|Home Page||Index Page|
War Maid's Choice: Chapter Twelve
Last updated: Wednesday, July 4, 2012 09:59 EDT
“Lovely!” Baroness Myacha breathed, looking down at the sparkling amethyst glory displayed on the swatch of black velvet.
The cloth — and the exquisitely cut gem on ithad been arranged on the polished mahogany table in the exact center of a shaft of golden sunlight, and sun reflections danced in eyes that were almost exactly the same shade as the stone. Neither the placement of the cloth nor the choice of the gem had been anything remotely like random, and Master Talthar Sheafbearer (who bore very little resemblance to a wizard named Varnaythus) smiled broadly behind his trader’s carefully bland expression as Borandas Daggeraxe, Baron Halthan, winced ever so slightly.
“It is quite a nice stone, Milady,” Talthar acknowledged after a moment, “although I fear it’s a bit over large for a lady’s delicate hand.”
“Oh, I quite agree,” the dark-haired baroness replied. “But set into a proper pendant, in silver, perhaps, not gold, I think ”
Talthar decided to let himself meet Baron Borandas’ eyes. Borandas gazed back at him for a heartbeat or so, then smiled wryly in acknowledgment of his inevitable defeat.
“Do you truly want it, my love?” he asked, and Talthar’s mental ears pricked at the baron’s gently teasing, undeniably tender tone.
“Yes,” Myacha sighed, looking up with a slight smile. “On the other hand, I fear Master Sheafbearer has far too good a notion of his wares’ worth! I have entirely too many fribbleows and pretty toys to justify paying him what I have no doubt he would demand from you, Milord.”
She actually sounded as if she meant it, Talthar noted, and that was interesting, too. Myacha was barely half Borandas’ age. She was also his second wife, two years younger than Borandas’ eldest son, Thorandas, and when their marriage had been arranged by Myacha’s father three years earlier, the near-universal opinion had been that Borandas was buying himself a sweet, toothsome morsel to warm his bed and flatter his ego as he moved into his sixties. In fact, that had been Talthar’s opinion until perhaps thirty or forty seconds ago.
I tend to forget sometimes how much detail and nuance you can lose relying solely upon scrying spells and the gramerhain, he thought. I should have paid more attention and not relied so heavily on Court gossip, I suppose. Of course, having to worry about that bastard Brayahs didn’t make it any simpler in this case.
His professional merchant’s expression hid his inner frown as readily as it had hidden his smile, which was just as well. Thoughts of Brayahs Daggeraxe, the son of Borandas’ deceased uncle, tended to have that effect upon him. Having any mage that closely related to one of the Kingdom’s barons would have been bad enough, but Brayahs was considerably more strongly talented than the majority of his fellows. He was not simply a wind-walker and a healer, but (if the rumors were true) had the gift of foresight, as well. And to make Talthar’s unhappiness complete, he was a mind-speaker, to boot, and one who’d come to his mage powers late. That mind-speakery of his made him particularly good at sniffing out any use of wizardry in his vicinity, and the fact that he’d been a man grown before his mage talents awoke meant he’d also been trained as a knight before he became a mage. After which he’d gone on and added the martial arts training of a master mishuk to his repertoire. His weapon (and weaponless) skills would have been more than enough to make him particularly resilient to assassination attempts, and successfully ambushing any wind-walker, even one without those skills, was no easy achievement at the best of times.
All of which meant that while it wouldn’t necessarily be impossible to assassinate him, it would be extraordinarily difficult to do it in any way that didn’t require the obvious use of sorcery or some other less than natural agency which would draw all sorts of unwanted attention. Talthar was perfectly prepared to have Brayahs murdered — indeed, he was looking forward to it — and he was more than willing to use whatever was required to make that happen, but he couldn’t afford any moves in that direction at this point. The last thing he needed was to focus the attention of other magi on the North Riding before he had his hooks firmly into Borandas or his heir.
Time enough for that later, he reminded himself now. Patience and cunning are just as important as — and more reliable than — brute power, especially at a time like this. Once all the pieces are in place he’ll have to go, but let’s not joggle our own elbow just because we find his continued existence inconvenient as hell.
All of which was true enough, although “inconvenient” was a pale description of the situation. The one good thing about Brayahs’ birth and ability was that King Markhos had enlisted him as one of the Crown magi who served as his investigators and agents. That made him even more dangerous, in some ways, but it also meant he’d been called to Sothofalas for the summer session of the Great Council, which would keep him busy for at least a month or two. His talents — and his influence with his cousin — were the real reason Talthar had deferred his first visit to Halthan until he could be certain the mage would be somewhere else. And why it had taken him over six months to prepare the ground properly for this first approach at all.
“Oh, I’m certain the Baron and I could come to a reasonable agreement, Milady,” he said out loud, allowing a very slight flicker of amusement into his eyes in response to Borandas’ smile.
“Why do I have the feeling that your idea of ‘reasonable’ and my own aren’t going to be precisely the same, Master Sheafbearer?” the baron responded, and Talthar permitted himself a chuckle.
“Because you, Milord Baron, are a shrewd, hardheaded bargainer, while I, alas, am an equally shrewd, clutch-fisted trader. Nonetheless, when such a fair lady is involved, it’s likely — well, possible, at any rate — that even such as I may find myself giving at least a modest amount of ground.”
“You, Master Sheafbearer,” Baroness Myacha told him with a smile of her own, “are a very dangerous man. Milord,” she looked at Borandas, “I forbid you to pay this man what this stone is truly worth.”
“A shrewd blow, Milady!” Talthar congratulated her. “Not that I would ever have expected the Baron to willingly part with this gem’s true worth.” He sighed heavily. “Unfortunately, that state of affairs is one any master trader is unhappily accustomed to confronting.” He sighed again, his expression mournful. “In order to make our way in the world at all, we become accustomed to being regularly out-bargained by our customers!”
“I trust you’ll forgive me for asking you this, Master Sheafbearer,” Baron Borandas said a bit tartly, “but would it happen that your mother was particularly well acquainted with Hirahim?”
“Borandas!” Myacha laughed and smacked him across the knuckles with her hand-painted fan.
“Actually, Milord Baron,” Talthar allowed with a smile, “when I was a mere lad, my father did remark once or twice upon how little like the rest of the family I looked.”
“I’m not surprised,” Borandas said, then drew a deep breath. “Very well, I already know this is going to hurt. Why don’t you go ahead and name your starting point. And in the meantime, my love,” he looked at Myacha with a warm smile of his own, “would you be so kind as to ring for Trelsan and request beverages. And perhaps a plate of sandwiches, as well.” He looked back at Talthar with a challenging glint in his blue eyes. “I believe we might be here long enough to require the sustenance before we’re done.”
Much later that evening, Talthar Sheafbearer carefully locked the door of his bedchamber on the second floor of The Halthan Arms, the most prestigious — and expensive — inn in Borandas’ capital city, behind him. It was a large, luxuriously furnished chamber, as befitted a merchant of his obvious wealth, but that wasn’t the reason he looked around it for several moments with careful, intent eyes. Then he drew a deep breath and closed those eyes, reaching out with other senses and trained abilities. He extended his feelers delicately, carefully, with all the hair-trigger sensitivity of a nervous cat, searching for the aura he’d learned to associate with Brayahs Daggeraxe. Brayahs wasn’t scheduled to visit his cousin for at least the next couple of weeks, but Phrobus knew schedules were subject to change, and if that accursed mage was anywhere close to Halthan
After the better part of five minutes, Talthar drew a deep breath and opened his eyes once more, this time with an expression of satisfaction. He crossed briskly to the chamber’s window and carefully closed the drapes before he set the hard-sided leather case in his right hand in the center of the table placed in front of the window. There was nothing particularly remarkable about that case — any gem-trader would have carried something very like it — and he drew a finely wrought key from where it had nestled inside his tunic on a silver chain and used it to unlock the case. He returned the key to its normal place, opened the case, and reached into it for the fist-sized lump of almost clear quartz stowed away at its very bottom. The quartz was no more remarkable than the case itself, aside from the fact that it was an extraordinarily plebeian piece of rock for a gem merchant of Talthar’s obvious wealth to carry about with him.
Except, of course, for the fact that it wasn’t quartz at all.
He laid the gramerhain on the table, then closed the case and set it aside. He wasn’t entirely happy about what he was going to do next, but there were limits in all things. He could have continued to hold the glamour which disguised him while using the gramerhain, but the combination of the glamour and the scrying spell he was about to use would have required him to expend considerably more energy. After all, scrying spells were intended to provide True Sight, so in many ways the two workings would be diametrically opposed to one another. Worse than the drain upon his own powers, however, that opposition would produce a far stronger, brighter signature and make him even more vulnerable to detection by any other wizard — or mage, damn it — in the vicinity. Besides, the glamour was a relatively low-energy construct tied into the diamond stud in his left ear, and artifact-bound spells were not only harder to detect but could be activated (or reactivated) very quickly.
He knew all of that, and none of it made him any happier. Nor did it make the decision any less inevitable, unfortunately, and so he drew a deep breath, touched the stud with his index finger, and murmured a single word in Old Kontovaran.
Talthar Sheafbearer seemed to waver like a reflection in moving water. And then, between one breath and another, he vanished, replaced by Master Varnaythus.
Varnaythus exhaled, then smiled mirthlessly as he caught his slightly blurry reflection in the chamber’s mirror. Talthar was no more remarkable looking than Varnaythus himself, but he was an inch or two taller, at least ten years older, and fair-haired where Varnaythus’ hair was a nondescript brown. Neither of them would ever stand out in a crowd, but neither would either ever be mistaken for the other, which was rather the point.
He’d seriously considered creating yet another persona for his activities here in the North Riding, but he’d decided against it in the end. Cassan and Yeraghor both knew him as Talthar. While they had every reason in the world to keep “Talthar’s” existence a secret, they knew what he looked like, and as Varnaythus was able to burrow deeper and deeper into the North Riding it might become important for Talthar to be able to function as a known go-between for the various conspirators he intended to put into play and keep there. Bringing in yet someone else he’d have to remember to be would only complicate things still further, and unlike some of his fellow wizards, Varnaythus had never delighted in complexity for its own sake. Nor had he ever been foolish enough to confuse mere complexity with subtlety, which was probably one of the reasons he’d been so much more successful — and longer lived — than some of those selfsame fellow wizards.
He smiled again, more naturally, at the thought, then seated himself at the table and drew the gramerhain towards him. He cradled his hands around it, gazing down into its depths, and spoke the quiet command that woke a gradually strengthening glitter deep in its clear, flawless depths. The flicker of light grew stronger, glowing up from the table to light his face from below, throwing his eye sockets into shadow. Had the window’s drapes been open and had anyone happened to glance in the inn’s direction, they would have seen an improbably clear, bright brilliance flooding out into the night. Fortunately, the drapes weren’t open, and so no one disturbed him as the brilliance flared up, brighter than ever, and then coalesced, settling back into the gramerhain. It flowed together, darkening steadily, until it became the closed-eyed face of Magister Malahk Sahrdohr in Sothofalas, more than three hundred and fifty leagues from Halthan.
It took Sahrdohr almost three full minutes to become aware of him and activate his own gramerhain. Then the eyes of his image opened as he settled into the working from his own end, and he arched an eyebrow.
“I expected you two hours ago,” he pointed out mildly.
“I’m aware of that.” Varnaythus’ tone was just a bit testy. “You may remember, however, that there are a few additional difficulties from this end?”
“True,” Sahrdohr responded, apparently oblivious to his superior’s testiness. “On the other hand, you only have to worry about one mage. A powerful one, I’ll grant, but still only one. By my current count, there are at least three dozen of the bastards here in Sothofalas including the one you’re worried about. Which means I’m just a little more likely to be detected by one of them than you are.”
“Really?” Varnaythus smiled thinly. “Your wards are that inferior, are they?”
Sahrdohr’s eyes gleamed. He was obviously pleased by his ability to get a rise out of Varnaythus, but he also bent his head in acknowledgment of the other wizard’s point. His own chamber in Sothofalas had been carefully shielded and warded with every detection deflecting glamour the Council of Carnadosa had been able to devise. As far as they’d been able to determine — so far, at least — those glamours ought to baffle even a mage. There was no way to be certain of that, however, and putting them in place required a series of workings which had to be accomplished in a very precise order and over several days’ time. There was no way Varnaythus could possibly have erected matching wards here in Halthan.
“So now that I have contacted you,” Varnaythus continued in a brisker tone which accepted both Sahrdohr’s point and his unspoken concession, “is there anything interesting to report from your end?”
“I’m not sure, really.” Sahrdohr shrugged. “Bahzell and Tellian are still here; according to my sources, Bahzell, at least, will be heading back to Balthar sometime in the next two or three days. Vaijon’s already left, probably to get the summer campaign into the Ghoul Moor properly underway. The only really interesting thing about that side of things” — the younger wizard smiled — “is that Yurokhas went with him.”
“Ah?” Varnaythus arched an eyebrow and pursed his lips. “That is interesting,” he acknowledged after a few moments’ thought. “Are you suggesting Yurokhas is going to be involved in Tellian and Bahnak’s campaign?”
“According to my sources, Yurokhas is most definitely not going to be involved,” Sahrdohr replied. “One of Sir Jerhas’ senior clerks told me — confidentially, of course — that His Majesty was very firm about that and that His Highness was very meek and dutiful about accepting the King’s instructions.”
“Of course he was.”
Varnaythus shook his head. Prince Yurokhas was almost certainly the only person in the entire Kingdom of the Sothoii who would meekly and obediently accept his monarch’s instructions and then cheerfully go and do exactly what he’d intended to do all along. It wasn’t something for the faint of heart, even in Yurokhas’ case, but by now he’d had years of practice. More than enough of them to accustom King Markhos to the notion that it was going to go on happening. In fact, it had gotten even worse since Crown Prince Norandhor’s birth four years ago, when Yurokhas had suddenly become second in line for the crown. He’d always chafed against the restrictions imposed by his place as Markhos’ heir, and now that he’d become so much less irreplaceable
“That could work out quite well, couldn’t it?” Varnaythus continued. “Assuming that campaign goes as well as I’m sure we all hope it will, at any rate.”
“That’s true. Such a tragic possibility for any good, loyal Sothoii.” Sahrdohr allowed himself a suitably mournful expression for a moment, then shrugged. “Of course, we still have a long way to go before we can convince Cassan to take advantage of the opportunity at his end, and unless we can move against both of them simultaneously –”
He grimaced, and Varnaythus nodded. Eliminating one of the royal brothers would be a less than optimal outcome. In fact, it might well prove disastrous, depending upon the circumstances under which that elimination occurred.
“That’s a worthwhile point,” he acknowledged, “but if this was going to be easy, They wouldn’t have needed us, would they? They could have gone on trusting it to idiots like Jerghar or Dahlaha.”
“I take it the numbers Tellian provided to Shaftmaster confirmed what we’d expected?” Varnaythus asked, changing the subject.
“Unfortunately.” There was no amusement in Sahrdohr’s grimace this time. “I’m not senior enough to have sat in on any of the meetings myself, but I was able to get my hands on a true copy of Sir Whalandys’ notes courtesy of my capture spell. I’ll transfer a copy to you at the end of our conversation, but I don’t think you’ll be any happier with them than I was. Assuming Kilthandahknarthas’ estimates are accurate — and when was the last time one of his estimates wasn’t accurate? — Tellian Bowmaster is about to become the richest Sothoii noble in history. Phrobus only knows how much Bahnak is going to make out of it, but the Exchequer’s share of Tellian’s income alone is going to add somewhere between ten and twelve percent to its annual revenues. And that’s from its direct share of his income; it doesn’t even count all of the indirect revenues the Crown is going to generate off of the increased trade.”
Varnaythus’ jaw clenched. He’d known the numbers were going to be bad, but he’d continued to hope they wouldn’t be quite that bad. Unfortunately, the wizard lords of Carnadosa weren’t very good when it came to estimating trade revenues and opportunities. The economy they’d rebuilt in Kontovar depended upon totally different means of manufacture and transport, and the truth was that he’d been slow to fully recognize the implications of the Derm Canal. As it was, he’d come to suspect Kilthandahknarthas was being deliberately conservative in the estimates he was sharing with his partners in the project, which suggested all sorts of unpleasant possibilities if it couldn’t be stopped after all. On the other hand
“The Purple Lords aren’t going to like that at all, are they?” he said thoughtfully.
“I think that would be putting it rather conservatively, actually.” Sahrdohr’s irony came through the link quite well, Varnaythus thought. “This is going to literally ruin at least a dozen of their major trading houses. In fact, it’s probably going to be a lot worse than that, especially if the Spearmen come on board with Kilthandahknarthas and Tellian as enthusiastically as I expect they will. If Bortalik Bay suddenly isn’t the only — or even the best — gateway to the Spear, the consequences will be devastating for them.”
“Yes, and they’ll resent it, won’t they?” Varnaythus’ eyes gleamed. “And while they’re resenting it, who are they going to blame for it?”
“Ah?” It was Sahrdohr’s turn to pause, eyebrows rising in speculation. He sat that way for perhaps fifteen seconds, then nodded. “Yes, that would have unfortunate repercussions for any sense of loyalty they might feel for their neighbors to the north, wouldn’t it?”
“Which might make them more open to conversations with their neighbors to the south, don’t you think?” Varnaythus almost purred.
“I suspect it might,” Sahrdohr agreed. “Of course, that doesn’t change our instructions, does it?”
“No, but it might not be a bad point for me to include in my next report.”
The two wizards’ gazes met in shared understanding. There was very little chance they would be ordered to cease their efforts to strangle the entire project before birth, but it never hurt to have a fallback position ready. Pointing out the potential benefits — especially when that potential was as large as it might well prove in this instance — which could still accrue if they failed in their mission could well contribute to their own continued existence if worse came to worst.
“I think that would be a very good idea,” Sahrdohr said, and Varnaythus snorted in amusement.
“And may I ask how your mission in Halthan is faring so far?” the magister asked after a moment.
“Reasonably well,” Varnaythus replied. “I think we need to look more closely at Baroness Myacha, though. She’s not the bedchamber trophy we thought she was. Worse, I think she has a brain that works, and she seems to be unfortunately resilient.”
“Another one with a latent Gift?”
“Possibly. Quite possibly.” Varnaythus shrugged. “We’ll have to see what we can do about tracking back on her pedigree, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she has at least a touch of it. It runs in too damned many of the old families to make me happy.”
“You think she has the True Sight?” Sahrdohr’s unhappiness with that thought was obvious.
“If she does, it’s completely untrained, and without training, the worst likely outcome would be for her to be vaguely uncomfortable around me without being able to put her finger on why. I didn’t see any sign of that this afternoon, although that doesn’t prove anything.” Varnaythus grimaced. “I’ll just have to add her to the list of people in this accursed barony that I need to avoid as much as possible. It would help if Borandas weren’t as besotted with her as he obviously is, though.”
“Wonderful.” Sahrdohr shook his head with a disgusted expression.
“Oh, it’s not that bad. Potentially inconvenient, I agree, but as I say, I’m not that concerned about her realizing Talthar is a glamour.”
“No, but what if she should find herself feeling ‘vaguely uncomfortable’ around him and happen to discuss that with her husband’s cousin the mage?” Sahrdohr challenged. “And what if her husband’s cousin the mage has already figured out she could have a touch of the Gift herself?”
“Which is the reason I’m going to do my best to avoid her,” Varnaythus pointed out in an oblique acknowledgment of the magister’s point.
The magi had made it a matter of high priority to collect every scrap of information they could on the art, and that unmitigated pain in the arse Wencit of Rum had made it an equally high priority to answer their questions and hand over the not inconsiderable personal library he’d managed to salvage from the wreckage of Kontovar. As a result, they were far better informed about wizardry than their Carnadosan opponents were about the powers of magi, which meant Master Brayahs was probably as conversant with the symptoms of a latent Gift for the art as Varnaythus himself.
“In the meantime,” he went on in a determinedly brisk tone, “the rest of my visit here seems to have gone quite well. It’s remarkable how gems of high quality open doors, isn’t it?”
Sahrdohr snorted. Given the possibilities of the art, “Talthar’s” wares could have been still better, but it was unwise to draw too much attention. His stones were of just about the highest quality anyone could reasonably expect a single trader outside Dwarvenhame to possess; anything more than that might well have drawn the very questions they were so eager to avoid.
“And our friend Bronzehelm? Is he as suitable as we’d hoped?”
“I believe so.” Varnaythus leaned back in his chair, stapling his fingers under his chin. “He’s more devoted and loyal to Borandas than we’d estimated — quite a bit more, to be honest. But he’s nowhere near so resilient as Baroness Myacha seems to be. I think we’re going to have to be as careful to avoid using the art to shape him appropriately as I was afraid we were, but I also think he’s going to be even more amenable to suggestion with the appropriate enhancements.”
Sahrdohr’s smile would have done credit to a shark, and Varnaythus smiled back. Sir Dahlnar Bronzehelm was Baron Borandas’ seneschal, responsible for the management and administration of the baron’s household here in Halthan. He was also one of Borandas’ closest confidants, and he’d been with the baron for the better part of thirty years. Very few people could be better placed to subtly shape Borandas’ views, which didn’t even consider how valuable a listening post within the North Riding he could become. It would have been far more convenient if they’d been able to use the art to modify his existing loyalties and views, but there was too much chance of a mage noticing that sort of tampering. Especially if the mage in question was so inconsiderate as to be both a healer and a mind-speaker. Fortunately, there were drugs which could produce the same effect, albeit more slowly and gradually. Even better, that slow and gradual process was virtually indistinguishable from the fashion in which anyone’s opinions might naturally come to change over time. There was some risk, of course — nothing could completely avoid that when one was forced to deal with a mage — yet the probability that even as strongly gifted a mage as Brayahs would notice their meddling would be far, far lower than the chance of his detecting the art.
“And Thorandas?” Sahrdohr asked.
“I haven’t had an opportunity to come within reach of him yet,” Varnaythus admitted. “Hopefully I’ll manage that before ‘Talthar’ is scheduled to leave. In the meantime, though, judging from what I’ve been able to pick up about him from the more open minds here in Halthan, I’d say our original impressions are probably fairly accurate. Borandas clearly relies heavily on his advice — that was obvious from the way his aura peaked each time I mentioned Thorandas’ name. I think it’s safe to say he trusts his son’s judgment in most ways, if not all.”
“That fits pretty well with everything I’ve heard about them here in the Palace,” Sahrdohr agreed. “And I had an opportunity to drop his name into a conversation with Shaftmaster day before yesterday, which led to a couple of interesting tidbits. For one thing, Sir Whalandys made it pretty clear that most people think Thorandas is a sharper blade than his father and that Baron Borandas realizes it.”
“Really?” Varnaythus cocked his head thoughtfully. “That’s helpful, especially if Cassan’s right about Thorandas’ attitude towards the hradani. He has to be as well aware as his father that at the moment the North Riding holds the balance between Tellian and Cassan on the Great Council. The question is how he’s likely to react when he realizes just how thoroughly this Derm Canal is going to scramble all of the traditional balances of power here on the Wind Plain. If he’s as prejudiced against the hradani as Cassan and Yeraghor think, that’s bound to play a role in his evaluation of the new realities, shall we say? And that’s going to have an effect on the advice he gives his father about it, now isn’t it?”
“Exactly.” Sahrdohr’s smile was even thinner than before. “And if Sir Dahlnar starts giving the same advice?”
“Especially if he comes slowly and gradually to share Thorandas’ concerns, yes.” Varnaythus nodded. “Not too quickly, though. Borandas may not be the very smartest man in the entire Kingdom, but he’s not exactly a fool, either. He’s going to think twice — more likely three or four times — before he steps into any sort of arrangement with Cassan. For that matter, Thorandas isn’t going to be in any hurry to forget how badly Cassan burned his fingers last time he and Tellian squared off.”
“No, but I’ve had a thought about that.”
“What sort of thought?” Varnaythus’ tone was a bit cautious, and Sahrdohr chuckled.
“It’s not that inventive,” the magister assured his superior. “But that’s the second interesting tidbit I got from our good Chancellor. According to Shaftmaster, Thorandas is in the market for a wife. In fact, Sir Whalandys approves of that; he thinks it’s past time Thorandas settled down and started breeding heirs of his own. Unfortunately — from my esteemed superior’s perspective, at any rate — Sir Thorandas seems rather taken with Shairnayith Axehammer.”
“He does?” Varnaythus’ eyes narrowed, and Sahrdohr leaned back and raised both hands.
“That’s what Shaftmaster seems to believe, at any rate, and he’s not very happy about the notion.”
“I can see why he might not be, given how enthusiastically he’s been supporting Tellian at Court,” Varnaythus observed in a tone of considerable understatement. Then he frowned. “I can see why he might not be,” he repeated, “but I didn’t pick up a hint of anything of the sort from Cassan the last time I was in Toramos.”
“Maybe he isn’t aware of Thorandas’ thinking,” Sahrdohr suggested.
“Cassan?” Varnaythus barked a laugh. “Trust me, if Shaftmaster’s right and Thorandas really is looking in Shairnayith’s direction, Cassan knows about it, all right. He’d never miss something like that, especially where Shairnayith is concerned! In fact,” his eyes narrowed again, “that could be the problem. He dotes on the girl, after all, and it could be that he’s perfectly aware of the opportunity and simply chooses to ignore it. If he’d been in any rush to marry her off, they could have managed it long ago, I’m sure. There have to have been plenty of other offers for her by now, at any rate. She’s — what, twenty-two? — for Carnadosa’s sake! Do you seriously think nobody’s even so much as tested the water where a prize like her is concerned?”
“Maybe there’ve been quite a few offers and he simply hasn’t thought any of them were worth accepting,” Sahrdohr pointed out. “She’s his older daughter, after all. As you say, that makes her the kind of prize that doesn’t come along often. That’s a political token a man like Cassan isn’t going to be in a hurry to use too soon!”
“That’s true enough,” Varnaythus acknowledged. “But she’s a deep one herself, and the Lady knows she worships the ground her father walks on. The possibility of a direct marriage alliance between the Axehammers and the Daggeraxes?” The wizard snorted. “She’d have to recognize the potential advantages Cassan could wring out of that! And short of Yurokhas himself — and Fiendark knows Yurokhas would never marry an Axehammer — where’s she going to find a better marriage than to the North Riding’s heir?”
“Agreed. On the other hand, the consequences would be fairly obvious to just about everyone,” Sahrdohr pointed out, “and the Great Council would have to approve the marriage.”
“If Borandas approved it, he, Cassan, and Yeraghor between them would have a clear majority.”
“And would Markhos be foolish enough to let it go through, anyway?” Sahrdohr challenged. “He’d have to assent, too.”
“If he were around to do the assenting,” Varnaythus pointed out in turn, his voice soft. “If he wasn’t — if the Great Council happened to be acting as regent to a minor heir — then that wouldn’t matter, would it?”
“No,” the magister said slowly.
“So if Cassan and Yeraghor were to decide this marriage would be a good idea, and if Thorandas is as receptive to the notion as your good friend the Chancellor seems to be suggesting, then we might just have found another argument to help sway Cassan to our thinking about the best way to deal with the Crown’s unfortunate support for Tellian’s little project, mightn’t we?”
The two wizards gazed at each other through their linked gramerhains and slowly, slowly smiled.
|Home Page||Index Page|
Comments from the Peanut Gallery: