Prince of Fire and Ashes: Book 3 of the Tielmaran Chronicles

Prince of Fire and Ashes: Book 3 of the Tielmaran Chronicles

by Katya Reimann

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Overview

Magic, gods, and history build to a stunning climax in Katya Reimann's Tielmaran Chronicles.

Tielmark's free prince sits imperiled by the relentless conspiracies of the neighboring Bissanty Empire. Sorceress Gaultry Blas, blessed by Tielmaran's goddess-twins, returns to her homeland yearning for peace, but instead discovers a conspiracy of evil magics. The coven of witches sworn to defend the prince's crown have gathered to attend the dying Duchess of Melaudiere, who protects their throne's unborn heir. They also have an unpleasant truth: In years past, the witches failed their oath to Tielmark. If they fail again, their lives and those of their descendants will be lost.

Forest-born Gaultry, tuned more to action than politics, navigates tricky court intrigue and is determined to work with the Common Brood witches to break the ancient Bissanty claims.

But Gaultry is stalked by a hidden Tielmaran-born enemy who is bent on shattering Bissanty chains at any cost. This enemy has waited fifty years for the alignment of the stars that will allow Tielmark's prince ascent to a kingly throne. She will not let Gaultry get in her way-for this enemy has been planning from before Gaultry's birth how to stop her.

From the intricate infighting of Tielmark's court to the barren sun-bleached battlegrounds at Tielmark's farthest border, Gaultry must call on her magic, courage, and spirit to overcome the obstacles to her realm's rightful kingship.

When the great treachery is finally exposed in a brutal endgame played out under Tielmark's towering border mountains, Gaultry and members of the Common Brood will call upon their deepest powers to crown a king-or kill the hopes of their kingless realm.



At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429979719
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 04/01/2010
Series: Tielmaran Chronicles , #3
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 810,988
File size: 917 KB

About the Author

Katya Reimann was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.


Katya Reimann was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is the author of the Tielmaran Chronicles, including Wind from a Foreign Sky and A Tremor in the Bitter Earth.

Read an Excerpt


Chapter 1


Gaultry Blas, the huntress-witch of Arleon forest, had at last arrived home to Tielmaran soil.
Overhead, the sun shone brightly, lighting the land's handsome rolling fields and groves of willow and ash trees. Evidently Tielmark's twin goddesses, bold Huntress Elianté and graceful Emiera, had smiled on Tielmark in all the time of Gaultry's absence. Fanners and travelers of every description choked the High Road as far as the young woman's eye could see, loaded with proofs of the Goddess-Twins' bounty. Strings of fat geese jostled panniers of brightly colored chickens; pretty grey-faced donkeys, overloaded with bags of green-cut hay and early barley, pressed against healthy-looking sheep. The prosperous crowd, headed in both directions along the road--west for a horse market at a place called Fairfields, east for the great Midsummer fair at Soiscroix market-town--offered every evidence that Tielmark's gods were happy, and all was well in the land.
But to Gaultry, who had spent the last weeks in flight from homicidal imperial soldiers, this bounty simply presented a new series of hardships. She had journeyed for more than a month in the Prince of Tielmark's service--even if against his wishes and knowledge--risking body and mind against one of the most powerful sorcerers ever raised by the Bissanty Emperor to destroy Tielmark's independence. Somehow she had envisioned her return to her home soil would have a more glorious aspect.…
"Pigs!" she snapped aloud, startling her companions, along with everyone else within earshot. "Whoever thought tying a pig to a lead was a good idea?" And yet there they were, blocking the way, a nursing-thin mother and her eight robust progeny, tied on leather tethers in the hands of a corpulent farmwoman. The two most active piglets had tangled their leads in the wheels of a tinker's rickety handcart. All traffic had ground to a halt as the farmwoman's son attempted to extract the young pigs without destroying the wheel's age-weakened spoke-work.
Like a slowly erupting volcano, the farmwoman lumbered around to face the young woman on her fee-rented horse. Her embarrassment at the obstruction she had caused was obvious; obvious too was the fact that Gaultry's outspoken complaint marked her as a convenient target on which to vent this feeling as anger. "What's your hurry?" she snapped. "Danton will soon have them free. You'll have time enough to set up your sideshow once you reach Soiscroix. Dirty players." She spat on the road in front of Gaultry's horse.
"Players?" Gaultry replied, at first not understanding what the woman meant.
"Spongers, more like. What's your hurry? People won't be paying you 'til they've settled themselves, to my way of thinking."
Gaultry cast an uncomfortable glance at the little group that had accompanied her home from Bissanty. For one guilty moment, she could see what the pig-woman was thinking: She had mistaken them for itinerant performers.
Everyone, herself included, looked miserably road-filthy, hollow-eyed, and hungry, the inevitable wages of too much travel too fast, on insufficient food and sleep. They were out of place on this happy road, a pass point between prosperous towns where the three days of the Midsummer Festival would be celebrated with all good feeling.
Firstly, there were the animals: the rented horses, too fine for their scruffy riders; the skinny, half-grown dog with its nervous eyes and frightened air; and worst of all the pair of exotics that clung to Gaultry's saddle crupper: a delicate grey monkey and a striped tamarin with a pointed muzzle--the latter of which bore more than a passing resemblance to anyone's idea of a small, if beautifully furred, demon.
She could only guess what the farmwoman would think if she saw the enormous desert panther that was also traveling with them--shadowing the little party some ways off the road, in an attempt to avoid casual confrontations with cattle and livestock. Picturing Aneitha-cat's probable reaction to the pigs, Gaultry would have cracked a smile, had the pig-woman not been glaring. She had to consider herself lucky that the animal contingent ended with Aneitha. The soul-breaking sorcerer whose magic they had defeated to escape Bissanty had maintained an enormous, varied menagerie to bolster his magical strength. If their departure from his stronghold had not been so precipitous, no doubt her party would have been lumbered along accompanied by something like an entire zoo!
Then, of course, there were the people, two of them obvious outlanders. The Sharif, a respected war-leader in her own land, looked dangerously foreign and possibly contagious, her long frame emaciated by ill health and her hair cropped short and strange. Young Tullier, riding with the skinny pup at his heels, had the unfriendly face of a boy trained too long, too young, and too hard as a warrior. It could not be denied that he looked like some sort of half-criminal delinquent--an appearance that was only partly deceiving! Of course, Tullier was much more than that. Indeed, Tullier was most of the reason Gaultry was hurrying to make report to Tielmark's Prince. The boy's travel-stained clothes gave no outward indication of the bizarre, magically influenced destiny that had left him heir to the Goddess-blood normally reserved for the sons of the Bissanty Emperor. If they could just get him safely to the Prince's court, and arrange for the Prince to put him under a pledge of protection, Tielmark would have leverage against the Bissanty empire for the first time in decades--if only they could convince the Prince of the veracity of Tullier's bloodlines.
Gaultry suspected that none of this hidden information would suffice to placate the farmwoman.
Finally, there was the Tielmaran half of the group, which was only a little more savory in appearance than the foreigners. Gaultry's accent gave instant evidence of her modest south-border origins, and her threadbare garb betrayed nothing of the power or importance she had earned since she had left that simple upbringing behind her.
Only Martin, confident astride his big gelding, managed to appear anything approaching respectable. Handsome dark-haired warrior Martin, for whose sake Gaultry had risked all the peril of journeying deep into Bissanty. Riding at the back of the group, he watched with a half-amused expression as Gaultry struggled for the right words to rebuff the farm-woman's bad manners. If it had been Martin who had challenged the pig-woman, not Gaultry, she had no doubt but that the woman would have stammered and moved hastily out of his way.
Blood rushed in her cheeks. This situation felt exactly like old times. Before she had traveled; before she had learned the true strength of her magical powers or of the prophecy she had inherited, binding her to the Prince of Tielmark's service. Old times, before she learned that she had been born to the Common Brood, the coven of witches blood-sworn to protect Tielmark's Prince.
On this crowded summer road, it little mattered if she had challenged the gods, or if she had risked the things dearest to her heart to keep her country free. Those things were a part of an invisible past. Here was only the lamentably disreputable present: rough clothes, shady companions--and her lack of a quick tongue in the face of a direct challenge. A reprisal against this woman with magic--that would cause more problems than it would solve. A reprisal with quick and clever words--worse!
Complaining aloud had been a mistake. The things she had done in Bissanty--she could not do them here at home.
Bissanty was not like her native Tielmark. Bissanty's loathsome hierarchy slaved the field-workers and the serving class both with god-bonds and with fear. In Bissanty, for simple survival, she had exploited every incidental advantage the empire's own customs offered: the passivity of the field-workers, the pathetic cringing of the slaves. But she was back in Tielmark now, and in Tielmark any tough-minded beggar had the right to argue his case when he felt ill-used.
Let alone so substantial a woman as a farm-mistress off to market with an entire litter of pigs.
"Good-woman, please. Allow us room to go by you." Gaultry gamely attempted to moderate her tone, though from the pig-woman's expression, the time for that had come and gone already. "Our business is in Princeport, not in Soiscroix, and it is important."
The woman was not appeased. "If you want to move, tell your boy to get down and help me," she said gruffly. "Or your man. Or--" Despite being encumbered by the pigs, the woman reached with surprising agility and caught hold of Gaultry's bridle. "You could come down off your high horse and help me yourself."
"Let go and get out of my way," Gaultry said coldly. She was not so fine a rider that this woman's sudden grab did not threaten to unseat her. "You've been foolish and greedy. Nine pigs on the road is not my problem."
It was sheer bad luck that her tone and her horse's little jump together startled the woman's boy. He made a sharp movement, sawed on one of the trapped pig's leads, and snapped one of the tinker-cart's wheel-spokes. A piglet squealed, jabbed by a fragment of wood. As it struggled, a second spoke fractured.
"What have you done?" the tinker shrilled, his voice a fair match for the piglet's. His cart listed slowly on one side as the wheel began to fold.
"Not me!" The farmwoman shouted back. "It's these out-landers, making trouble for all of us!"
Martin, seeing the situation moving out of control, stopped smiling and kicked his horse forward. The pigs bolted, sawing on their leads. The farmwoman was forced to relinquish Gaultry's bridle strap.
"If it's trouble you're having, we'll gladly stop to help." The big soldier grinned unpleasantly, his teeth a wolfish flash of white in his handsome, sun-darkened face. "Unless, of course, you already have the situation under control."
The woman's bluster faded. Gaultry she might mistake for a sideshow-sponger, but not this man, however dirty his clothes. "My apologies, Sieur." She backed away, moving the pigs with her. "My boy Danton ought to have kept the little ones in order. But we will have them back in hand soon enough." She sketched the Goddess-Twins' sign, seething but respectful.
"Very good. Perhaps the two of you can better sort this from the road's side." Martin, sliding his horse past without waiting for an answer, reached down from the saddle and seized the cart's sideboard. Straining, he raised it up off its collapsed wheel and held it upright until the boy and the tinker pushed it off onto the grass.
The crowd around gave a rough cheer, amused by the display of muscle and will. Martin, smiling more broadly, whipped off his hat and gave something like a bow, drawing an even larger salute.
The woman--forgetting Gaultry, and eyeing daggers at Martin--was obliged to follow, chivying her pigs out of the traffic's flow. She made up for this surrender by initiating a noisy quarrel with the tinker. But the tinker was sharper than his mournful appearance suggested. He seemed likely to gain one piglet at least for his repairs.
Thus, Gaultry thought grimly, hastening her horse on by, thus was concluded the defeat of the pigs.
Behind her, the Sharif and Tullier exchanged a private laugh, no doubt, Gaultry guessed from their glances, making light of her mishandling of the affair. She scowled, and set herself to ignoring them.
Passing two heavily laden hay carts and a small herd of bawling cattle, she urged her horse up to Martin's.
"This is like damnation to Achavell," she complained. "And it's my fault that we're stuck here. If I hadn't insisted we rest that extra night in Trait, we'd be through Soiscroix by now and out of this crush."
Martin shook his head. "We couldn't have pushed on earlier. Everyone needed to rest. Who could predict that the Midsummer crowds would be so plentiful this year? It's not anyone's fault."
"We have a duty to Tielmark," she said. "Bringing our news to Prince Benet should have driven us forward."
"We were dead on our feet," Martin replied flatly. "There is only so much fatigue a body can withstand. Of course we need to reach Princeport as quickly as possible. But you arguing with every farm-mistress between here and there isn't going to help us accomplish that faster."
"She was in the wrong."
Martin drew an impatient breath. "If you want to fight with me, go ahead. But you know you should have left well enough alone. Bissanty is behind us."
"I know." Gaultry sighed. "But it's so hard--and these people! None of them know what we've been through, yet everything we've done has been for them! Yet here they are, blocking our way, delaying us further."
"Perhaps they should open a path on bended knees," Martin said sardonically. "Would that better suit your taste?"
"Our business is more important than bringing pigs to market."
"Yes, well, and you'd have proof of that in hand if Benet had actually sanctioned you to follow me to Bissanty." If Martin had not been so tired, she would not have been able to draw him like this. His capture and transport to Bissanty was not something he often referred to, and particularly not during their periodic quarrels. "Next time, wait 'til the Prince hands you his sigil before you skip town."
She was tired too, or she would not have answered angrily in turn. "You'd be dead today if I had waited. You, and the Sharif too--and certainly Tullier as well." Even as she spoke, she regretted it. She knew she had gone too far as soon as the words left her mouth. "Martin," she said, immediately contrite. "I don't mean that. Or at least--I don't mean it angrily."
He smiled, tiredly, glancing over his shoulder, perhaps to see how close the Sharif and Tullier were riding. "You have accomplished amazing things, my love. For everyone around you. I can grant you a little shortness of temper." As she gave him a wan smile, he urged his horse against hers, and gently bumped her leg with his own. "But unfortunately," he continued more seriously, "the events to which we are bound range far beyond our own desires. You will have to keep your temper better if you want to make any headway at court."
Gaultry sighed. "I know. Huntress help me! I can only trust that Benet will forgive my small trespasses in return for my larger services. Or that his court around him will have persuaded him to do so. Your grandmother has his ear, of course, but so as well does Dervla." The High Priestess of Tielmark was a jealous, somewhat spiteful woman, with whom Gaultry had clashed too often for comfort in the past. "And then there is the rest of the ducal council. Will they follow your grandmother's lead, or Dervla's? The Prince's courtiers--"
"Not to mention the other members of the Common Brood." Martin frowned. "Or all the people Tullier alienated, with his attack upon the Prince, before you whisked him out of Tielmark from under their ravening noses."
"What we've learned since about Tullier's heritage makes him more valuable to Tielmark alive than dead."
"That is so," Martin conceded, "and all the more reason that you must speak to the Prince before tangling with the others." He brought his horse against hers once again. "It's all going to unfold too quickly. After we arrive in Princeport, we will no longer be our own masters. With the summer campaign against the Lanai started, it won't be long before I'm sent west to fight at the border. It does not please me to know that I will have to leave you to fight for the boy alone."
She looked hastily away from him, off ahead down the road. Half a mile away and a short climb up a hill, a tall tree marked a boundary into more rugged territory. Arriving in Princeport only to have to be parted from Martin was not something she wanted to think about. "Perhaps it will not be so bad," she said. "The very fact that Tullier was born puts the Bissanty succession in doubt. Tielmark could become free of Bissanty by simple merit of the Imperial line's collapse."
Martin shook his head. "Tielmark has to make its own freedom. Bissanty has been collapsing on itself for centuries. The fact that the line of Imperial succession is in disarray is more threatening, not less so. Since we crossed Tielmark's border, we've been hearing time and time again about the battles to our west. It's not the usual summer campaign. The Bissanty raised a huge force against the Lanai this year. Come disarray, an empire wants its citizens looking outward, not inward toward a shaking throne."
She shivered. "Sciuttarus is still Emperor. Tullier being here doesn't affect that."
Martin shrugged. "If Sciuttarus has lost the Goddess's blessing, everything is affected."
He was right. They had skirted riots throughout the last days of their flight from Bissanty. The scraps of song they'd heard, the rumors, the terrible omens: crops sickening, calves dying--and the unspoken awe with which the Bissanty land-bonded regarded Tullier--all pointed to a profound disruption to the order which had held the Empire together for so many centuries.
"That said," Martin continued, "You're right. Sciuttarus hasn't lost any of his practical power. As sitting Emperor, he has much in his hands to ensure that power will remain with him while breath is still in his body. The campaign against the Lanai confirms it. He wants a distraction--and he doesn't want the army at home in Bassorah to rise against him--while he sorts out family business."
"He wants Tielmark too," Gaultry said.
"Two birds with one stone."
Tullier's pony jogged up to Gaultry's stirrup. The boy whose birth threatened the Imperial succession was short, with a deceptively light build, black hair, and intense slanted eyes the color of green ice. When Gaultry had first met him, those eyes had shone with constant rage and pain. Now, after weeks under Gaultry's protection, his expressions, if not softening, were at least becoming more varied.
Gaultry sighed. Of course, most of the boy's emotions were still problematic, not least among them his ill-concealed jealousy of her feelings toward Martin. He hated to see Gaultry with Martin--and hated it even more when the pair of them discussed his future outside his presence.
"What are you talking about?" he demanded.
Gaultry gave him a falsely bright smile. "If we reach Soiscroix tonight, we should be able to make it to Princeport by tomorrow evening. We've just been talking about what we can expect when we reach the city."
"Nothing good for me." Tullier raised his brows. He was sensitive enough to know when she was humoring him, and to dislike it. "Did you see the look that awful pig-woman gave me? She hated me--without even knowing who I was. That's how everyone in Tielmark will feel, once they know who I am."
"I'll protect you," said Gaultry, nettled. It exhausted her, constantly having to reassure him, though sadly there was no doubt that he needed any comfort she could give him.
Tullier had been a Sha Muira apprentice when she first met him, a member of the Bissanty assassin cult where his father, the sitting Emperor's uncle, had hidden him from the time Tullier was a newborn. He had been trained to commit atrocities without questioning, to expect death at any moment--indeed, to accept death as a blessed event, uniting him with Grey Llara, the mother-goddess of Bissanty. That upbringing continued to haunt him, not least with the reflexive certainty that mercy would not be offered where he himself had never expected it.
"They'll want to string me up for what happened to those boys my old master killed," Tullier said. "I don't see how you'll protect me from that."
Gaultry did not know how to answer him. In his last act as a Sha Muira, Tullier had been involved in a brutal attempt to compromise the right to rule of Tielmark's reigning Prince. There had been five murders, not just two. From hints Tullier had dropped, she knew that he had been responsible for the death of at least one of the boys' guards.
"You're privy to a blood tie that devastates the sitting Emperor's right to succession," she said. "That will be more important to Tielmark than what you did while the Sha Muira ruled you."
"Only if you manage to explain before the mob seizes me."
"They'll have to get past my own dead body first," Gaultry replied grimly. "That at least I can promise you." She kicked her horse into a trot, taking advantage of a gap between two wagons to slip out of conversational range.
She hoped the things she was telling Tullier were true, or that she would have the power to make them true.
It was hard, riding on this easy road and pretending that the gods and death weren't riding with them. Gaultry would have preferred almost any open confrontation to that hidden specter of doom.
What help was it to acknowledge that Tullier and Martin were at each other's throats; that the Sharif was growing thin with longing for her desert home; that the animals she had rescued from the Bissanty inferno were languishing? All she could do was ride on, hoping that the journey would end before any of these problems reached crisis.
Her own inadequacies were worst of all. The events that had brought them to this road had wakened Gaultry's long dormant magical powers: the blazing golden fire of her Glamour-magic. That magic had the capacity to give her a power akin to the greatest strength that could be called down from the Twelve Highest Gods--and without the necessity of prayers, of bowing and scraping to distant, mysterious, and oft-distracted deities.
But what help was this if she was still frustrated by pig farmers, still set to confusion by the complexity of her country's fate, and still incapable of using her magic to help herself or her friends? Her magical power was like a golden sun, but she could not control its power--when she came close enough even to touch it, it burned her, with immolating strength. Those few times she had called upon it--in extremity, when no other course opened itself--the consequences were terrible and harsh. It took her body days to recover from the aftereffects.
Her sense of inadequacy rose like bile in her throat. She rode on, struggling to ignore her many anxieties.
* * *
By mid-afternoon the road began to descend over a series of granite ridges to the wooded edge of a river bluff. Though the day had become seasonably warm, a cooling breeze fanned up from the river. Overhead, the screen of leafy branches sheltered the riders from the bright summer sun.
Under the green ceiling of leaves, the crowd thinned as it stretched along the road. Gaultry finally found herself relaxing. She loved the scents of birch and oak, of pineberry and redleaf-rustin and even the darker smells: the moss and decaying leaf mold. Leaving her horse to find its own footing, she stared dreamily out over the drop to the river. The tannin-dark water rushed mysteriously over jumbled stones, making little falls and pools, overhung with ferns and wisps of pink flower.
This was the Tielmark she loved. Its wild loneliness, its beauty.
The riverbank opposite was a solid ridge of granite topped with young pine volunteers, trending gradually toward the near bank, forcing the water fast and high as the stream channel narrowed. It reminded Gaultry of a place near her home on the south border where a limestone-bedded creek made narrow, slippery slides down into deeper, river-dark pools. The fast water was a little dangerous, but Gaultry and her twin sister, Mervion, had spent many summer days lazing there, alternately sunning on the rocks and cooling themselves with laughing rides down the wildly slippery water chutes.
The memory of that cool water made her feel acutely how long it had been since her last full bath. Two weeks, and longer. Not since before their flight began from Bissanty. Counting the days back did nothing to improve the suddenly itchy feel of her skin.
"There's a bridge ahead." Martin, who had been riding in front, slowed his horse to ride with her. "Warn the Sharif that her 'shadow' will have to find its own place to make a crossing. There's some kind of gathering at the bridge."
Tullier was once again at Martin's shoulder, edgy and unwilling to let them speak privately.
"I wish there was a place where we could climb down to the water to cool off." Gaultry stood up in her stirrups to relieve the heat that had gathered on her seat. "Or even swim across, or ford, rather than going over with everyone else. I don't like the idea of yet another crowd."
"If there were a place to ford, there wouldn't be a bridge," Martin said thinly. "Can't you trust your temper for two minutes together?"
"What's wrong with Gaultry looking to find her own way?" As Tullier spoke, he moved his pony, subtly, so Martin's horse was forced to break its pace. "If Gaultry wants to swim, why not? There must be a place where we can make our way down. It's not as though we're laden with market-goods and a cart."
Gaultry shot Tullier a wary look. She had become so accustomed to the boy challenging her that his support was unsettling. He often backed her now, even in her smallest caprices--much to Martin's displeasure.
Still--she did want her swim. "Why not?" she asked. "A short break would give Aneitha a chance to find her way over."
Aneitha-cat was aggressive, constantly hungry, and her narrow, rangy body challenged the size of Tullier's pony. Only her intelligence, enhanced by the soul-bond she had briefly shared with the Sharif, made it possible for her to stay with them, on the hazy understanding that the journey would return her to her natural home. Since they had crossed into Tielmark, the great cat had been forced to range the countryside as their shadow. There had been a number of awkward moments, even guessing that the Sharif had kept the worst of the stories to herself.
The sooner Aneitha and the Sharif were shipborne and homeward bound for far Ardain, the better. Both were fast losing flesh and condition in this unfamiliar damp country.
"Aneitha has to take care of herself. If she can't keep up, that can't be our problem." Martin scowled at Tullier, a rare show of irritation, then turned back to Gaultry. "We're not stopping and taking off our clothes to go swimming. We all need to reach Princeport. We both need to explain ourselves to Benet-you more than I." He reached for a lock of her horse's mane and twined it loosely around his fingers. "Don't ask for what I can't give you."
The curl of yellow horsehair looked gold against Martin's sun-darkened skin. Gold, like a marriage ring. An unfortunate coincidence, considering that Martin was married, however honestly estranged from his wife. They both saw it at the same moment. Gaultry sawed on her reins, making the horse start so it twisted the lock of mane free.
"I'd give you anything--" Martin said, suddenly intense.
"I try not to ask for impossible things." She patted her horse's neck, at once apologizing to it and comforting herself. "We have a bridge to cross. That's clear enough." Ignoring Tullier's look of glee--though clearly he did not have the least idea what they were arguing about, or what they were trying not to argue about--she swung away, looking for the Sharif, and female comfort.
The Ardanae war-leader had dropped to the back of the party. Her eyes met Gaultry's. The woman shrugged. Arguing again? she asked. They're proud men. They both want your first loyalty. Despite brutal fatigue that made her slump in the saddle, the Sharif's mind-voice pierced Gaultry through, clear as ever. The woman had suffered tremendous hardships: as a casualty of war, as a slave chained to an oar, and then in her flight with Gaultry across half of Southern Bissanty. Gaultry wished she had served the woman better--but there had never been adequate time to rest and recoup their strength.
The Sharif could share the voice of her mind--a voice that was deeper than language--only with those she trusted. Sometimes it amazed Gaultry that the woman could still communicate with her so, after all they had endured, after all her bad choices as the little party's nominal leader.
Tell Aneitha she must find a place to cross the river. The bridge is too crowded.
The Sharif sat up in her saddle and straightened her shoulders, the desert yellow of her eyes focusing inward. For a moment, she looked strong and handsome, in command of her body and her mount. Then a deep shudder wracked her chest, as even what should have been for her the simple effort of reaching out exhausted her. It's done. The proud shoulders slumped and she rolled tiredly in her saddle.
Even so, when Gaultry shot the woman an anxious glance, she answered with a good-humored smile. Far better Aneitha to make such a crossing than me. The desert-woman could not swim, and her adventures with Gaultry had not made her love water any better. At least this time I get a bridge.
Never fear! Gaultry said, hoping to be cheering. There's a bridge for every crossing from here all the way to Princeport. We 're a civilized people, in Tielmark.
I believe what I see with my own eyes, Gautri. The Sharif smiled, and rubbed the base of her neck. The thick black hair she had lost to the lice of the slaver's hold grew longest there, and she had gotten into a habit of tugging at those short strands.
We'll show you we're civilized, Gaultry assured her.
I believe what I see, the Sharif answered, a little more seriously. More now than ever.

Copyright © 2002 by Katya Reimann

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