake up to the opportunity, that I
was
in the palace and I might just as well put into effect Plan A.

“And Ferrill will have to appear in the Starhall tonight if he can walk,” I rattled on. “And I presume you can get into the Starhall?”

“Yes,” Maxil agreed, paying strict attention to me now. “Yes, I can, and he
has
to appear.” He stopped, dazed, and then his face lit up, his shoulders straightened and his chin jerked forward. The frightened, humiliated boy disappeared and the young man stood in his place.

“Do you realize what you’ve said?” Maxil asked me. “Do you
realize?

“I gather you’re relieved,” I said drolly.

“Relieved,
relieved,
RELIEVED!” he chorused dramatically. “I feel alive for the first time in twelve months. Nearly a whole year!” he assured me, hooking his fingers in his belt and striding up and down the floor.

“In that case, is there any way you can get me some dinner?” I asked as my stomach impolitely made noises.

“Dinner? Certainly.
Certainly,”
he said expansively. He went to the door, shot the bolt free, and swung the door open. “Guard,” he said with a swagger in his voice. “I want dinner for two in my rooms.”

I got a glimpse of the startled face of the guard who saluted sloppily just as Maxil swung the door closed again.

“I’d bolt the door again, if I were you. I’m not sure I want to tangle with Samoth when he’s cold sober,” I remarked.

Maxil was not so overconfident as to forget his conditioned response to Samoth in a half-hour’s time. Indecision showed in his face.

“Look, my friend,” I said seriously, “I’m glad the news of Harlan relieves you, but let’s not overdo it until we can get word to Ferrill and start things rolling to get Gorlot and Samoth out of power.”

“Oh,” Maxil said breezily, “Samoth was dead drunk. He’ll go annoy some of the ladies before he comes back here. And then he’ll come in with a whole bunch of his clan and tease me. But he won’t be back till he’s sober. And by
that
time, we’ll be gone!” Maxil’s eyes flashed with determination. Then he pivoted toward me again.

“Just where
is
Harlan?”

“To tell the honest truth, I don’t know. And maybe I’d better not tell you anymore than I already have.”

“But . . .” Maxil urged, not to be denied reassurance, “ . . . how did you know he was drugged? I mean, how did you get him . . . out . . .”

The timid knock at the door interrupted him. He looked at me, eyes scared.

“Dinner,” I whispered to him and then, with sudden inspiration, nestled against his side, twining one of his long arms around my shoulders.

“Come,” Maxil said, his voice not quite breaking, his arm crushing my shoulders as he awkwardly returned my embrace.

I must say he made a convincing show of someone inconveniently interrupted. A single man entered, a mousy fellow, clad in a green apron. He bowed nervously.

BOOK: Restoree
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