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Rani Trader gazed out over the hall, catching her breath as a ray of sunlight streamed through a window to illuminate a stack of undyed silk as high as her head. She turned to the tall player who stood beside her. "Tovin! It's beautiful!"
"Money always is." The player nodded as he looked around the hall, obviously noting which merchants were ready to trade. The auction would begin at noon, and the tension was palpable in the spacious room. Rani followed Tovin's gaze to a cluster of men in shimmering white cloaks, garments that collected the brilliant summer sunlight and cast it back in jeweled glints.
She indicated the visitors with an arch of one eyebrow. "So, the spider-guild sent five masters."
"They want to see just how damaged they will be by your Halaravilli's market."
Her Halaravilli. Rani nearly objected to the words. Hal was not hers. Had not been for nearly three years, if he ever had been. Hal belonged to Morenia. He belonged to Queen Mareka.
Tovin was only being petulant because Hal had sent three messengers to her in as many days. The king insisted that he had an important matter to discuss with her, and yet when she had attended him dutifully, his attention had been stolen by the new silk hall, by the auction, by the embassy from the Liantine spiderguild. The last time he'd summoned her, she had spent an entire afternoon waiting for him to spare her a few moments, only to leave the audience hall in a flurry of skirts and speculation when Hal needed to devote his attention to a minor border dispute among his lords.
She remained curious about Hal's demand, but she had other things to attend to—glasswright things, merchant things, player things. The king would speak to her when he was ready. For the present, she'd try to forget his requests; there was nothing she could do, in any case, and she disliked subjecting herself to the edge in Tovin's voice while she waited. She chose to let his current comment pass.
Even as she made that conscious decision, Hal stepped into the sunlight that pooled on the dais at the front of the room. He was resplendent in his crimson robe, a garment cut from the first silk harvested from his octolaris spiders. With Rani's help, Hal had spirited the creatures from their home in Liantine, breaking the longtime monopoly of the distant spiderguild. He had distributed them among his nobles, giving them to the newly created Order of the Octolaris and collecting valuable gold bars in exchange.
The spider gold had secured Hal's throne, keeping him safe from powerful forces that fought to destroy his kingdom. It had warded off the voracious church, which had lent money to the crown. Even more importantly, it had forestalled Hal's yielding to the Fellowship of Jair, a secret, shadowy organization that lurked on the edges of Morenian politics, that threatened to control all relations between the crown and other nations.
Rani and Hal—and Tovin too, now—were members of that secret organization. Rani glanced about the hall, wondering how many of the others present at this first silk auction were members of the cabal. How many had attended meetings of the secret brotherhood, shielding their faces behind black masks? How many would buy silk today and use it to fashion a Fellowship mask, turning the crown's newfound wealth into a symbol of secret power?
Before Rani could continue her thoughts, Hal raised a hand. The gesture commanded instant silence. Every eye in the hall was directed to the dais, waiting for the bids to begin.
"Honored merchants," Hal said. "Welcome to the silk hall. Welcome to the first new market established in our fair land since the dread fire of three years past. May Lor look kindly upon all our dealings here."
Lor. The god of silk. Never had one of the Thousand Gods risen to such prestige in so short a time.
Hal continued. "When I first brought octolaris to fair Morenia, many said that we could not build a silk trade. We could not rival the great masters of Liantine. We could not challenge our neighbors to the east." Hal inclined his head graciously toward the knot of master spiderguildsmen and one, the oldest, narrowed his eyes to accept the salute.
"And yet," Hal said, returning his attention to the gathered luminaries, "you have surpassed my greatest expectations. In three short years, you have grown the silk trade. You have bred your octolaris and fed them their precious mark-in grubs. You have harvested their silk, spun the thread, woven the cloth. You have built a guildhall in the center of a city that was in ruins, a hall worthy of our finest masons and sculptors. And now, a mere three years since the first silk spiders arrived in Moren, we stand ready to auction off the fruits of your labors."
A roar of approval tore through the crowd, and Hal smiled patiently as he waited for silence to return. "Before we open the auction, there are a few individuals whom I must recognize—people without whom we would not be present today. First and foremost, always in our thoughts, is Queen Mareka, the woman who had the courage to give us our octolaris, even when she risked her own power and prestige. Of course, my lady cannot stand beside me today, but nonetheless, I raise this cup in her honor and drink to her glory."
A cheer echoed in the hall, obliging and obedient, but lacking the same unbounded enthusiasm that Hal had commanded for himself. Morenia had accepted Mareka because Hal had presented her, but the kingdom had no love for its queen. It did not like the fact that she was a mere guildswoman, even if she came from an exotic guild in a foreign land. It did not like that she had tricked their king, that she had manipulated him with the oldest of a woman's wiles, snagging her crown by sparking a king's heir inside her womb.
Still, the kingdom had mourned when Mareka lost that child in her sixth month, when her infant son was born too soon to breathe the bitter winter air. And they mourned the daughter that she had borne, the tiny girl who had not lasted a single night.
But now Mareka was once again with child. Eight months along, and all seemed fine. The royal physicians had confined the queen to her chambers, demanded that she rest and conserve her strength, that she drink the blood of new lambs throughout the spring, that she make offerings to Nome, the god of children. Mareka said that she could feel her child stir within her, that she could feel him kicking strongly, all through the long nights. She was certain that she carried a boy, the heir that Halaravilli needed so desperately. She husbanded her strength, fed her considerable will into the child growing within her, and she waited, waited, waited.
No, Mareka could not be at the silk hall. And she might not be pleased with what she saw, even if she had attended. Mareka had been a promising apprentice in the distant spiderguild, a willful girl, intent on serving her guild with all her might. Her loyalties might be tested too much by seeing the accumulation of silk, the vast wealth that her former masters would despise. Better, Rani thought, that Mareka not attend this first silk auction.
As if Hal were setting aside the memory of his queen's torn loyalties, he swallowed the wine from his toast to his lady. Then, he looked out over the hall and said, "It is fitting that we bless this market before we earn our first profits here. That blessing might be done by any priest, but we know another who is well suited to invoke the Thousand Gods on this auspicious day. The octolaris who have brought us to this momentous occasion came from Liantine, and the blessing should come from there as well. My lady? Will you invoke the gods' good graces upon our ventures?"
Berylina Thunderspear. Rani had not realized that the Liantine princess was attending the auction. Following the line of Hal's gesture, Rani saw the dark corner where he settled his gaze. Berylina took a hesitant step, moving as if her king's gesture pulled her from a pit of shifting sand.
The princess had grown in the three years she had spent at court. She had slimmed away her childhood roundness, melted into the softer curves of womanhood. She had gained more poise as well, become almost accustomed to the glare of public attention. She made her way to Hal's dais without blushing, without fidgeting, without clutching at her simple gown of grassy green.
Some things about the princess, though, would never change. Her teeth still jutted out over her lower lip, lending her a horse-like expression. One of her eyes wandered, so that even now Rani could not tell if the girl looked out over the assembly or gazed privately at her adopted king. Berylina's hair had escaped her demure braids, and it billowed about her face like unruly straw.
And yet there was a peace about the princess, a confidence that she had never shown in her native land. When she stood at the front of the dais, her voice was quiet, so soft that the assembly needed to catch its collective breath. But her words were calm, certain. Her voice was steady as she said, "May Lor watch over all the dealings in this hall and guide all men to truth and justice in their dealings. May First God Ait guide all who traffic here. May Pilgrim Jair appear before us as a guide and model of all that is right and good, for all the days to come. In the name of all the Thousand Gods, let us pray for guidance and success forever and ever. Amen."
"Forever and ever, Amen," Hal repeated, smiling kindly. Few present knew the full risk that he had taken, accepting Berylina into his house. Few knew that Berylina's father, Teheboth Thunderspear, had threatened war, had threatened to harry Morenia's coasts with all the ships at his disposal. Hal had managed to negotiate a sort of peace, reminding Teheboth that the king had not placed any value on the princess when she lived in his palace, had not honored her in any way. Ultimately, at Rani's prompting, Hal had resorted to one great negotiating maneuver, offering to return Berylina to her father, to send the princess back to Liantine against her will.
Teheboth had retreated from his negotiation then. After all, what did the house of Thunderspear want with an ugly daughter, a damaged girl, a religious fanatic who followed the paths of the Thousand Gods, even when those paths led her into shame and into poverty in the Morenian court? Hal had bristled at Teheboth's dismissal, but he had let the final correspondence go unanswered. Berylina was safe, and war had been averted. What more could Hal truly demand?
In the silk hall, Berylina completed her whispered blessing and stepped down from the dais, immediately retreating to her darkened corner. Rani noted that Father Siritalanu waited for her there. The priest had been instrumental in the princess's escape from Liantine, and he had overseen her religious instruction here in Morenia. The man was loyal to her beyond all reason, consistently claiming that he loved her spirit, her pure faith. Rani shrugged. Spirit, faith, lust for her body.... What difference did it truly make? The man had helped the awkward Berylina settle into her new home.
From the dais, Hal recognized others, raising his cup to salute the master mason who had built the silk hall. He recognized Davin, the ancient retainer who had designed an irrigation system for the delicate riberry trees that hosted the octolaris' sole source of food. He recognized the hordes of workers that tended to the octolaris, feeding the spiders their grubs, tending to their cages. He also recognized the seven workers who had given their lives in the past three years, succumbing to the spiders' deadly poison as the Morenians learned the dangers of their newfound commodity.
And then Hal turned toward Rani. His eyes sought her out in the crowd, honed in on the crimson that she wore in his honor. Her throat constricted at his serious gaze, and she could not keep from clutching Tovin's arm.
"And," Hal said, "we recognize Ranita Glasswright, without whom we could never have raised the octolaris to success. Ranita brought us the riberry trees; she conceived the strategy for breaking the spiderguild's monopoly, and she followed through when all action seemed impossible." He lifted his golden cup and stared at her over the rim. Rani swallowed hard and raised her chin. It felt as if she were answering Hal with proud defiance, challenging him to count out all the costs that had been paid that day in Liantine. She had bargained for the trees, but her bidding had cost Morenia—cost the kingdom a brave soldier who had stayed behind at the spiderguild.
Rani drove away thoughts of Crestman, forcing herself not to dwell on the fate that the young soldier had chosen. Not to dwell on his enslavement in the spiderguild. Not to dwell on the look of betrayal on his face as she closed the deal for the trees.
Instead, she gazed into her king's eyes and folded herself into a decent curtsey, looking for all the world as if she had been born to a life of finery and pomp. Hal acknowledged her obeisance, and then he sipped from the goblet. Of course, he gave no clue about the reason he had summoned her earlier in the week, no hint about that mystery.
"And my lords and ladies," he continued. "There is one more whom I must recognize, one more who made today possible. I would not stand before you without the help of Baron Farsobalinti, Grand Master of the Order of the Octolaris." Farso had been the first of Hal's knights to don the brooch of the Order, and he had led the way to Hal's financial success. The baron had presented his ten bars of gold; he had cajoled and shamed and bullied his fellow nobles into doing the same. But Farso had done even more than that—he had explored trade routes for Morenian silk, rooting out merchants who would trade in the new goods, discovering guildsmen who would adapt their broader woolen-goods looms into narrower, sturdier silk machines. He had hired the foremen for the silk hall's construction, supervised the Touched workers who had carted straw and clay, lumber and stone. Farso had worked tirelessly for the past three years, giving of his days, his nights, his heart, and his soul.
The steady labor and constant worry had taken their toll on the young nobleman. Gone was the sunny youth who had served his king with a child's dedication. Instead, Farso's hair had begun to tarnish with untimely silver; fine lines spread out beside his eyes, as if he had strained them poring over account ledgers in the dark of night.
Nevertheless, Farso stood straight and tall on this victorious day, and even as he stepped forward to accept the king's accolades, he flashed a grin at the woman by his side. Mair's response was a smile of her own, an expression that only broadened when the babe in her arms began to fuss. Mair shifted Laranifarso, Farsobalinti's own son, and cast her glance from her husband to her king.
Even with the pressures of the silk trade, Farso had found time enough to marry. Over a year had passed since he had vowed to honor his wife, and still Mair and Farso gazed at each other with the fierce eyes of new lovers. Lovers, that was, until Mair decided that Farso had done something foolish, had overstepped his bounds in some way. Then her tongue was as sharp as ever, full of the screeching condemnation that she had mastered as a leader among the Touched, the casteless poor who filled the streets of Moren. For now, though, she stepped back, offering up the moment of public recognition for her beloved to receive the honor of his king.
Despite Mair's best efforts, Laranifarso continued fussing, and the Touched mother shifted him from arm to arm. Rani knew that Mair was fully aware of critical eyes in the silk hall. Some of the elite watchers might condemn her for bringing her son to the auction. Some might question her ability to manage her own child, to stop the fussing that threatened to grow into a full squall. Nearly every person in the hall scorned Mair merely for her marriage to Farsobalinti, for daring to create a union between a nobleman and a Touched girl. In fact, Halaravilli had presided over their union, attempting to deflect vicious gossip by invoking his title Defender of the Faith to bless them.
Rani shook her head as she watched her oldest friend ease back from the dais. Mair had been realistic about the courtly bias against her. She had never expected to be anything more than Farso's mistress, nothing more than his cherished leman. Even though Farso insisted that she meant much more to him, the past three years had not proven easy. They had not flowed smoothly, despite all of Mair's seeming blessings.
Excerpted from The Glasswrights' Test by Mindy L. Klasky. Copyright © 2010 Mindy L. Klasky. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted December 9, 2008
Eleven years ago, Rani was at the wrong place at the wrong time and as the results of her actions the Glasswright¿s Guild was destroyed, its guildhall torn down, it¿s members tortured then sent into exile. Rani stayed in the kingdom of Morenia and became close friends of king. She worked to build up a new Glasswright¿s Guild and she¿s sponsored a troupe of entertainers, one of which, Tovin became her lover. All of this should have satisfied her yet she sill yearned to be accepted by her exiled guild now living in Brianta. <P> The Fellowship, a shadow organization that has members from every walk of life and armies to rule the world, force the Glasswright Guildmaster to invite Rani to Brianta to take the test to become a master in the Guild. When she arrives there, the fellowship contact her and force her to make a choice that will tear her apart.<P> THE GLASSWRIGHT¿S TEST is fantasy the way it was meant to be written. Mindy L. Klasky is a powerful world-builder who crates a kingdom that is rich in culture and history, a place where a highborn princess can communicate with the gods. The heroine is a very independent and determined woman who sets a goal and lets nothing and nobody stand in her way. That character trait is her biggest strength and weakness because it allows her to survive while pushing those close to her away. This reviewer can¿t wait for the next installment in this creative fantasy saga.<P> Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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