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.“I am glad you have come, and not that old bitch.She would not do as I asked.She gave me an herb to prevent me from conceiving a child.I stopped taking it months ago, but still there is no sign of a child!”Kirian said, “Shala Si, you must know I cannot give you any herbs for fertility without the consent of Lord Forell.”“Because I am a slave! Yes, that is so.But you can tell me what to do, can you not, to make it happen? My lord is with me almost every night; indeed, he thinks highly of me.Still I bleed every month and there is no child!”Kirian sighed.The young slave seemed desperate.If this were any other person seeking her aid, she would tell them the best time to conceive.She might even make up for them some of the powdered herbs that would – no, not ensure pregnancy, but make the womb softer, safer, more ready to nurture any child that might be ordained by the Unknown God.But not this woman.In fact, by the Healer’s code she ought to inform Lord Forell immediately of his concubine’s attempt to get fertility herbs.“I cannot do it,” she said.“Not without your master’s consent, Shala Si.Indeed I sympathize, but I am new here, and to do this without Lord Forell’s consent—well, I would lose my posting at the least.”Shala Si picked up one of her cosmetic pots with her delicate chained hands and flung it at Kirian.It struck Kirian on the shoulder.The lid flew off, leaving a smear of some honey-colored cream on Kirian’s tunic.Kirian said, “I am sorry, Shala Si.Is there anything else?”“No, there is nothing else!” Shala Si hissed.“I will tell my lord that I am ill and you refused to help me.He will tell Lord Alkiran to send you back where you came from.Now get out of my room!”The concubine reached for another bottle, this one of glass.Kirian bowed, grabbed her bag, and left the room, feeling wretched.A servant led Kirian to the stone arch where Ruthan awaited her.The old woman looked at Kirian’s downcast expression and the smear of cream on her tunic.“You needn’t fear,” Ruthan said.“She won’t do what she says.”“How do you know?”The coach drew up to the arch.Tabe sat on the box again, the horses much calmer now.The storm had subsided to a steady rain that would have been relaxing if Kirian had been in her own room back in the College.Now, its chill seemed to soak through her skin into her heart.“She’s threatened me before,” Ruthan said.“The silly chit.She thinks she can scare us into doing as she asks.When she calms down, she’ll remember that Forell may not ask questions, but Lord Alkiran will.”“What questions?”“Like why she called for us in the first place.Mikati is a color mage, Kirian—cruel, but sharp as a tack.If he found that his son’s slave mistress—who has no mage talent either—was plotting to have an illegitimate child.” Ruthan snorted.“Well, I wouldn’t give a fishtail for her chances of living until the next caravan came by.”“I know the Collared Lords are supposed to keep the blood pure, to breed the mage talent true.But he would kill her?”Ruthan coughed again, and Kirian wished she had a blanket for the old woman.“Mikati is a Collared Lord, Kirian.The only ruler in SeagardProvince.Even the King won’t thwart him.”Kirian looked down at the sea.It had calmed considerably.The sky was dark with rain and with the nearing of night.She hoped Tabe could see his way down the rain-slick path.She had heard about the supreme powers of the Collared Lords, but somehow she had never thought through what that might mean.The Collared Lords were bound by the King’s magic to Watch endlessly for incursions from Righar’s enemies—in this case, on the western coast, from the island nation of Ha’las and its psychic mages.From the time they were Collared, they could not leave the Watch, but in return they and their families had wealth, influence and real power greater than anyone but the King’s.The righ families were raised to consider the Collar a great honor, for which they alone were suited; they had their male children Collared too, as soon as they were old enough, to serve the King.“I hadn’t thought,” Kirian confessed.“What if Shala Si just happens to conceive? Will they blame me?”Ruthan coughed.“It cannot happen.She stopped taking the preparation I made for her, but I ordered the cook to add it to her tea.She has tea every morning.”Kirian felt a vague guilt.Surely the woman should be allowed to have a child if she wanted.Only her slave status and Lord Alkiran prevented her.But Kirian didn’t feel courageous enough to defy her new righ Lord.At least, not as a student that arrived less than a month ago at Seagard village.“Until I found myself here and under his power, I didn’t understand anything about Collared Lords.” Ruthan hesitated.“I must warn you, young one.” She broke into a fit of coughing so hard that she bent over, unable to speak.“Later,” Kirian said.“Are we almost there? Here, I have a sugar drop in my bag; perhaps that will help.”She felt the coach level off, leaving the path at last.It was dark now, but lamplight shone in the windows of the houses they passed.The smell of fish rose up from someone’s shed as they passed, strong, homey and welcome.Kirian determined to get the old woman a cup of hot tea and then into bed as soon as they arrived.The rest would wait until later.After she helped Ruthan into bed, she thought again about Mikati.He reminded her most unpleasantly of some of the noble students who had been her bane at College—those who looked down on her because of her common origins.Dramin in particular, the third son of an impoverished lord, had been brutal to the charity students when he was drunk.She did not suspect Lord Mikati Alkiran of getting drunk and beating his servants; the man was too secure in his power for that.But he would not hesitate to punish when he did not get his way.The rain that followed the first violence of the storm had eased off.She could no longer hear the steady drizzle on the roof of Ruthan’s house.She was comfortable in her shapeless old robe, curled up in her bed, with the sounds of the rain and the sea in the back of her consciousness.She decided she could find a way to work with Lord Mikati.She liked it too well here to fail so soon.Chapter TwoCallo ran Alkiran entered the palace through a side door and ran down the servants’ stairs, adjusting his gold-trimmed dress tunic as he went.The residential part of the palace was nearly empty; only an occasional lamp cast a glow around the halls, and there was no sign of life at all.Everyone was downstairs at the ball [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]