Authors: Jennifer Fallon
“Moderation and self-restraint,” Kylia quoted, speaking directly to Jaxyn. “In one's behaviour or expression, specifically showing restraint in the use of, or abstinence from, alcoholic liquors.” She smiled then and turned to Tilly. “We had to learn that definition at school. They harped on about it a lot.”
“I suppose that's why you escaped from those staid old hags and came here to the palace, where you can have some real fun.”
“I think you'd benefit from a bit of discipline from a few staid old hags, my lad,” Tilly suggested with a frown.
He grinned at the old woman. “Only if you promise to tie me down first, Lady Ponting, and tell me I've been a very naughty boy.” Before she could respond to that, he turned to Kylia. “You know what I think? I think you and I should take a punt out on the lake. After the rain last night it's as flat as a piece of smoked glass.”
Kylia's face fell, as she realised she couldn't just walk out on Tilly without being considered rude. “I can't, Lord Aranville. Tilly came out here specially to give me a private reading this morning. I couldn't possibly abandon her to go boating.”
“No, she couldn't possibly,” Tilly agreed, but not because she was likely to be offended. Jaxyn wondered if Arkady had been in the old lady's ear, warning her to keep him away from Kylia.
“I think perhaps, if you ask her nicely, Tilly won't be offended,” Arkady remarked from the door. “Not now that I'm here to keep her company.”
Jaxyn leapt to his feet, not sure what surprised him more: that Arkady was standing there pulling off her gloves, or that she'd just sanctioned his outing with her husband's niece.
Although he knew she'd gone out this morning, he didn't know where she'd been. She'd obviously been working, dressed in the clothes she usually wore when she attended the university: dowdy, buttoned up high, grey and unattractive. She tried to play down her appearance, Jaxyn knew, as if dressing plainly would somehow give her credibility. But nothing Arkady Desean did could disguise her beauty. Stellan had married her for that reason, Jaxyn was certain. He might not be attracted to women sexually, but he did like to look at beautiful things.
Pity she's such a frigid bitch.
Kylia was quite flustered by Arkady's unexpected suggestion. “Would youâ¦really not mind, Tilly?”
“Wellâ¦I supposeâ¦if your aunt doesn't mindâ¦” Clearly, Tilly Ponting was just as puzzled by Arkady's uncharacteristic approval.
“You run along, Kylia,” Arkady ordered, as she placed her gloves on the side table. “Just make sure you take a hat. And a shawl. It can be quite chilly out on the lake at this time of year.”
Kylia rose to her feet, curtseyed quickly to Tilly and then hurried out of the morning room, stopping only long enough to plant a hasty but grateful kiss on Arkady's cheek as she raced off to find her hat and shawl. Jaxyn also stood up and headed for the door. When he drew level with Arkady, she turned to him, her expression stern.
“Yes, your grace?”
“She'd better come back a virgin.”
Jaxyn stared at her for a moment and then smiled. The one thing he did admire about Arkady was that she wasn't afraid to say exactly what she meant when the occasion called for it.
“You know I'd never harm anything Stellan loved,” he reminded her.
“I also know what you're after, Jaxyn Aranville. So let me assure you of this. If you expect to spend another night under this roof, you'll return Kylia home at a decent hour, whole, unharmed and preferably not betrothed to you.”
Jaxyn smiled. “Spoilsport.”
“Try seducing Kylia,” she suggested frostily. “If you want to discover how much of a spoilsport I can be.”
Jaxyn decided not to answer that. He turned and bowed to Tilly. “Lady Ponting.” Then he turned and bowed to Arkady with an insolent smile. “Your grace.”
“I mean it, Jaxyn.”
“You're very attractive when you're being domineering, did you know that?”
“I'm also a heartbeat away from revoking my permission for Kylia to go anywhere alone with you,” she warned.
“Then I'll be gone, your grace, while I'm still ahead in the game. You ladies enjoy the rest of your morning now, won't you?”
He left before Arkady could respond, certain he had aggravated her enough to count himself the winner of this particular encounter, but not enough to have her do anything to evict him from the palace.
It was a fine line Jaxyn Aranville walked with the Duchess of Lebec. Sooner or later, one of them would have to go.
Jaxyn was working hard on making sure it wasn't him.
“Was that wise?” Tilly asked as she began to gather up her cards.
Arkady rang the bell on the side table to summon a slave and walked across the morning room. It was quite stuffy in here with both fireplaces alight. She undid the button at the waist of her jacket and loosened the top few buttons on her blouse as she walked.
“Probably not,” she admitted, taking the seat so recently vacated by Kylia. “But I wanted to talk to you. It seemed as good an excuse as any, to get Kylia out of the way. Have you been reading her Tarot again?”
Tilly nodded. “She's very interested in the identity of her future husband.”
“Could you please tell her it's
“I could,” Tilly agreed, “but that might not be what the cards say.”
Arkady picked up the nearest card and studied it for a moment. “You don't really believe a card can tell you anything about the future, do you, Tilly?”
“That's not an answer.”
“I tell fortunes, darling,” Tilly chuckled. “I'm supposed to be cryptic.”
“Do you believe the Tide Lords really existed?”
Tilly leaned back in her chair and looked at Arkady. “There's a question I never thought I'd hear from you. What's brought this on?”
“I'm curious, that's all. You know I'm working on the history of Glaeba prior to the Cataclysm.”
“By trying to get the Crasii to tell you their legends, so I'm told,” Tilly said.
“There's usually a grain of truth in most legends, Tilly.”
They were interrupted by the arrival of a slave answering Arkady's summons.
“You rang, your grace?” the Crasii enquired, after bobbing awkwardly in a curtsey, her tail wagging eagerly. Until she learned to control it, she wouldn't be allowed anywhere near the public areas of the palace that housed any number of pricelessâand importantly breakableâantiques and artefacts.
“Could you bring us tea, Tassie?” she asked.
“Of course, your grace, is there anything else? Anything at all I can do for you? Anything?”
Arkady smiled. “Settle down, Tassie. Just tea will be fine.”
Tassie bobbed another awkward curtsey and hurried away to fetch the tea. “She's a nice-looking beast,” Tilly remarked as the Crasii left the room.
Arkady nodded in agreement. “We bred her in-house. She's one of Fluffy's pups.”
“You got another litter out of Fluffy, then?”
“Stellan probably could have bred her a few more times, but she was worn out, poor thing. Twins every year for the past eight seasons. Tassie was out of her last litter. We covered Fluffy with a sire named Rex we purchased from Lady Jimison, actually. I hear she was furious when she realised what she could have made in stud fees if she'd thought to hang on to him.”
“That stupid woman wouldn't know a canine Crasii from a hunting dog,” Tilly agreed. “But we're getting off the topic. Why this sudden interest in the veracity of the Tide Lord legends?”
“I met a man today who claimed he was one.”
Tilly laughed. “Have someone kill him for you, darling. That should settle his claim fairly smartly.”
“Well, they did, actually. That's the problem.”
Tilly's smile faded. “You can't be serious!”
“Funny, that's exactly what I said.”
“You mean they tried to kill a man who claims to be a Tide Lord and he didn't die?” Tilly looked quite shocked.
“Don't get too excited,” Arkady warned. “This man's a confidence trickster, Tilly. I'm certain of it. But I need to prove it.”
“Well, that's what I've spent the last hour on the way back from Lebec Prison wondering. This man has really put some thought into it. He's beaten the noose. He knows things about the Crasii that even I've had trouble getting out of them, and I've more trust among them than most. He's going to be hard to expose.”
“Kill him again,” Tilly suggested. “If he's not immortal, that will settle the argument one way or the other.”
“It's not that simple, I'm afraid,” Arkady sighed. “The man's Caelish, not Glaeban. We can't attempt the âlet's settle this once and for all' solution until we've exhausted every legal avenue, or there'll be hell to pay. If the man is proved insane, on the other hand, we'll never get to execute him for committing seven cold-blooded murders to which he willingly confessed.”
“If he's claiming to be a Tide Lord, darling, I'd be going with the insanity option myself,” Tilly chuckled.
“Only if he genuinely believes he is a Tide Lord. My instinct is that this man is faking.”
“Get him to do something magic, then.”
“I tried that. Apparently, it's
Tide, so he's powerless until the Tide turns.”
Tassie came back with a small cart before Arkady could answer. They waited while she served them, bowed three or four times more and then headed for the door.
“Tassie!” Arkady called on impulse.
She looked over her shoulder at the young Crasii, watching her curiously. “Would you know a Tide Lord if you met one?”
Tassie's ears flattened and she looked away, wringing her hands, suddenly very self-conscious. “The Tide Lords are gone, your grace.”
“Yes, I know that. But suppose they came back? Your people believe the Crasii were magically bred to serve the Tide Lords. Don't you think you'd know one if you saw him?”
The Crasii shrugged. “I couldn't say, your grace.”
“Very well,” Arkady sighed, turning back to her tea. “You may go.”
“She's lying,” Tilly noted, as Tassie closed the door behind her. “Not something you see the Crasii do often.”
“It's more likely she didn't know the answer,” Arkady surmised. “We may disagree with the Crasii about their origins and whether or not the Tide Lords ever actually existed, but we agree they're no longer around. The Crasii believe the Cataclysm destroyed the Tide Lords.”
“Or so they tell us,” Tilly amended. “Still, you must give me all the gossip on this Tide Lord of yours. Is he handsome?”
“I suppose,” she said, remembering the intense look he gave her the first time their eyes met. Arkady discovered she couldn't recall his features, just those soul-piercing eyes.
“Which one is he claiming to be?”
“Cayal. The Immortal Prince.”
Tilly nodded, unsurprised, as she spooned a good helping of honey into her teacup. “Well, that would make sense, I suppose.”
Arkady picked up her tea, took a sip, studying Tilly over the lip. “Why does it make sense?”
“Well, there's more written about Cayal than any of the others. If you're going to take on a Tide Lord's persona, why not the one you can learn the most about?”
“What do you mean, there's more written about him than any of the others? Where, Tilly? The only people who know anything about the Tide Lords are a few crusty academicsâand I know
of them personallyâand the Crasii. I've spent a lifetime working with
and I've barely gained their trust. Believe me, I've seen the way this man treats Crasii. And the way the Crasii react to him. He didn't get
from them. Not willingly, at any rate.”
“Then perhaps he reads his Tarot.”
She smiled sceptically. “You think he had
Tilly put down her teacup and picked up the cards. She began laying them out on the table, discarding all but the major cards and placing them out in an order that made no sense at all to Arkady.
“What I mean,” the widow explained, as she continued to separate the cards, “is that the Tarot tells the story of the Immortal Prince.”
“I thought it told the future?”
“Well, it does,” the old lady agreed. “But the cards tell their own story. See?”
Arkady studied the cards, no more enlightened than she had been before Tilly showed them to her. “See what?”
“The story of the Immortal Prince! You see this first card hereâ¦the pictureâ¦that's Cayal, the young man, off to seek his fortune. The next card depicts his meeting with Arryl, the Sorceress, who is possessed by the spirit of the Tide Star. She's the one who convinces him to become immortal. In the next card, he meets Diala, the High Priestess, who teaches him what he needs to knowâ¦and on it goes. If your boy is pretending to be a Tide Lord, Arkady, and the Crasii didn't take him into their confidence, then I'm guessing this is where he got his information.”
Arkady shook her head, unconvinced. “But surely he'd know anybody with access to a deck of Tarot cards would see through his ploy?”
“Not if he was using the Tarot to back up his claim.”
“You mean lacking any other source of information, he can say,
If you don't believe me, just check your Tarot
“Exactly!” Tilly declared. “If he's learned it well enough, he'll have an answer for anything you throw at him.”
“And if he doesn't?”
“Then he's surely not a Tide Lord, darling.”
Arkady studied the cards for a moment, nodding thoughtfully. “You know, it would be interesting to see his reaction when he realises I'm on to him. Can I borrow these?”
“Be my guest,” Tilly offered. “But they're not much good to you if you don't know what each card means.”
“That's a good point.”
Tilly leaned forward, with a conspiratorial smile. “So, when you visit your Tide Lord again, I could come with youâ¦”
Arkady shook her head. “Absolutely not, Tilly.”
Tilly leaned back in her chair, throwing her hands up. “Oh! Come on, Arkady! Jaxyn was right! You're a damned spoilsport.”
“I'm also not supposed to be discussing this with anyone. This is an extremely delicate situation. I can just
the Warden's reaction if I roll up with one of my noble friends tomorrow, to give our Tide Lord a Tarot reading.” Tilly reached for the deck but Arkady lifted it out of her grasp and began shuffling through the cards. “You'll have to teach
what they mean, Tilly.”
“Will you promise to tell me every word he utters?”
“Will you promise to mention this to nobody?”
“I suppose,” Tilly sighed.
Arkady began laying the cards out on the table. “Then tell me the legend of the Immortal Prince, so I can keep us both entertained.”