But a dark, sinister magic has crept close to the young man and seized hold of the kingdom. Nothing is as it seems, as the bonds of family strain against the powerful forces that would see them undone—and the battle is joined to unmask and destroy the malevolence that threatens to unhinge the king's peaceful and fragile reign.
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Fortress of Ice
By C. J. Cherryh
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 C. J. Cherryh
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They had a panful of jam-filled treats, and tea from the kettle, the baker's boy being so obliging as to run a heavy tray straight upstairs, and if they spoiled their supper, they were satisfied. The royal table hosted the duke of Osenan tonight, and Aewyn was ever glad enough to forage and not to have to sit still at his father's table, at some long-winded state dinner. The fireside in his own room was ever so much nicer, himself and his brother lying on the rug by a well-fed fire, having dessert first. There were two kinds of sausage for later, three kinds of cheese, and a crusty loaf, besides their treats, and the tea, which they drank down by the cupful.
They were warm again, after their battle. The wind howled about the tall windows, sleet rattling against the diamond panes, and they had drawn the drapes against the cold. The fire before them made towers and battlements of coals, glowing red walls that tumbled and sent up sparks into the dark of the flue, which they imagined as the dark of night above the world.
It was Aewyn's own room, his private realm--at fifteen going on sixteen he had gained this privacy from his father: his own quarters, near if not next to the king's and the queen's chambers, but with his own door and a separate foyer room for his guard and a second small sleeping room for his two constant domestic servants--they were his father'sguard and his father's staff, in all truth, but they were the same men who had been attending him since he was first out and about the halls and the courtyards on his own recognizance, so they were as good as his.
Most of all he had his own sitting room and his own bedchamber, and this meant Nurse had finally retired to her own numerous children down in Dary, beyond the city walls.
And that meant he no longer had anyone to make him sit in a chair, at a table, like a proper boy, and be served by servants. Otter preferred the fireside, and the warm stones, and the prince of Ylesuin found the close warmth of the fire a thorough delight, the best place in the room. They had their tray of food beside them, and a pitcher of watered wine--very watered, it was--and their book, which Otter read to them both--a record, really, of the properties and the building of the royal lodge at Maedishill. The account had all its local legendry, and it had maps, the most wonderful colored and whimsically detailed maps of a place Aewyn had known from earliest childhood.
"Here," Aewyn said, tracing a line with his finger, "here is the spring and its outflow. And just down from here, it joins this larger brook." In his mind was a wonderful place, on an autumn day when he was about five. He had sailed leaf-barges down the current from the spring, to see them wreck in the great rapids of the great brook--he could stride across it now--where the water flowed over rounded rocks. He would never, now, admit to having sailed leaf-boats, but he cherished the memory of them. He snatched a bite of sweet and pointed with the stick of crust to the place where the rapids ended and the brook ran by the lodge. "A falls there, with an old log. See, even the log is on the map. Brother Siene drew it. I remember him. He had a white beard down to his belt. He was caretaker there until I was seven."
"Why do you have a map of the lodge?"
"Well, because Brother Siene loved to do maps, and he lived there alone most of the time, so he just did. But now anyone who ever wants to know about Maedishill can look in this book and see the lodge and know all its properties, and how far they go, and where the next holding starts. It makes it a legal record, because Brother Siene wrote a date on it, and the library has a date when the book came here. That proves, for instance, that it's my father's brook. It starts here, where it comes out of the rocks, so he has title over it until it reaches the boundary with the farmers, and if it had any fish in it--it doesn't, no matter that Brother Siene drew them in--they would be his only until they reach the boundary."
"The fish wouldn't know that," Otter remarked, so soberly Aewyn had to laugh.
"Fish don't know anything."
"I don't know if they do. Maybe they do." Otter touched the painted fish with his fingers, ever so carefully. "I like his laughing fish."
"So do I," Aewyn said, remembering sun on water, sparkling rays through thick green leaves. "My mother and I used to go there for a month before Papa could get time to come, and when he did, everything would change. Messengers, messengers at all hours, and lords coming in for visits with dozens of servants, all full of arguments, with papers to read, and if two came, there wasn't room for the second one, and there was dust all over every-thing if there wasn't mud, just from the horses. They'd trample the grass down and spoil the meadow, they'd get drunk in the great room, and their sons would be out chasing the rabbits and trying to shoot them. Mother had the duke of Marisyn's sons and his servants rounded up by her guard, and Papa--my father--said if he had his choice, he was going to run away to Far Sassury and not tell anybody where he was going. But the next year, the grass would be green again and the brook would have its moss back, and it would be just us, until Papa came."
Excerpted from Fortress of Ice by C. J. Cherryh Copyright © 2006 by C. J. Cherryh. Excerpted by permission.
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