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.They wove spells granted to them by Astarin, the Bard King, spells that formed the trees and flowers in wonderful ways.Thornless red and white roses grew in delicate spirals around the trunks of evergreen oaks.Wisteria dripped purple blossoms into still, clear pools of water.Lilacs and camellias drenched the air with their perfume.Broad leaves of ivy spread over the garden paths, shading them and protecting strollers from all but the harshest rains.And most remarkably, laurels and cedars grew in circular groves, their tops coming together to form perfect shelters, where elves could meditate.Silvanos himself had favored a grove of laurels on the west side of the garden.When the august founder of the elven nation had died, the leaves on the laurels there changed from green to gold, and they remained that way ever after.Kith-Kanan did not enter the Gardens of Astarin by one of the paths.In his deerskin boots, he crept silently beside the shoulder-high wall of spell-shaped mulberry.He hoisted himself over the wall and dropped down on the other side, still without a sound.Crouching low, he moved toward the grove.The prince could hear the impatient rustle of footsteps inside the golden grove.In his mind he saw Hermathya pacing to and fro, arms folded, her red-gold hair like a flame in the center of the gilded trees.He slipped around to the entrance to the grove.Hermathya had her back to him, her arms folded tight with vexation.Kith-Kanan called her name.Hermathya whirled.“Kith! You startled me.Where have you been?”“Hurrying to you,” he replied.Her angry expression lasted only a moment longer, then she ran to him, her bright blue gown flying.They embraced in the arched entry of Silvanos’s retreat.The embrace became a kiss.After a moment, Kith-Kanan drew back a bit and whispered, “We’d best be wary.My father is in the tower.He might see us.”In answer, Hermathya pulled the prince’s face down to hers and kissed him again.Finally, she said breathlessly, “Now, let us hide.” They entered the shelter of the laurel grove.Under the elaborate rules of courtly manners, a prince and a well-born elf maiden could not consort freely, as Kith-Kanan and Hermathya had for the past half-year.Escorts had to accompany both of them, if they ever saw each other at all.Protocol demanded that they not be alone together.“I missed you terribly,” Hermathya said, taking Kith-Kanan’s hand and leading him to the gray granite bench.“Silvanost is like a tomb when you’re not here.”“I’m sorry I was late.Arcuballis had headwinds to fight all the way home.”This was not strictly true, but why anger her further? Actually Kith-Kanan had broken camp late because he had stayed to listen to two Kagonesti elves tell tall tales of adventures in the West, in the land of the humans.“Next time,” Hermathya said, tracing the line of Kith-Kanan’s jaw with one slender finger, “take me with you.”“On a hunting trip?”She nipped at his ear.Her hair smelled of sunshine and spice.“Why not?”He hugged her close, burying his face in her hair and inhaling deeply.“You could probably handle yourself right enough, but what respectable maiden would travel in the forest with a male not her father, brother, or husband?”“I don’t want to be respectable.”Kith-Kanan studied her face.Hermathya had the dark blue eyes of the Oakleaf Clan and the high cheekbones of her mother’s family, the Sunberry Clan.In her slender, beautiful face he saw passion, wit, courage-“Love,” he murmured.“Yes,” Hermathya replied.“I love you too.”The prince looked deep into her eyes and said softly, “Marry me, Hermathya.” Her eyes widened, and she pulled away from him, chuckling.“What is funny?” he demanded.“Why talk of marriage? Giving me a starjewel will not make me love you more.I like things the way they are.”Kith-Kanan waved to the surrounding golden laurels.“You like meeting in secret? Whispering and flinching at every sound, lest we be discovered?”She leaned close again.“Of course.That makes it all the more stimulating.”He had to admit his life had been anything but boring lately.Kith-Kanan caressed his lover’s cheek.Wind stirred through the gilded leaves as they drew closer.She entwined her fingers in his white hair.The prince thought no more of marriage as Hermathya filled his senses.* * * * *They parted with smiles and quiet touches on each other’s faces.Hermathya disappeared down the garden path with a toss of bronze-red hair and a swish of clinging silk.Kith-Kanan stood in the entrance of the golden grove and watched her until she was lost from sight.Then, with a sigh, he made for the palace.The sun had set and, as he crossed the plaza, the prince saw that the servants were setting lamps in the windows of the palace.All Silvanost glimmered with light by night, but the Palace of Quinari, with its massive tower and numerous tall windows, was like a constellation in the heavens.Kith-Kanan felt very satisfied as he jauntily ascended the steps by the main doors.The guards clacked their spears against their shoulder armor.The one on Kith-Kanan’s right said, “Highness, the speaker bids you go to the Hall of Balif.”‘Well, I’d best not keep the speaker waiting,” he replied.The guards snapped to, and he passed on into the deep, arched opening.Even the prospect of a tongue-lashing by his father did little to lower Kith-Kanan’s spirits.He still breathed the clean, spicy scent of Hermathya, and he still gazed into the bottomless blue depths of her eyes.The Hall of Balif, named for the kender general who had once fought so well on behalf of the great Silvanos, took up an entire floor of the central tower.Kith-Kanan swung up the broad stone stairs, clapping servants on the back and hailing courtiers heartily.Smiles followed in the elf prince’s wake.Oddly, two guards stood outside the high bronze doors of the Hall of Balif.The doors were not usually guarded.As Kith-Kanan approached, one guard rapped on the bronze panel behind him with the butt of his spear.Silently KithKanan stood by as the two soldiers pushed the heavy portals apart for him.The hall was indifferently lit by a rack of candles on the oval feasting table.The first face Kith-Kanan saw did not belong to his father, Sithel.“Sithas!”The tall, white-haired young elf stood up from behind the table.Kith-Kanan circled the table and embraced his twin brother heartily.Though they lived in the same city, they saw each other only at intervals.Sithas spent most of his time in the Temple of Matheri, where the priests had been educating him since he was a child.Kith-Kanan was frequently away, flying, riding, hunting.Ninety years they’d lived, and by the standards of their race they were barely adults.Time and habit had altered the twins, so much so that they were no longer exact copies of each other.Sithas, elder by scant minutes, was slim and pale, the consequence of his scholarly life.His face was lit by large hazel eyes, the eyes of his father and grandfather.On his white robe he wore a narrow red stripe, a tribute to Matheri, whose color it was.Kith-Kanan, because of his outdoor life, had skin almost as brown as his eyes.The life of a ranger had toughened him, broadened his shoulders and hardened his muscles.“I’m in trouble,” he said ruefully.“What have you done this time?” Sithas asked, loosening his grip on his twin.“I was out flying on Arcuballis …”“Have you been scaring the farmers again?”“No, it’s not that.I was over the city, so I circled the Tower of the Stars …”“Blowing your horn, no doubt.”Kith-Kanan sighed.“Will you let me finish? I went round the tower, very gently, but who should be there on the high balcony but Fatherl He saw me and gave me that look.”Sithas folded his arms.“I was there too, inside.He wasn’t pleased [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]