The Knowing

The Knowing

by Larriane Wills

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781934041123
Publisher: Swimming Kangaroo Books
Publication date: 10/13/2006
Pages: 300
Product dimensions: 0.67(w) x 9.00(h) x 6.00(d)
Age Range: 3 Months

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Preface

The rider was in dark clothes on a dark horse on a dark and rainy night. Not one condition was an accidental circumstance, but each well planned to fit with the other. Even still, he knew a chance of fate could undo him and on seeing the struggling figure ahead he slowed his hasty travel to covertly watch. He was curious but not alarmed until, between flashes of lightning, the figure disappeared. He knew death could come in small packages as well as large, and though he believed the one ahead to be no more than a child who was not aware of him, he proceeded with caution. He dismounted and drew his sword. Crouching to lessen his own bulky size he moved slowly, stopping between each step to peer hard ahead and listen while he waited for the next flash of light before moving again. Rain fell and splattered around him and dripped from the leaves of trees beside the track to distort sound, but he thought he heard a rustling of leaves and drew his knife as well. Nothing came at him. Knowing it may well be a lengthy pursuit he returned to his horse to lead it from the muddy track. He had no desire to be caught by surprise. With a bandana around the mount's nose to prevent it from answering or calling to any horse that might pass by, he returned to remove all signs of his horse leaving the track. Unlike his quarry he also erased the evidence of the trail going into the woods. The rider took the time to do so to prevent any other from following him, not the quarry.

The hunted, for the rider was not sure then that only he followed the slight figure, had collapsed and crawled into the forest. The rider found him under a log, buried in wet leaves, most likely waitingfor death to find him. Fever raged through the frail body, and the boy did not stir when examined by match light. His feet were raw from walking without shoes; his hands and knees were scraped, cut, and held both scabs and fresh bleeding from falls and from crawling for an extended time. The worst of the injuries was a large, ugly burn, putrefied and oozing, high on the back over the left shoulder blade.

He was a puzzle, this boy. Long for his age it appeared, for his size suggested an age of thirteen or fourteen years, yet there were no signs of a boy changing to a man. More puzzling, he wore a cassock, and the garment was torn to rags. The man knew what the cassock and the wound on his shoulder meant for the man was of Ives and knew of the Priests of Oldspushner, but it made no sense on one so young. In addition to everything else, the boy looked starved.

While the rider pondered this puzzle, he lifted his head to listen. He could hear the sound of horses being driven hard for the conditions of the night. Now he was being hunted. With a muttered curse he rose to leave. By his personal code any kindness was weakness. To help a dying child would be an act of kindness, and he would not permit himself such weakness. Then a self-serving reason occurred to him. He returned to heft the child to his shoulder.

Who would suspect a man traveling with a sick child to be an assassin? Not the troops he met on the road later.

"I am Lockmer. This be my son Garran," he stated in a voice that sounded like a rake being dragged over gravel. In the saddle in front of him he held the unconscious child, wrapped tightly in a blanket. "I go to the nearest village in search of a healer."

The night was miserable, wet and cold. The small force of Ives troopers had sought shelter under a canopy of trees. The leader did not wish to leave the partial dryness to ask questions, to the assassin's benefit.

"A fever," the assassin continued. He knew even the bravest and strongest of men feared the deadliness of unknown fever. "Came upon him sudden last eve."

As expected, the trooper backed away. "We search for a boy of twelve, with dark hair and eyes. Have you seen such?"

Surprised that it was the boy the troopers searched for, not him, the assassin did well to hide it. "I have seen many boys in my travel with dark hair and eyes. This be Ives. Otherwise would be not common."

"He has a burn on his back shoulder."

"I've seen none without a shirt to know this."

"In cassock and alone?" the trooper retorted angrily.

"Nay, none alone and none in skirt. Why do you search for him?"

"For murder."

"A child?" the assassin asked with his disbelief in his voice.

The trooper did not answer, saying, "If you see such a child, report it to the nearest trooper. A reward is offered. Now pass and stay wide."

It was a night of surprises for the man. The next he did not care for. The boy stirred, having given no indication till then he was awake and aware. He had fooled him, which annoyed the assassin.

"Why did you not give me over?" the boy asked weakly.

The assassin grunted and then said gruffly, "It benefits me at current time for me to be a father with a son. When the time comes it does not, make no mistake, I will leave you quickly behind."

* * * *

Before the boy was strong enough to sit without assistance, he crawled from the camp into the forest to find plants and herbs to treat himself. Though amazed, the assassin did not show it. The knowledge of plants and herbs was not consistent with the tattered cassock of the priests the boy wore, for the priests scorned the healing teachings of the Sisters of Treach, yet the man made use of the child's knowledge. While the child healed, the assassin taught the boy the arts of disguise, more for his benefit than the boy's. He taught the boy how to lighten his hair, how to darken it by degrees from white to brown, to red, and back to dark till his hair was again as black as it had been the night the man had found him. The man altered his own hair in length and style as well as his beard and mustache. At times he fashioned false hair from a horse's tail or mane and tree gum. Never did a description that may have been given of the two in one village match their appearance when they arrived in the next.

As well as the art of disguise the man taught the boy to avoid detection, the skills of stealth, and how to use a sword and knife. From the boy, the man learned to recognize leaves that relieved pain, plants to heal, herbs that stimulated, flowers to help one sleep, and even plants to bring death.

For two years they held together, the boy often left alone while the man went off in secret. Not one kind word was ever given to the boy by the man, and any gifts he gave to the boy, just as the lessons he taught, were given more to benefit the man than the boy, until the last. The man tossed a small purse to the boy after setting him on the ground at a crossroads.

"We've been together too long," the man grumbled. "You've size enough to pass for ten and six. Go lose yourself by enlisting as apprentice in the army of Amor. Sign yourself as orphan of Ives. They'll not be able to verify even if they've a mind to with all those fleeing from Ives. The killing there will serve well as reason for the hate in your eyes that you care not to disguise."

The man pulled his horse around and trotted off; leading the horse the boy had ridden. No good-bye came from him and no thank you from the boy who was quickly growing into a man. The dark eyes the man had spoken of held no tears, only the anger and hatred that never left them. The boy watched the man until he was out of sight. While he watched, he took two coins from the purse for his pocket. The purse he hid in his boot; then he took up his pack and began to walk.

Because two names were required for enlisting, he became Garran of Lockmer.

* * * *
From The Book of All Faith

It will come to pass the harmony and balance of All Who Is One, of Arbet, Treach, and Charah will fail. The great structure will collapse in strife; the tribes will scatter to form new nations, new names of God created. In the land of home, greed and jealousy will rule. The priests, once speakers and holders of the word of He Who Is All will betray the trust, twist and rewrite the words. The true meanings will be confused, new words false and corrupted, the purpose distorted. The sisters, once protectors and shields, must become the holders of truth as well as the secrets of the knowing. The brothers, once the avengers and wielders of retribution, will fall to confusion, divide, and turn their once intention. Darkness will prevail until mercy is shown to the faithful. Through the darkness of time will come the light of hope, a leader as well as speaker to guide, a shield to protect, and a sword to avenge, Atat Comm.

* * * *
CHAPTER ONE

"Who?" Garran asked in disbelief.

"The Princess Fayahstella of Ives," Evemet repeated, his graying, bat-winged eyebrows pulled down in unhappy anticipation. "Her messenger has requested sanctuary."

Garran dropped the pen in his hand to the desktop and leaned back in the chair. The wood creaked from the stress his weight put on it, for the previous governor had been a much smaller man in height, weight, and width; though not an ounce on Garran had gone soft to fat in his thirty-some years. The chair was a source of annoyance to him, which showed in a brief flash of his dark eyes. He had requested more than once that it be replaced with one more suitable to his above average size. That it had not been replaced and that it always managed to return when he did replace it was another source of irritation. The household staff may have been forced to accept his appointment as Governor of Sheritan, but they clearly made known their disapproval. To them he was unworthy, and he faired no better with the people of Sheritan, the mine, or the village. Now there was a new circumstance to test his temper.

"Why," he asked tartly, "would she be in Sheritan?"

"It's the easiest crossing from Ives to Amor." Evemet watched the angry flashes in Garran's eyes closely. "The message claims illness among her servants, but if rumors are as we hear them, Caslock is in search of her."

"Easiest route, but not the shortest so then speed seems not important despite the supposed pursuit," he mused. "How large a party?"

"A company of twenty palace guards, her caravan, a coach, and two wagons."

"This is how they travel in secrecy?" Garran retorted sarcastically. "A caravan alone is as big as a house." He pushed out of the tight fit of his chair, a hand on each wooden arm. The right arm wobbled dangerously before his weight left it, bringing a fresh flash to his dark eyes. He stopped as he paced to gaze out of the double glass-paned doors that led to a garden. "She flees Ives where her own army can not defend her, leads them here, where we have no army at all, and asks for sanctuary?"

"Our small company will for certain stand little chance of defending against Caslock."

"Nor will they be endangered so," Garran promised darkly.

"Is not Caslock's invasion of Amor but a matter of time? Is that not why you plan evacuation?"

"Aye and her presence here may will bring them too soon," Garran stated with a hard look to his face.

He turned to gaze at Evemet with an intensity that would have made any man squirm. That gaze had held Evemet uncomfortably the first few times he had found himself under the dark, stony stare till he learned that most often the thoughts behind those eyes were not for him.

"Time is our need," Garran said finally, "and to discover how much time we have will be to our benefit. She is here. We will make use of her to gain both. Bid her welcome, and keep a messenger at the ready. If Caslock believes--"

"You would bargain with Caslock?" Evemet exclaimed. He immediately altered his tone. They had served together for fifteen years, friends as well as fellow soldiers, but Garran was still his superior officer despite being younger, though his exact age was unknown. "Forgive me, Commander, but you can not mean this. 'Tis well known Caslock's bargains bind only as long as suits him."

"Negotiations may well supply our need for time to make ready. For Caslock to gain genuine title to the throne of Ives, he must have the princess in marriage, though invasion of Amor to pursue her may not be yet in his plans. Choose two of our best scouts. I must know if Caslock's troops mass or only a small party follows, or if any follow at all. He may well name his self king without the bother of being encumbered by an unwilling queen. If in truth he wants her so he will have the true title of king, a promise of easy access to her in exchange for Caslock's quick retreat without causing any damage here may well serve us."

"You would turn her over?"

"I speak of maneuvering for time," Garran answered tartly. "But if a choice is to be made, my duty is to Sheritan."

* * * *

The first meeting between Garran of Lockmer, Governor of Sheritan, and Princess Fayahstella, future Queen of Ives, did not go well. The difficulties began when Vasglow, the head of the house staff, tapped on the door to announce her arrival. A gaggle of voices in what sounded like dire urgency brought Garran to his feet before an attending lady, not Vasglow, opened the door. It was a courtesy to stand when a female entered the room, which Garran had already done. As a further courtesy, though the flashing of his eyes indicated he detested doing so, he moved in front of his desk to greet the princess with a well trained, blank expression. Those carefully controlled features served him well at his first sight of her.

The act of simply walking through a door was a challenge because of her clothing. Her elaborate gown and underskirts circled out around her in at least a four-foot circle and dragged behind her in a train, all of such bulk it was hard to imagine a person beneath them. Her headdress towered over her head with feathers and golden chains of charms that reached above the lintel. Beneath the headdress, a shroud covered her head and shoulders with a small panel of sheer fabric across her eyes that enabled her to see, although one would guess her vision was severely limited. The clothing was too wide and too tall to pass through the opening of the single door width, an occurrence that apparently was completely foreign to the three ladies attending. As the princess moved forward, two pushed at her skirts to force them through the door, and the third lady frantically grabbed and held the headdress as the feathers caught at the top of the door, pushing the headdress backwards and twisting the shroud askew. Once through the door, the princess stood still as a statue while the ladies straightened her gown, train, shroud, and headdress. When the preening was done, she continued to stand, making no attempt to move into the room.

Garran and Evemet had received only a few hastily spoken words from the messenger as guidance in what was expected of them. They had been told not to approach her and not to speak till she gave them leave to do so. So Garran and Evemet did not move or speak. Likewise, the princess did not speak or move. Nor did the ladies behind her.

As the seconds passed, Evemet said from the side of his mouth, "Mayhaps something is expected of us."

"You will forgive me, my Princess," a male voice said from behind the women and a dark shape slithered through the door. He wore a black, heavy silk cassock and moved forward. His movements were so controlled in mincing little steps beneath the folds of his garment that the gold link chain around his waist with a cross of Oldspushner hanging from it barely moved, and the skirt of his garment didn't move at all giving the impression that he glided. He stopped a few feet from Garran, and his hooded eyes flickered over the governor's plain, gray uniform in distaste.

Garran had stiffened at the sight of him and set his jaw firmly. Beside him Evemet, who knew well the signs of Garran's anger, drew a breath and held it.

"You will kneel," the priest ordered.

"I will not," Garran returned coldly.

A collective gasp came from the ladies. Garran, stone-faced and rigid, ignored it. The priest, his height considerably less than Garran's, jerked up straight and slid closer.

"I am High Priest Bashsay, Consular to the King, Guardian to Princess Fayahstella, future Queen of Ives. You will kneel to her."

Garran responded tersely, "She is not my sovereign, and you are not in Ives."

Both Garran and Evemet had heard stories of the royal voice, given to the princess, it was said, by Oldspushner to protect her from evil. They were not prepared, however, for the assault on their senses when the princess spoke. The high-pitched sound pierced their eardrums and grated upon their nerves. Evemet visibly flinched, and though Garran maintained better control, he grimaced slightly.

"Why do you insult us?" She maintained her still posture despite the volume of her voice. "Tis no carpet for our feet to walk upon, no reception of prominence, we are shown to an office of business, and greeted by servants in common dress."

"We had no proper notice of your arrival," Garran snapped. "And circumstances considered we felt the less attention the better."

Bashsay snarled, "Is not for 'you' to speak of our circumstances."

With the emphasis on the single word, "you" in the sentence, he conveyed not just disrespect for Garran but contempt. Evemet groaned inwardly over the look in Garran's eyes, but the priest, too arrogant to notice, continued.

"You will evacuate the mansion. The--"

"Nay," Garran said quietly, but coldly. "You came to us requesting sanctuary, not by our invitation. I will put no citizen of Sheritan from their quarters to accommo--"

"The Supreme presence demands respect," Bashsay shouted furiously.

Garran threw back coldly, "She is a guest of the Sheritan people. No Sheritan citizen will kneel to her, and she will respect the beliefs of her hosts as any guest of good manners--"

A shrill hiss rent the air, making even Garran flinch. Everyone knew where it came from, but looking at the princess it was impossible to tell she had made any sound at all. She made no perceptible movement until she was positive every eye was upon her, as if they would not be. When she did move, the gesture was so slight Garran and Evemet nearly missed it. However, none of her ladies or Bashsay missed the bare flick of her hand. Although astonished and confused, the ladies responded to the command. In a well-practiced move, they stepped backwards and sideways at the same time, fitting between one another in line as they backed out the door.

Bashsay, whose astonishment turned to anger, slid towards her, his hands folded together at his chest and his head bowed. He spoke to her in an urgent whisper, and she hissed at him.

"Do you want this man to leave?" Garran asked. His cold, dark eyes met Bashsay's muddy green ones when the priest turned towards him.

Her high-pitched whine answered him. "That is our command."

"Show him out," Garran told Evemet.

"You take too much on yourself," Bashsay retorted at Garran and turned back to the princess. "If you persist in this forbidden--"

Bashsay cringed at her double hiss while Evemet rushed forward to push him from the room, moving both to save his own ears and to prevent a possible explosion from Garran.

Changing tactics, Bashsay moved ahead of Evemet to prevent being touched by him and told Garran, "You will speak only of matters concerning our brief stay. Matters of the royal house are forbidden."

She was the one who responded with a shrieked, "The door will close with leaving."

Evemet stopped in the act of shutting the door from inside the room to look to Garran for instruction. Evemet assumed she meant for him to leave as well, since Bashsay was already in the hall, deep in shocked whispers with the ladies.

Curious then as well as angered, Garran asked, "Did you wish for my second to leave as well?"

"Aye."

Evemet mouthed, "Use caution," and shut the door softly.

With choked down anger, Garran tried courtesy again. "Would you care for some refreshments?"

"Our veil of innocence prohibits consumption of food or drink in other than the privacy of our chambers," she shrieked.

"Are you permitted to sit?" he asked sarcastically.

"If a proper connivance is provided."

"If our furniture.... "He looked at the nearest chair and broke off. The chair was too narrow to accommodate her extravagant gown. A quick look around told him what he already knew, since it had vexed him repeatedly; all the chairs were narrow between the arms. She seemed to have already made that assessment and moved towards him.

Where Bashsay had seemed to glide, she seemed to float. Despite the weight of the train that pulled the front of her skirts back, not once did the movement of her legs ripple the fabric. It was fascinating to watch to such a degree that he stared and jolted when she spoke again in the piercing sound, especially since she was only a few feet away from him.

He asked sharply, "Must you speak so?"

In a whisper so low he found himself leaning forward to hear her, she told him, "It is required, and Priest Bashsay will be listening. Tell us quickly what you know of our circumstances."

She caught him off guard by revealing herself as a person beneath her tower of silk, feathers, and gold ornaments. He recovered with biting sarcasm. "Matters of the royal house are forbidden," he quoted, throwing Bashsay's parting words at her.

It was impossible to gauge the effect of his words upon her. Her face and any expression there might be was invisible behind the cloth of her shroud. Even her eyes were obscured. Her body movement was masked by the heavy clothing, and her shrieking voice hid all emotion. Yet he was sure that she was angry enough that, had she been able, she would have spun and stalked to the door. As it was, hampered by her elaborate dress, she walked a rapid circle with the heavy train dragging behind her. She still seemed to float, but at a much quicker pace until she stood at a distance from the door equal to its swinging width. There she stood silent and motionless.

It took a moment for Garran to realize why she didn't just leave. "Can't you even open a door?" he asked.

Using the royal voice again, she told him, "You are beneath me. You may do so."

"I am not a servant, nor will I be treated as such in my own quarters. Call for Bashsay. No doubt he is lurking just beyond the door."

In the barest of whispers she answered with, "He always lurks."

Telling himself it was foolish, he felt a wave of pity for her. He pushed it aside with more sarcasm. "The effect of a dramatic exit is greatly diminished when you can not even let yourself out a door."

She still did not call out. With the thought that she may be delaying for an answer and wishing the conversation to be over, Garran said, "We hear rumors that Caslock wishes to secure the kingship with marriage and that you flee to escape him."

Still she did not call out.

"You are forbidden to call out?" he asked in exasperation.

"Aye," she whispered. "You will assist me?"

He well might have felt a momentary wave of pity for a young woman imprisoned by ritual, but he would not give into it. "I will ring for a servant."

* * * *

Garran stood behind his desk studying the map spread out over it. Evemet stood beside him. Evemet had carefully avoided the subject of the private interview with the princess although he was extremely curious about what had happened, especially after overhearing the conversation in the hall between Bashsay and the ladies.

"What is a bogota?" Evemet asked.

"Where hear you that?" Garran asked with start. The look of anger that had barely subsided flashed hotly again in his eyes.

"Bashsay."

"Called me so?"

"Aye, what does it mean?"

"Damned," Garran retorted, and his eyes dropped back to the map.

Evemet thought he understood. "Like a tepar?"

"A tepar is Vassian," Garran answered indifferently.

"One who does not believe in God Vass," Evemet agreed. He knew slightly more of the Vassian religion of Amor than that of Ives' Oldspushner.

"One who has not been blessed with enlightenment. They can be saved with teaching and acceptance. Bagota..." Garran said each syllable as if it were chipped from stone. "...is unclean, beyond redemption for forsaking Oldspushner."

"Ah." Evemet's mind raced with questions. "He says this because you left Ives?" He received a grunt for answer. "What would happen if you were to return?"

"They would stone me."

Evemet grew sober and mused, "If this be his belief, would not Bashsay have to be most desperate to expose the princess to one he considers to be damned?"

Garran nodded silently, allowing Evemet to follow his train of thought.

"I do not see the priest so concerned by the sickness of servants that he would jeopardize exposing the princess so, unless 'twas for some gain."

"Position, power, and the wealth that comes with it," Garran said in agreement.

"He delays the mission her father has sent her on--if what the servants say is so--to stop in a province with no military protection, governed by a man he considers unclean who would be expected to have resentment towards..."

Garran looked up from the map. "You are very long-winded today."

"It appears he thinks either you will offer no resistance against giving her to Caslock, or he has hopes of laying the blame at your door for her abduction."

"To now his reasons for stopping here seem suspect, but they may be honorable, despite their appearance. We will pay close attention."

"Her father sends her to beg support from The Court of Greka of Amor, and the priest uses her as a ploy to gain power. She is no more than a pawn to each of them."

"And I will use her as well if need be," Garran reminded Evemet coldly. He pointed to the map and left the subject. "I will order the miners to work around the day and night. If all goes as it has afore, the tunnel will be completed in two days time, and the people of Sheritan will have their evacuation route."

"Why do you never call them your people?"

"Because they are not."

"Well they could be."

Garran scoffed at the idea. "The scouts are due to return on morrow's night. We will know better then how much haste must be made."

"Mayhap more on her situation as well." Evemet paused and then added, "Vermont Traval is well known for his benevolence. He would likely offer her true sanctuary."

"If she agrees to convert," Garran responded cynically.

"He has never attempted conversion with you."

"He realizes I am bagota in any religion," Garran stated dismissively. "Have all the citizens received notice to be prepared?"

Evemet focused on the subject. "The mayor says they have. If they all cooperate we may evacuate in the hours of one day."

"Or night depending on when we receive warning. I am meeting with the miners this morn. As well as increasing the work time I will order charges set here," Garran pointed to spots on the map, "and here to seal the tunnel and block any possible pursuit once the last have passed through safely. To insure no one may consider making a personal gain with this information by sabotage, you and I will go this night and place one charge here. You or I must see to the striking of whichever charge is used, either by order or by striking it ourselves, but neither must do so without the other's knowledge. We wish no mishaps."

Garran tapped the map where the secret charge would be set, and Evemet frowned. "That is nearly at the entrance. Would it not be safer closer to the exit?"

"The location is far from where the obvious charges will be set and far from where they are still working to prevent accidental discovery."

"To insure the striker is not still within when it ignites, an excess of fuse will be required."

"A long fuse and fast feet," Garran agreed.

"If the enemy is close behind, some may follow through."

"If so they will be seen to," Garran promised matter-of-factly.

"As things are, we may well be fighting the princess' royal guard."

"If Bashsay is in league with Caslock he would be wise to take the mansion afore hand, leaving Caslock easy access," Garran agreed.

"You will stand by and allow Caslock to take her?"

"Would you have our men die protecting her from her own guard?"

"I would not wish it. If it's your intention to keep her here for your own purpose, I would advise a kinder manner," Evemet suggested candidly. "To time you have only insulted her."

"If Bashsay wishes her here for his purpose, my manner will be of no consequence."

"You deliberately insult her?"

Garran considered it for a moment and shook his head. "Being ordered to kneel was what rose my ire. Their arrogance is only surpassed by their..."

He ended with a sigh of resigned annoyance and quickly rolled the map with a motion for Evemet to answer the knock at the door. "Time for my daily conference with Vasglow," Garran muttered and placed the map out of sight beneath the desk as he sat down. The chair creaked beneath his weight.

Vasglow, as proper as always, marched his slight frame straight to the desk and stopped precisely four foot from it. Everything in his demeanor and tone had told Garran from the very moment of his arrival that he disapproved of Montaus Izure of Amor's choice for the new governor. He ran the house with chilling efficiency and little regard for anything remotely designed to consider Garran's personal preferences. He came every morning for his orders, informed Garran as to why they could not be followed or simply ignored them completely. Never once had a meal been prepared in a manner Garran had requested, no routine of the staff had ever been altered and most certainly no furniture rearrangement had been considered despite any convenience or comfort it might provide, with one exception. Garran had created his own sleeping quarters in what had been a gaming room adjacent to his office and had moved into it from the governor's suite in the opposite wing. He had threatened violent repercussions if those arrangements were changed and had obviously been believed. None of that furniture had been removed and having won one battle in providing himself with privacy and comfort, Garran tolerated the staff's spiteful attitude toward his other requests. There was, however, no peace between them, nor could he dismiss them as they were retained by the Montaus. Under those conditions Garran believed the daily meetings with Vasglow to be a waste of time.

"Anything of special notice this morn?" he asked tartly.

"Your orders concerning the menu, Governor Garran," Vasglow answered stiffly, his narrow chin held high. "What shall cook prepare for the guests?"

"I have no notion of their preferences. Ask their staff. Does the princess seem satisfied with her accommodations?"

"She does not complain. The others complain on all things."

"Tell them the governor's suites are the best we have to offer. If they are not satisfactory, they may leave."

Vasglow said. "It would be inappropriate for me to deliver such a message."

"As you say," Garran commented tartly. "Any other matters for my attention?"

"A message has been relayed that the princess wishes an audience with the governor."

"For what reason?" he asked in annoyance.

"I am not privileged to that information."

"Of course not," Garran muttered dryly. "You may reply that I will be available at the mid-hour."

"Will refreshments be required?"

"Nay, but if it may be done without too much disruption, a suitable chair for her to sit in should be found," Garran said sardonically.

"The chairs are inferior to her taste?"

"The chairs are too narrow," he retorted since he had requested a wider chair for himself too many times. "Her attire requires something armless."

"There are benches in the garden. It may provide a pleasant surrounding."

Garran shook his head. "A garden of beauty is a sin of temptation."

"I do not see how that is possible."

"Take the priest there and see." Garran pushed up from the chair that was a constant irritation to him with the arm cracking loudly, but Vasglow was not finished.

"I do not doubt your assertion, Governor Garran," he said stiffly. "I simply do not understand such thinking."

Garran's eyes narrowed suspiciously. Vasglow's statement carried a tiny hint of respect, the first he had ever received from him. "Sin of indulgence," he explained and waited for reaction.

"Do they permit themselves any pleasure?"

"None that I have knowledge of."

"Then it is well understood why leaving there would be preferable." Vasglow nodded and turned with military precision to leave a baffled Garran behind. With his coloring it was no secret that he was from Ives and had left there.

Evemet was astonished. "I would take a vow he nearly praised you."

Garran dismissed the possibility with a grunt. "Know you of a chair fitting?" he asked to show how much confidence he had in his wishes being acknowledged.

"I have one in mind. 'Tis my hope I'll not have to beat them off to move it. How can they consider a garden evil?"

"They forbid gardens to prevent the Sisters of Treach from cultivating their healing herbs. Has nothing to do with beauty, only power," Garran told Evemet tightly.

"How could a small group of witches threaten their power?"

"Ask the hundreds they've slaughtered," he said coldly and reached under the desk for the map.

"Someone you knew?"

Garran walked out without answering, and Evemet began to understand from whence came Garran's hatred of Ives.

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