The Shining Ones | Chapter 26 of 46

Author: David Eddings | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 22793 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 16

The blur that surrounded them momentarily was that same featureless gray, no darker than it had been when Bhelliom had transported them in daylight. Night and day appeared to be irrelevant. Sparhawk dimly perceived that Bhelliom took them through some different place, a colorless emptiness that adjoined all other places – a kind of doorway to everywhere.

‘You were right, my Lord,’ Kalten said to Vanion, looking up at the star-studded night sky. ‘It is later here, isn’t it?’ He looked sharply at Xanetia, who swayed slightly in her saddle. ‘Are you unwell, Lady?’ he asked her.

‘It is of no moment, Sir Knight. A slight giddiness, nothing more.’

‘You get used to it. The first few times are a little unsettling, but that wears off.’

Khalad held out the box, and Sparhawk put Bhelliom back inside. ‘I do not do this to imprison thee,’ he told the jewel. ‘Our enemies can sense thy presence when thou art exposed, and this receptacle doth conceal thee from their search.’

The Bhelliom pulsed slightly in acknowledgement.

Sparhawk closed the cap over his ring, took the box from his squire, and closed it. Then he tucked it back into its usual place inside his tunic.

Matherion, ruddy with torchlight, lay below, and the pale path of light from the newly risen moon stretched from the horizon across the waters of the Tamul Sea to her doorstep, yet another of the innumerable roads leading to the city the Tamuls called the center of the world.

‘Are you open to a suggestion, Sparhawk?’ Talen asked.

‘You sound just like Tynian.’

‘I know. I’m sort of filling in for him while he’s away. We’ve been out of Matherion for a while, so we don’t know what’s really been going on here. Suppose I slip into town and have a look – ask a few questions, find out what we’re riding into – the usual sort of thing.’

Sparhawk nodded. ‘All right,’ he said.

‘That’s all? Just “all right”? No protests? No objections? No hour-long lectures about being careful? I’m disappointed in you, Sparhawk.’

‘Would you listen to me if I objected or delivered a lecture?’

‘No, not really.’

‘Why waste the time, then? You know what you’re doing and how to do it. Just don’t take all night.’

Talen swung down from his horse and opened his saddle-bags. He took out a rough, patched smock and pulled it on over his other clothes. Then he bent, rubbed his hand in the dirt of the road, and artfully smudged his face. He stirred up his hair and sifted a handful of straw from the roadside onto it. ‘What do you think?’ he asked Sparhawk.

‘You’ll do.’ Sparhawk shrugged.

‘Spoil-sport,’ Talen grumbled, climbing back on his horse. ‘Khalad, come along. You can watch my horse for me while I sniff around.’

Khalad grunted, and the two rode on down the hill.

‘Is the child truly so gifted?’ Xanetia asked.

‘He’d be offended if you called him a child, Lady,’ Kalten replied, ‘and he can come closer to being invisible than anybody I know.’

They drew back some distance from the road and waited.

It was an hour later when Talen and his brother returned.

‘Things are still more or less the way they were when we left,’ the boy reported.

‘No open fighting in the streets, you mean?’ Ulath laughed.

‘Not yet. Things are a little hectic at the palace, though. It’s got something to do with documents of some kind. The whole government’s in an uproar. None of the people I talked with knew all that much about it. The Church Knights and the Atans are still in control, though, so it’s safe to jump from here to the courtyard of Ehlana’s castle if we want.’

Sparhawk shook his head. ‘Let’s ride in. I’m sure there are still Tamuls inside the walls, and probably half of them are spies. Let’s not give away any secrets if we don’t have to. Is Sarabian still staying in the castle?’

Talen nodded. ‘Your wife’s probably been teaching him a few tricks – “roll over”, “play dead”, “sit up and beg” – that sort of thing.’

Talen!’ Itagne exclaimed.

‘You haven’t met our queen yet, have you, your Excellency?’ Talen grinned. ‘I’d say that you’re in for a whole new experience, then.’

‘It has to do with setting up the new filing system, my Lord,’ the young Pandion at the drawbridge explained in reply to Vanion’s question. ‘We needed room to rearrange things, so we spread all the government files out on the lawn.’

‘What if it rains?’

‘That would probably simplify the job a great deal, my Lord.’

They dismounted in the courtyard and went up the broad stairs to the ornately carved main door, paused briefly to put on the cushioned shoes that protected the brittle floor-covering, and went inside.

Queen Ehlana had been advised of their arrival, and she was waiting for them at the door to the throne-room. Sparhawk’s heart caught in his throat as he looked at his lovely young wife. ‘So nice of you to stop by, Sir Sparhawk,’ she said tartly before she threw her arms about his neck.

‘Sorry we’re so late, dear,’ he apologized after they had exchanged a brief, formal sort of kiss. ‘Our travel plans got a little skewed.’ He was painfully conscious of the half-dozen or so Tamuls lingering nearby trying to look very hard as if they weren’t listening. ‘Why don’t we go on upstairs, my Queen? We’ve got quite a bit to tell you, and I’d like to get out of this mail-shirt before it permanently embeds itself into my skin.’

‘You are not going to wear that stinking thing into my bedroom, Sparhawk. As I remember, the baths lie in that general direction. Why don’t you take your fragrant friends and go make use of them? The ladies can come with me. I’ll round up the others, and we’ll all meet you in the royal quarters in about an hour. I’m sure your explanation of your tardiness will be absolutely fascinating.’

Sparhawk felt much better after he had bathed and changed into the conventional doublet and hose. He and his friends trooped on up the stairs that mounted into the central tower where the royal apartments were located.

‘You’re late, Sparhawk,’ Mirtai said bluntly when they reached the top of the stairs.

‘Yes. My wife’s already pointed that out to me. Come inside. You’ll need to hear this too.’

Ehlana and the others who had remained behind were gathered in the large, blue-draped sitting room. Sephrenia and Danae were conspicuously absent, however.

‘Well, finally!’ Emperor Sarabian said as they entered. Sparhawk was startled by the change in the Emperor’s appearance. His hair was tied back from his face, and he wore tight-fitting black hose and a full-sleeved linen shirt. He looked younger for some reason, and he was holding a rapier with the kind of familiarity that spoke of much practice. ‘Now we can get on with the business of overthrowing the government.’

‘What have you been up to, Ehlana?’ Sparhawk asked.

‘Sarabian and I have been expanding our horizons.’ She shrugged.

‘I knew I shouldn’t have stayed away so long.’

‘I’m glad you brought that up. That very same thought’s been on my mind for the longest time now.’

‘Why don’t you just save yourself some time and unpleasantness, Sparhawk?’ Kalten suggested. Just show her why we had to take this little trip.’

‘Good idea.’ Sparhawk reached inside his doublet and took out the unadorned gold box. Things were beginning to get out of hand, Ehlana, so we decided to go fetch some reinforcements.’

‘I thought that’s what Tynian was doing.’

‘The situation called for something a little more significant than the Church Knights.’ Sparhawk touched the band of his ring to the lid of the box. ‘Open,’ he said. He kept the lid partially closed to conceal the fact that his wife’s ring was also inside.

‘What have you done with your ring, Sparhawk?’ she asked him, looking at the cover concealing the stone.

‘I’ll explain in a bit.’ He reached in and took out the Bhelliom. ‘This is why we had to leave, dear.’ He held up the stone.

She stared at it, the color draining from her face. ‘Sparhawk!’ she gasped.

‘What a magnificent jewel!’ Sarabian exclaimed, reaching his hand out toward the Sapphire Rose.

‘That might not be wise, your Majesty,’ Itagne cautioned. ‘That’s the Bhelliom. It tolerates Sparhawk, but it might pose some dangers to anyone else.’

‘Bhelliom’s a fairy-tale, Itagne.’

‘I’ve been re-assessing my position on various fairy-tales lately, your Majesty. Sparhawk destroyed Azash with Bhelliom – just by touching it to him. I don’t advise putting your hands on it, my Emperor. You’ve shown some promise in the past few months, and we’d sort of hate to lose you at this point.’

‘Itagne!’ Oscagne said sharply. ‘Mind your manners!’

‘We’re here to advise the Emperor, brother mine, not to coddle him. Oh, incidentally, Oscagne, when you sent me to Cynestra, you invested me with plenipotentiary powers, didn’t you? We can check over my commission, if you like, but I’m fairly sure I had that kind of authority – I usually do. I hope you don’t mind, old boy, but I’ve concluded a couple of alliances along the way.’ He paused. ‘Well,’ he amended, ‘Sparhawk did all the real work, but my commission put some slight stain of legality on the business.’

‘You can’t do that without consulting Matherion first, Itagne!’ Oscagne’s face was turning purple.

‘Oh, be serious, Oscagne. All I did was seize some opportunities which presented themselves, and I was hardly in a position to tell Sparhawk what he could or couldn’t do, now, was I? I had things more or less under control in Cynestra when Sparhawk and his friends dropped by. We left Cynestra, and…’

‘Details, Itagne. What did you do in Cynestra?’

Itagne sighed. ‘You can be so tedious at times, Oscagne. I found out that Ambassador Taubel was in bed with Kanzad, the Interior Ministry’s station-chief. They had King Jaluah pretty much dancing to their tune.’

Oscagne’s face went bleak. ‘Taubel’s defected to Interior?’

‘I thought I just said that. You might want to run a quick evaluation of your other embassies, too. Interior Minister Kolata’s been very busy. Anyway, I threw Taubel and Kanzad – along with the entire police force and most of the embassy staff – into a dungeon, declared martial law, and put the Atan garrison in charge.’

‘You did what?’

‘I’ll write you a report about it one of these days. You know me well enough to know that I had justification.’

‘You exceeded your authority, Itagne.’

‘You didn’t impose any limitations on me, old boy. That gave me carte blanche. All you said was to have a look around and to do what needed to be done, so I did.’

‘How did you persuade the Atans to go along with you without written authorization?’

Itagne shrugged. ‘The commander of the Atan garrison there is a fairly young woman – quite attractive, actually, in a muscular sort of way. I seduced her. She was an enthusiastic seducee. Believe me, Oscagne, she’ll do absolutely anything for me.’ He paused. ‘You might want to make a note of that in my file – something about my willingness to make sacrifices for the Empire and all that. I didn’t give her total free rein, though. The dear child wanted to give me the heads of Taubel and Kanzad as tokens of her affection, but I declined. My rooms at the university are cluttered enough already, so I don’t really have the space for stuffed trophies on the walls. I told her to lock them up instead and to keep a firm grip on King Jaluah until Taubel’s replacement arrived. You needn’t hurry with that appointment, my brother. I have every confidence in her.’

‘You’ve set back relations with Cynesga by twenty years, Itagne.’

What relations?’ Itagne snorted. ‘The Cynesgans respond only to naked force, so that’s what I used on them.’

‘You spoke of alliances, Itagne,’ Sarabian said, flicking the tip of his rapier. ‘Just exactly to whom have you committed my undying trust and affection?’

‘I was just coming to that, your Majesty. After we left Cynestra, we went on to Delphaeus. We spoke with their chieftain, the Anari – a very old man named Cedon – and he offered his assistance. Sparhawk’s going to take care of our side of the bargain, so there’s no cost to the Empire involved.’

Oscagne shook his head. ‘It must come from our mother’s side of the family, your Majesty,’ he apologized. ‘There was an uncle of hers who was always a little strange.’

‘What are you talking about, Oscagne?’

‘My brother’s obvious insanity, your Majesty. I’m told that things like that are hereditary. Fortunately, I favor our father’s side of the family. Tell me, Itagne, are you hearing voices too? Do you have visions of purple giraffes?’

‘You can be so tiresome sometimes, Oscagne.’

‘Would you tell us what happened, Sparhawk?’ Sarabian asked.

‘Itagne covered it fairly well, your Majesty. I take it that you Tamuls have some reservations about the Shining Ones?’

‘No,’ Oscagne said, ‘I wouldn’t call them reservations, your Highness. How could we have any reservations about a people who don’t exist?’

‘This argument could go on all night,’ Kalten said. ‘Would you mind, Lady?’ he asked Xanetia, who sat quietly beside him with her head slightly bowed. ‘If you don’t show them who you are, they’ll wrangle for days.’

‘An it please thee, Sir Knight,’ she replied.

‘So formal, my dear?’ Sarabian smiled. ‘Here in Matherion, we only use that mode of speech at weddings, funerals, coronations and other mournful events.’

‘We have long been isolate, Emperor Sarabian,’ she replied, ‘and unmoved by the winds of fashion and the inconstant tides of usage. I do assure thee that we find no inconvenience in what must seem to thee forced archaism, for it cometh to our lips unbidden and is our natural mode of speech – upon such rare occasions when speech among us is even needful.’

The door at the far end of the room opened, and Princess Danae, dragging Rollo behind her, entered quietly with Alean close behind her.

Xanetia’s eyes widened, and her expression became awed.

‘She fell asleep,’ the little princess reported to her mother.

‘Is she all right?’ Ehlana asked.

‘Lady Sephrenia seemed very tired, your Majesty,’ Alean responded. ‘She bathed and went directly to bed. I couldn’t even interest her in any supper.’

‘It’s probably best to just let her sleep,’ Ehlana said. ‘I’ll look in on her later.’

Emperor Sarabian had obviously taken advantage of the brief interruption to frame his thoughts in a somewhat studied archaism. ‘Verily,’ he said to Xanetia, ‘thy mode of speech doth fall prettily upon mine ear, Lady. In truth, however, thou hast been unkind to absent thyself from us, for thou art fair, and thine elegant mode of address would have added luster to our court. Moreover, thine eyes and thy gentle demeanor do shine forth from thee and would have provided instruction by ensample for they who are about me.’

‘Thy words are artfully honeyed, Majesty,’ Xanetia said, politely inclining her head, ‘and I do perceive that thou are a consummate flatterer.’

‘Say not so,’ he protested. ‘I do assure thee that I speak truly from mine heart.’ He was obviously enjoying himself.

She sighed. ‘Thine opinion, I do fear me, will change when thou dost behold me in my true state. I have altered mine appearance as necessary subterfuge to avoid affrighting thy subjects. For, though it doth cause me grave distress to confess it, should thy people see me in mine accustomed state, they would flee, shrieking in terror.’

‘Canst thou truly inspire such fear, gentle maiden?’ he smiled. ‘I cannot give credence to thy words. In truth, methinks, shouldst thou appear on the streets of fire-domed Matherion, my subjects would indeed run – but not away from thee.’

‘That thou must judge for thyself, Majesty.’

‘Ah – before we proceed, might I inquire as to the state of your Majesty’s health?’ Itagne asked prudently.

‘I’m well, Itagne.’

‘No shortness of breath? No heaviness or twinges in your Majesty’s chest?’

‘I said that I’m healthy, Itagne,’ Sarabian snapped.

‘I certainly hope so, your Majesty. May I be permitted to present the Lady Xanetia, the Anarae of the Delphae?’

‘I think your brother’s right, Itagne. I think you’ve taken leave of – Good God!’ Sarabian was staring in open horror at Xanetia. Like the dye running out of a bolt of cheap cloth, the color was draining from her skin and hair, and the incandescent glow that had marked her before she had disguised it began to shine forth again. She rose to her feet, and Kalten stood up beside her.

‘Now is the stuff of thy nightmares made flesh, Sarabian of Tamuli,’ Xanetia said sadly. This is who I am and what I am. Thy servant Itagne hath told thee well and truly what transpired in fabled Delphaeus. I would greet thee in manner suitable to thy station, but like all the Delphae, I am outcast, and therefore not subject to thee. I am here to perform those services which devolve upon my people by reason of our pact with Anakha, whom thou has called Sparhawk of Elenia. Fear me not, Sarabian, for I am here to serve, not to destroy.’

Mirtai, her face deathly pale, had risen to her feet. Purposefully, she stepped in front of her mistress and drew her sword. ‘Run, Ehlana,’ she said grimly. ‘I’ll hold her back.’

‘That is not needful, Mirtai of Atan,’ Xanetia told her. ‘As I said, I mean no harm to any in this company. Sheathe thy sword.’

‘I will, accursed one – in your vile heart!’ Mirtai raised her sword. Then, as if struck by some great blow, she reeled back and fell to the floor, tumbling over and over.

Kring and Engessa reacted immediately, rushing forward and clawing at their sword-hilts.

‘I would not hurt them, Anakha,’ Xanetia warned Sparhawk, ‘but I must protect myself that I may keep faith with the pact between thee and my people.’

‘Put up your swords!’ Vanion barked. ‘The lady is a friend!’

‘But…’ Kring protested.

‘I said to put up your swords!’ Vanion’s roar was shattering, and Kring and Engessa stopped in their tracks.

Sparhawk, however, saw another danger. Danae, her eyes bleak and her face set, was advancing on the Delphaeic woman. ‘Ah, there you are, Danae,’ he said, moving rather more quickly than his casual tone might have suggested. He intercepted the vengeful little princess. ‘Aren’t you going to give your poor old father a kiss?’ He swept her up into his arms and smothered her indignant outburst by mashing his lips to hers.

‘Put me down, Sparhawk!’ she said, speaking directly down his throat.

‘Not until you get a grip on your temper,’ he muttered, his mouth still clamped to hers.

‘She hurt Mirtai!’

‘No, she didn’t. Mirtai knows how to fall without getting hurt. Don’t do anything foolish here. You knew this was going to happen. Everything’s under control, so don’t get excited – and don’t, for God’s sake, let your mother find out who you really are.’

‘It doesn’t really talk!’ Ehlana interrupted Sparhawk’s account of what had taken place in Delphaeus.

‘Not by itself, no,’ Sparhawk replied. ‘It spoke through Kalten – well, it did the first time, anyway.’

‘Kalten?’

‘I have no idea why. Maybe it just seizes on whoever’s handy. The language it uses is archaic and profoundly formal – thee’s and thou’s and that sort of thing. Its speech is much like Xanetia’s, and it wants me to respond in kind. Evidently, the mode of speech is important.’ He rubbed one hand across his freshly shaved cheek. ‘It’s very strange, but as soon as I began to speak – and think – in twelfth-century Elenic, something seemed to open in my mind. For the first time, I knew that I was Anakha, and I knew that Bhelliom and I are linked together in some profoundly personal way.’ He smiled wryly. ‘It seems that you’re married to two different people, love. I hope you’ll like Anakha. He seems a decent enough sort – once you get used to the way he talks.’

‘Perhaps I should just go mad,’ she said. ‘That might be easier than trying to understand what’s going on. How many other strangers do you plan to bring to my bed tonight?’

Sparhawk looked at Vanion. ‘Should I tell them about Sephrenia?’

‘You might as well,’ Vanion sighed. ‘They’ll find out about it soon enough anyway.’

Sparhawk took his wife’s hands in his and looked into her gray eyes. ‘You’re going to have to be a little careful when you talk with Sephrenia, dear,’ he told her. ‘There’s an ancient enmity between the Delphae and the Styrics, and Sephrenia grows irrational whenever she’s around them. Xanetia has problems with the Styrics as well, but she manages to keep it under control better than Sephrenia does.’

‘Doth it seem so to thee, Anakha?’ Xanetia asked. She had resumed her disguise, more for the sake of the comfort of the others than out of any real need, Sparhawk guessed. Mirtai sat not far from her with watchful eyes and with her hand resting on her sword-hilt.

‘I’m not trying to be personally offensive, Anarae,’ he apologized. ‘I’m just trying to explain the situation so that they’ll understand when you and Sephrenia try to claw each other’s eyes out.’

‘I’m sure you’ve noticed my husband’s blinding charm, Anarae,’ Ehlana smiled. ‘Sometimes he absolutely overwhelms us with it.’

Xanetia actually laughed. Then she looked at Itagne. ‘These Elenes are a complex people, are they not? I do detect great agility of thought behind this bluff manner of theirs, and subtleties I would not have expected from a people who tailor steel into garments.’

Sparhawk leaned back in his chair. ‘I haven’t really covered everything that happened, but that’s enough to let you know in a general sort of way what we encountered. We can fill in more detail tomorrow. What’s been going on here?’

‘Politics, of course.’ Ehlana shrugged.

‘Don’t you ever get tired of politics?’

‘Don’t be silly, Sparhawk. Milord Stragen, why don’t you tell him? It shocks him when I start going into all the sordid details.’

Stragen was once again dressed in his favorite white satin doublet. The blond thief was sunk deep in a chair with his feet up on a table. ‘That attempted coup – or whatever it was – was a serious blunder on the other side,’ he began. ‘It alerted us to the fact that there were more mundane elements involved in this business than hob-goblins and resurrected antiquities. We knew that Krager was involved – and Interior Minister Kolata – and that turned it into ordinary, garden-variety politics. We didn’t know where Krager was, so we decided to find out just how deeply Interior was infected. Since all policemen everywhere are compulsive about paperwork, we were fairly sure that somewhere in that rabbit warren of a building there was a set of files that would identify the people we wanted to talk with. The problem was that we couldn’t just walk into the ministry and demand to see their files without giving away the fact that we knew what they were up to, which in turn would have let them know that Kolata was our prisoner instead of a willing guest. Baroness Melidere came up with the idea of a new filing system, and that gave us access to all the files of all the ministries.’

‘It was dreadful,’ Oscagne shuddered. ‘We had to disrupt the entire government in order to conceal the fact that we were really only interested in the files at Interior. Milord Stragen and the Baroness put their heads together and concocted a system. It’s totally irrational and wildly inconsistent, but for some reason it works amazingly well. I can lay my hands on any given piece of paper in less than an hour.’

‘Anyway,’ Stragen continued, ‘we browsed around through the files at Interior for a week or so, but the people over there kept slipping back into the building at night to move things around so that we’d have to start all over again every morning. That’s when we decided to just move our operations out onto the lawns. We stripped all the paper out of all the buildings and spread it out on the grass. That inconvenienced the rest of the government enormously, but Interior was still holding out on us. They were still hiding the critical files. Caalador and I reverted to type and tried burglary – along with Mirtai. The queen sent her along to remind us that we were looking for paper rather than miscellaneous valuables, I guess. It took a few nights, but we finally found the hidden room where the files we wanted were concealed.’

‘Didn’t they miss them the next morning?’ Bevier asked him.

‘We didn’t take them, Sir Knight,’ Caalador told him. ‘The queen called in a young Pandion who used a Styric spell to bring the information back to the castle without physically removing the documents.’ He grinned. ‘We got us all that there real incriminatin’ stuff, an’ they don’t know we got it. We stole it, an’ they don’t even miss it.’

‘We’ve got the name of every spy, every informer, every secret policeman and every conspirator of whatever rank Interior has in all of Tamuli,’ Sarabian smirked. ‘We’ve been waiting for all of you to come home so that we can take steps. I’m going to dissolve the Ministry of the Interior, round up all those people, and declare martial law. Betuana and I have been in close contact, and we’ve laid our plans very carefully. As soon as I give the word, the Atans are going to take charge of the entire Empire. Then I’ll really be the Emperor instead of just a stuffed toy.’

‘You’ve all been very busy,’ Vanion observed.

‘It makes the time go faster, my Lord.’ Caalador shrugged. ‘We went a little farther, though. Krager obviously knew that we were using the criminals of Matherion as spies, but we weren’t sure if he knew about the hidden government. If he thinks our organization’s localized, that’s not much of a problem; but if he knows that I can give the order here in Matherion, and somebody dies in Chyrellos, that’s a whole ‘nother thang.’

‘I’ve missed that dialect,’ Talen said. He considered it. ‘Not really very much, though,’ he added.

‘Critic,’ Caalador accused.

‘How much were you able to find out?’ Ulath asked him.

Caalador spread one hand and rocked it back and forth doubtfully. ‘It’s sorta hord t’ say,’ he admitted. ‘They’s some places whur it iz ez them folks o’ ourn kin move around free ez frogs in a muddy pond. Other places, they can’t.’ He made a sour face. ‘It probably all boils down to natural talent. Some are gifted; some aren’t. We’ve made a little headway in putting names to some of the rabid nationalists in various parts of Tamuli – at least we think it’s headway. If Krager really knows what we’re doing, he could be feeding us false information. We wanted to wait until you came back before we tested the information we’ve got.’

‘How do you test something like that?’ Bevier asked.

‘We’ll send out the order to have somebody’s throat cut, and see if they try to protect him,’ Stragen replied. ‘Some chief of police somewhere, or maybe one of those nationalist leaders – Elron, maybe. Isn’t that astonishing, Sparhawk? That’s one of the things we found out. It turns out that Elron is the mysterious Sabre.’

‘What an amazing thing,’ Sparhawk replied with feigned astonishment.

‘Caalador wants to kill the man named Scarpa,’ Stragen went on, ‘but I favor Elron – although my preference in the matter could be viewed as a form of literary criticism. Elron deserves killing more for his abominable verse than his political opinions.’

‘The world can stand a little more bad poetry, Stragen,’ Caalador told his friend. ‘Scarpa’s the really dangerous one. I just wish we could put a name to Rebal, but so far he’s eluded us.’

‘His real name’s Amador,’ Talen told him. ‘He’s a ribbon clerk in Jorsan on the west coast of Edom.’

‘How did you find that out?’ Caalador seemed astonished.

‘Pure luck, to be honest about it. We saw Rebal making a speech to some peasants out in the woods. Then, later on, when we were in Jorsan, a gust of wind blew me into his shop. He isn’t really very much to worry about. He’s a charlatan. He uses carnival tricks to make the peasants think that he’s raising the ghost of Incetes. Sephrenia seems to think that means that our enemies are spread thin. They don’t have enough real magicians to arrange all these visitations, so they have to resort to trickery.’

‘What were you doing in Edom, Sparhawk?’ Ehlana asked.

‘We went through there on our way to pick up Bhelliom.’

‘How did you get there and back so fast?’

‘Aphrael helped us. She’s very helpful – most of the time.’ Sparhawk avoided looking at his daughter. He rose to his feet. ‘We’re all a little tired tonight,’ he suggested, ‘and I rather expect that filling in all of the details is going to take us quite a while. Why don’t we break off here and get some sleep? Then we’ll be able to attack it again in the morning when we’re all fresh.’

‘Good idea,’ Ehlana agreed, also rising. ‘Besides, I’ve got this burning curiosity.’

‘Oh?’

‘As long as I’m going to be sleeping with him, I should probably get to know this Anakha fellow, wouldn’t you say? Sleeping with total strangers so tarnishes a girl’s reputation, you know.’

‘She’s still asleep,’ Danae said, quietly closing the door to Sephrenia’s room.

‘Is she all right?’ Sparhawk asked.

‘Of course she isn’t. What did you expect, Sparhawk? Her heart’s broken.’

‘Come with me. We need to talk.’

‘I don’t think I want to talk with you right now, father. I’m just a little unhappy with you.’

‘I can live with that.’

‘Don’t be too sure.’

‘Come along.’ He took her by the hand and led her up a long flight of stairs to the top of the tower and then out onto the parapet. He prudently closed the door and bolted it behind them. ‘You blundered, Aphrael,’ he told her.

She raised her chin and gave him a flat, icy stare.

‘Don’t get imperial with me, young lady. You made a mistake. You never should have let Sephrenia go to Delphaeus.’

‘She had to go. She has to go through this.’

‘She can’t. It’s more than she can bear.’

‘She’s stronger than she looks.’

‘Don’t you have any heart at all? Can’t you see how much she’s suffering?’

‘Of course’I can, and it’s hurting me far more than it’s hurting you, father.’

‘You’re killing Vanion too, you know.’

‘He’s also stronger than he looks. Why did all of you turn against Sephrenia at Delphaeus? Two or three soft words from Xanetia was all it took to make you throw away three hundred years of love and devotion. Is that the way you Elenes customarily treat your friends?’

She’s the one who forced the issue, Aphrael. She started delivering ultimatums. I don’t think you realize how strongly she feels about the Delphae. She was totally irrational. What’s behind all of that?’

‘That’s none of your business.’

‘I think it is. What really happened during the Cyrgai wars?’

‘I won’t tell you.’

‘Art thou afeared to speak of it, Goddess?’

Sparhawk spun around quickly, a startled oath coming to his lips. It was Xanetia. She stood all aglow not far from where they were talking.

‘This doesn’t concern you, Xanetia,’ Aphrael told her coldly.

‘I must needs know thine heart, Goddess. Thy sister’s enmity is of no real moment. Thine, however, would be more troublesome. Art thou also unkindly disposed toward me?’

‘Why don’t you leech my thoughts and find out for yourself?’

‘Thou knowest that I cannot, Aphrael. Thy mind is closed to me.’

‘I’m so glad you noticed that.’

‘Behave yourself,’ Sparhawk told his daughter, speaking very firmly.

‘Stay out of this, Sparhawk.’

‘No, Danae, I don’t think I will. Are you behind the way Sephrenia was behaving at Delphaeus?’

‘Don’t be absurd. I sent her to Delphaeus to cure her of that nonsense.’

‘Are you sure, Aphrael? You’re not behaving very well at the moment yourself, you know.’

‘I don’t like Edaemus, and I don’t like his people. I’m trying to cure Sephrenia out of love for her, not out of any affection for the Delphae.’

‘But thou didst stand for us against thy kindred when all this began, Goddess,’ Xanetia pointed out.

‘That also was not out of any great affection for your race, Xanetia. My family was wrong, and I opposed them out of principle. You wouldn’t understand that, though, would you? It had to do with love, and you Delphae have outgrown that, haven’t you?’

‘How little thou knowest us, Goddess,’ Xanetia said sadly.

‘As long as we’re all speaking so frankly, I’ve noticed a certain bias against Styrics in some of your remarks, Anarae,’ Sparhawk said pointedly.

‘I have reasons, Anakha – many reasons.’

‘I’m sure you have, and I’m sure Sephrenia has too. But whether we like each other or not is really beside the point. I am going to straighten this all out. I’ve got work to do, and I can’t do it in the middle of a cat-fight. I will make peace among you – even if I have to use the Bhelliom to do it.’

‘Sparhawk!’ Danae’s face was shocked.

‘Nobody wants to tell me what really happened during the Cyrgai wars, but maybe that’s just as well. I was curious at first, but not any longer. What it boils down to, ladies, is that I don’t care what happened. The way you’ve all been behaving sort of says that nobody’s hands were really clean. I want this spiteful wrangling to stop. You’re all behaving like children, and it’s beginning to make me tired.’

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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