Read Shadow of the Swan (Book Two of the Phoenix Legacy) Online

Authors: M.K. Wren

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Shadow of the Swan (Book Two of the Phoenix Legacy) (10 page)

BOOK: Shadow of the Swan (Book Two of the Phoenix Legacy)
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Lectris followed her across the baking pavement from the ’car to the compound gate. Their shadows angled ahead, merging in a shifting, black pool. She didn’t pause as she passed the gate, and she was surprised when one of the guards took a tentative step toward her.

“Uh—you’re going to see the old Shepherd, my lady?”

“Yes, Cam. Why? Is something wrong?”

The guard glanced toward the neatly arrayed, multileveled dormitories, his brow furrowed under the shadow of his helmet.

“Nothing’s wrong, my lady. I just thought maybe I should . . . well, go along with you to the chapel.”

It was too much. Sargent Cambridge, who had blithely waved her in and out of this compound for years, muttering about “going along.”
Guarding
her. It was yet another symptom, a sign of the times, and on some level she recognized its seriousness, but at the moment all she could feel was anger. But even that left her as suddenly as it came. Despair is stronger, she thought numbly, stronger than any other emotion.

She said lightly, “Oh, really. Cam, this isn’t Toramil or a Selasid compound, thank the God. Besides,” she added, glancing up at Lectris, “I’m very well guarded.”

She set off for the pedway ramps, ignoring Cambridge’s dissatisfied, “But, my lady . . .”

Lectris went into the chapel, but Adrien didn’t accompany him; she never entered the chapel except on a direct invitation from Malaki. At least in their prayers the Bonds should be free of the shadow of their Lords.

Lectris left her at the walled garden behind the chapel and sought the solace offered him by the candle-lit ikons. She entered the garden for another kind of solace.

A space no more than five meters square with an open area in the center paved with stone, the periphery was crowded with miniature terraces supporting a varied array of plants. But there was little color here; it wasn’t a flower garden. It was an herb garden, its hues subtle, its scents tangy. Adrien took a deep breath. Solace. In these earthy scents, in the shade of these walls, she always found solace. She couldn’t turn to her father now, she’d ceased to look to her mother years ago, and Dr. Perralt couldn’t yet be told of this possibility. No. This probability.

Karlis Selasis. She would be his bride.

“Oh—my lady!”

Malaki came erect from his kneeling position near the chapel door, unfolding his spare, blue-robed body stiffly. She had startled him, but now his lined face came alive with a smile, and that gratified her. There were Bonds outside the chapel lately with no inclination to smile on recognizing their Lord’s daughter.

“Hello, Malaki.” She removed her hat and eyeshades, then, noting the spindly sprigs he’d been pressing into the damp earth, asked, “What’s this?”

He wiped his muddied hands on the apron at his waist, seeming to find them embarrassing.

“Hemus, my lady, from Pollux. My third cousin, Haldan, is Bonded to the Lord Selasis and he came with the Lord on his tour of the Centauran ports and brought these seedlings from Leda.”

And all the latest news from Terra and every stop along the way, she added to herself with a private smile. Then Malaki’s eyes widened with a remembrance that apparently pleased him.

“Oh, Haldan also brought me some sassassa tea. Perhaps you’d like some. It’s a bit hard come by, but my niece, Dorit, who works in Lord Loren’s Leda smelter—”

“I’d be delighted,” Adrien said, laughing, “to partake of this rarity with you, Malaki.”

He smiled and started for the open door into his quarters. “I’ll only need a few minutes to prepare it.”

Adrien crossed to a bench by the garden wall. She sat down and leaned back against the cool, shaded plasment. It would be cool inside the chapel, too, and beautifully quiet. Lectris would be kneeling, lips moving in prayer, at one of the side altars under the ikon of Saint Boras, the limbless Shepherd of Mosk, who was said to have been a friend of Lionar Mankeen, and who became the guardian saint of the crippled and infirm. Lectris would be lighting a candle not for Boras, but for another saint regarded as one of his spiritual protégés, a candle lighted at Adrien’s request for Saint Richard the Lamb.

Adrien knew who Richard the Lamb was, and perhaps that was why she found a comfort here even Malaki’s presence couldn’t entirely explain. But it had been nearly two years after Rich’s death before she finally put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

After that devastating double grief, she’d been a frequent visitor to Malaki’s garden. It had been on the first anniversary of those deaths that Malaki had mentioned Saint Richard the Lamb. He was preparing for a special ceremony: the Reliquary Rite, the investiture of a new saint.

Curiosity made her question him initially, then insight. He described the Lamb in detail—he’d spoken with him often—and quoted him endlessly, verbatim, she was sure. From Malaki, her curiosity led her to the Archives, where she pieced together the short history of Richard Lamb, sociotheologist. The Priority-Two rating on Lamb’s theses was no impediment to a Lord’s daughter. Then she had only to compare those theses with the ones Rich had sent her years ago under another pseudonym.

Rich had become a saint, and that seemed fitting.

The Archives also told her of the manner of Richard Lamb’s death: he had been publicly executed as an agent of the Society of the Phoenix.

That sent her into another Pri-Two, or more often Pri-One, area, and most of the latter ’files were closed to her. A frustrating inquiry, even in the information accessible to her, which was revealing primarily in the dearth of concrete facts and the multiplicity of its contradictions. Above all, she could not resolve the Concord’s attitudes toward the Phoenix with the fact that Rich had been one of its members. She remembered well the man who called himself Richard Lamb.

She asked Malaki about Saint Richard’s death. His Testing, the Shepherd called it—the term “Phoenix” was meaningless to him—and although he’d never set foot out of Helen, he described the execution minutely, his account in perfect agreement with the official accounts. With one exception.

He described the miraculous intervention of Lord Alexand DeKoven Woolf, who ordered the body of the Lamb given to the Elder Shepherd Zekiel so he might have the Rites of Passing. Adrien had wept at that, but Malaki assumed it was only her grief for Alexand. But even now the thought of Alexand at Rich’s execution brought the threat of tears.

She looked down at her right hand. The sapphire and ruby ring glinted in the shadows. She’d moved it to her right hand, but she could never bring herself to stop wearing it. A life vow.

And she’d be taking another life vow soon and wearing another ring. Sapphire and emerald. Eliseer and Selasis. She had left her father only minutes ago after he haltingly explained the results of his meeting with Orin Selasis two days before.

There was no choice for the House. The alternatives spelled ruin for Eliseer. For one thing, Lazar Hamid’s eldest daughter was of marriageable age. An alliance between Selasis and Hamid would threaten the smelter sites and mineral leases on Pollux so vital to the survival of Eliseer, and between that and constantly increasing freight rates, Orin Selasis could squeeze Eliseer into bankruptcy.

The despair engulfed her, and it was all she could do to hold back the tears. To be bound for the rest of her life to Karlis Selasis, that cruel, contemptible half man. She should have sought the safety of the cloisters after Alexand’s death. A false vow in some senses, but not so false or so dreaded as this one.

Safety
.

Perhaps it was the calm aura of this garden. The despair suddenly ebbed.

Safety—a hollow word. Why was she concerned with safety? What had she to lose? Her life?

For a long time she didn’t move, barely breathing, a stillness within her; a resolution. Potentials tooks shape in her mind like figures moving out of shadows into light.

She had
nothing
to lose; nothing meaningful to her. The corollary to that was that she had nothing to
fear
.

The House. She must protect the House, but she had no reason to protect her own life. The Selasids lived and fed on fear. Without it, they’d be helpless. She curbed the urge to laugh aloud, remembering Malaki busy beyond the open door. But the laughter made her lips curl sardonically. The Selasids made an error if they expected another docile granddaughter of Shang like Janeel.

When her father told her about the marriage, she had been too shocked to feel anything but dread, too numbed to think through the possibilities. It hadn’t occurred to her to see it as an opportunity. A bride of Karlis Selasis who wasn’t afraid could destroy—

“Here we are, my lady.”

She was startled out of her reverie, remembering belatedly to order her features. Malaki was approaching, carrying a tray laden with a proceleen tea service.

Adrien smiled and moved to the end of the bench while he put the tray down beside her.

“The tea has a delicious fragrance,” she said.

“So it does. They say it makes for quiet sleep, taken at bedtime.” He filled one cup, his hands scrubbed pinkly clean now, and he handled the pot as if it were infinitely precious.

The tea service had been a gift from her: white porceleen decorated with painstaking representations of herbal plants. She’d had it made expressly for Malaki because he enjoyed sharing his herb teas with her and was always embarrassed with his plain, plasex mugs.

He counted out three drops of sucros, gave the mixture a turn with a silver stirring rod, and handed her the cup. She took it, then paused.

“Am I to enjoy this alone?” There was ample room for him on the bench and an empty cup on the tray, but he waited for the invitation. “Please, join me. You’ve probably been working in your garden all morning without a rest.”

“Only since morning matins, my lady.” He seated himself and filled the other cup, pausing to add the sucros. “And I can’t call my garden work; I enjoy it too much.”

“Even pleasure can be tiring.” She tasted the tea, and her brows went up. It had a faint citrus tang and a hint of Castorian comaris. “This is delightful. Mother would never admit it, but it’s quite an improvement over Black Shang.”

He smiled politely. “I’m glad you like it. I have a packet for you to take home with you, if you wish.”

“Thank you. And am I to take some at bedtime for quiet sleep?”

“If you think it needful.” He studiously sipped at his tea, the creases between his brows deepening. “You’re troubled, my lady.”

She almost expected him to say, “my child,” as he would to one of his flock. She nodded, but remained silent for a while, knowing he’d wait patiently and ask no questions of her. And it was ironic that she could tell Malaki the whole truth with no concern. What couldn’t yet be spoken aloud in the Estate, except in the monitor-proof privacy of her father’s office, could be spoken freely here. No one would monitor this garden; it would be inconceivable to anyone that she would trust anything of importance to a Bond.

Finally, she said, “I
am
troubled, Malaki, and it might seem odd, the reason for it. You see, I’ve learned I’m not to end my days as an unmarried matron after all.”

He seemed surprised, almost unnerved. She wondered if he connected her marriage with Lord Orin’s recent visit, but his reply didn’t suggest that.

“You’re to be married, my lady? That’s . . . strange.”

She couldn’t repress her laugh. “My friend, it’s far stranger that I’ve reached the ripe old age of twenty-eight and managed to maintain my blessed vir——” She stopped and amended herself, “—single state. But why do you say its strange, my marrying?”

His narrow shoulders rose in a quick shrug. “Perhaps I meant I was surprised, my lady.”

He never lied to her; he added the “perhaps” to make that statement less than a lie.

“No doubt you
were
surprised, but I don’t think that’s what you meant.”

“Well, perhaps I was thinking of the spirit weft between you and the Lord Alexand. Such things can’t be broken.” He looked down at the ring on her right hand, then with a sigh admitted, “I thought it strange because I . . . I had a vision once. You might think it only a dream.” He glanced at her, as if expecting a doubting response, but she only studied him soberly. “It was right after the Brother first came to me. The same night, in fact. It was on Saint Richard the Lamb’s day, two years ago, and it was the Lamb who spoke to me in the vision, or . . . dream.”

Adrien wondered at the term “the Brother,” but Richard the Lamb distracted her from that.

“What did he say to you?”

Malaki’s eyes narrowed in concentration, and she knew the words would be exactly those heard in his dream.

“The Lamb said to me, ‘Comfort your Lady, Malaki. She will never be the bride of any man but her Promised.’ ” He saw that Adrien had paled at that and added, “I didn’t tell you because even then the wounds of grief were too fresh. I took it as a prophecy. That’s why when you told me now that you’re to be married, I thought it strange. It seems to go against the prophecy.”

“Prophecies can be interpreted in many ways.”

“True, and now I don’t know what this one may mean.”

“No doubt the meaning will be clear in time. Malaki, who’s this ‘Brother’ you mentioned?” Then, when he paused uncertainly, “Is it something you’d rather not tell me about?”

“Oh, no, my lady. It’s just that the Brother is a mystery to me. He says he’s a mortal man and not a saint. But he’s a holy man. He first came to me, as I said, on Saint Richard’s day two years ago.”

“Came to you? In a vision?”

“Oh, no. He came to the chapel. He always does.”

“Does he come to you often?”

“No, I wouldn’t say often. But I’ve talked with him many times. The last was on Saint Ruth’s day in levenmonth.”

That would be in late Novem. Adrien maintained her attentive expression, but she was wondering how a mortal man, however “holy,” managed to slip into the compound “many times” without attracting the attention of the guards.


How
does he come to you?”

“Well, it’s always late at night when I’m in the chapel alone. He never comes when anyone else is with me, but he asks me to tell my flock about him and his words.”

BOOK: Shadow of the Swan (Book Two of the Phoenix Legacy)
9.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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