The crowd at the End Of The Wharf Tavern was
especially good, and Randrik had already had three handsome ladies
smile invitations over their wine by the time he broke for a bite
of dinner. It was a typical Fifth Night crowd -- mainly clutches
of merchants celebrating a good week's business with their wives or
mistresses salted with a dash of militia officers and noble ladies
dressed in their maid's best in an effort at disguise that fooled
Sitting at the table near the kitchen reserved
specifically for him, he had just managed to talk the landlord's
daughter onto his knee when the subdued hum of conversation
suddenly wilted into silence. A Temple Seeker, ominous in the
concealing white robe and purple sash of a Master, was heading
straight for him, trailed by an Adept in the green-trimmed yellow
sack of a Healer. Neither had bothered lowering her hood, but
Randrik would have known that firm, determined stride and the
gleaming amulet of office anywhere.
Muttering a curse that made even the mercenary
sitting at the next table raise an eyebrow, he sent his buxom
playmate back to the kitchen with a kiss. With deliberate
arrogance, he leaned back and propped his boots on the table. This
was not turning out to be one of his better days.
"Good evening, Randrik," his aunt the Prime Seeker
said, pushing back her hood. "I sent you a message this morning
that I had an urgent matter to discuss with you."
"I am sorry, your grace, but I was unfortunately
indisposed at the time."
He smiled pleasantly.
"You seem to have recovered quickly."
"The indisposition turned out to be less serious
than I thought."
"Caused by indulging in one too many grass widows,
He couldn't help grinning at her -- she was about
the only other person he knew besides his mother with whom a battle
of wits was a challenge. From the corner of his eye, he saw the
Adept's mouth thin in disapproval within the shadow of her hood.
"Shame on you, my lady," he teased. "You're offending the infant."
The Adept tilted her nose up so far he could almost
hear her neck creak from the strain. If he had needed a good reason
for not dealing with the Temple, he would have been happy to cite
the fact that they had an uncanny ability to turn perfectly normal
women into unconscionable prigs.
"It is not the Prime Seeker I find offensive," the
Adept sneered icily.
Randrik heightened his eyesight to get a better idea
what she was hiding in the shadow of her cowl. She was older than
usual for an Adept -- must have gotten a late start. She had a
heart-shaped face with skin the tint and texture of old ivory,
dominated by wide-set, uptilted eyes as green as the best emeralds
under dark, arched brows and full of the same cold fire. Her thick
chestnut hair was braided and wound in a crown atop her head from
which nary a wisp had dared escape. There was no mistaking her
Nomad blood, which made her stiff neck and hard eyes seem out of
place. Every Dresnye he had known had been as full of life as it
was possible to be and never hesitated to show it. This one looked
like she had tasted life and found it sour. He wondered what would
happen if he suddenly pulled her onto his lap and kissed her prim
little mouth till she was dizzy. It would serve her and his aunt
right for barging in on his evening.
"Randrik, I have to talk to you," the Prime Seeker
said, interrupting his survey of her student. "Is there somewhere
we can be private?"
"If you're going to invite me to join the Temple
again, I can tell you 'no' right here."
Her face twisted with exasperation, but there was
something else shading her frustrated anger.
"I have no intention of asking you to join the
Temple -- I doubt it would survive. But you at least owe me the
courtesy of listening to me," she snapped. "I did you one by coming
here myself instead of having you dragged in by the Watch."
He was all alert now, aware of undercurrents new and
uncomfortable. Threats weren't her style, especially with family.
Moreover, she knew they were the last weapons to use on him. His
smile still pleasant, he slowly put his feet back on the floor and
sat up straight. He stared at her, his eyes dangerous, but she gave
back as good as she got, neither impressed nor intimidated.
"You are one of the most Gifted people we have ever
tested," she continued, a note of pleading seeping into her voice,
"and I have always respected your choice to use your Talents as you
see fit. But -- Randrik, I need you."
That small worm of guilt he had buried earlier
started crawling out from under its rock again. Everything she said
was true -- and he had no doubt that he would long ago have been
drafted into Service if she hadn't run interference for him. When
had he ever heard her ask anyone for help?
"Ask me anything else and I'm at your service. But
I'll slit my throat with a dull knife before I give those
sanctimonious, narrow-minded pedants the opportunity to strangle me
in silk sashes. "
The Adept shifted her weight, drawing his eye again.
She was smiling to herself, and the smug look on her face annoyed
him. For some reason, the nasty little wretch was pleased that he
was refusing, as if he were doing exactly what she expected. She
was looking down her pert nose at him, a forest princess forced to
consort with gutter trash.
"Will you at least come and listen to what I have to
say? I swear if you still don't want to help me after that, you'll
not hear from me again."
She tried to hide it, but there was desperation
under her plea, and he had never known his aunt to be desperate
about anything. The Templars had an intelligence network second
only to Erdel's. If they had investigated the rumors, maybe they
had information he could use to buy himself a little more time.
Besides, it might help make amends to his mother if she knew he had
given her sister fair hearing. Nobody said he had to agree to do
"Let me finish here," he agreed abruptly, and
couldn't help feeling some small satisfaction at the startled look
that flashed in her eyes. He gave her his high-powered grin and she
frowned at him as if she suspected there were more to his sudden
capitulation than just a willingness to help. Still, she nodded
once, then pulled up her hood and turned to go.
"Later, then, " he acknowledged in his best seductive tone, running his eyes over the Adept from the top of her
red head to the hem of her robe and back. She turned bright pink
and yanked her hood up, too. So, she wasn't as immune as she wanted
him to think. This might actually prove to be interesting.
The Prime Seeker grimaced and shot him a look of
fond exasperation, then turned and motioned for the girl to follow
her out. The Adept obeyed, but not before she gave him a look of
scathing contempt that almost left a welt. He watched her go,
graceful despite the fact she moved nothing but her feet, and
wondered just what she was hiding under all those yards of wool.
"Didn't know they let them Nomad witches into the
Temple," the landlord's daughter hissed with distaste from behind
him. "'Spect they have to lock her up at night to keep her off the
Randrik felt a pang of anger, though he had heard
the same sort of bigotry before, and he nearly told the wench to
take her ugly mouth off and wash it with soap. Fortunately, his
sense of self-preservation curbed his tongue. The Wharf was a
steady job and he would be a fool to lose it, not to mention the
enthusiastic attentions of the aforementioned wench, over a
redheaded Temple stick.
He pulled the girl onto his lap instead and it
wasn't more than five minutes before she had much more pleasant
things to think about than Nomads.
Callisa gave a deep sigh as she stepped into the
sultry night. Behind her, the cacophony of the tavern died to a
murmur as Perian pulled the door shut and waited to be told what to
do. It almost made the Prime Seeker sigh again. She didn't need to
turn around to know the woman would be standing as though planted,
her hood adjusted to just the proper angle and her hands folded
into her sleeves.
"Perian, would you fetch the cart, please?"
Nodding obediently, Perian glided silently to where
they had left the pony cart. She climbed aboard with a minimum of
flexibility and drove to where Callisa waited. The Prime Seeker
hurried to get in before Perian had an opportunity to alight and
They started back toward the Temple, moving through
streets alive with shouts and laughter and singing. Callisa knew
there were other streets where such sounds were foreign, but
tonight she had hoped that an immersion in revelry might arouse
some spark of life in her protege. She should have known better.
"Do you never enjoy yourself, Perian?" she asked
"Of course, Prime Seeker," the woman answered
primly. "I take great pleasure in spending hours in the library,
exploring the archives and searching for new ideas."
"I'm sure you do," Callisa said, feeling an urgent
need to know that what she was about to do wouldn't be a complete
shock to the Adept. "But what about friends? Do you never go to the
market with friends or enjoy the company of a young man at a
concert or a play?"
The silence became uncomfortable before Perian
"It would be unkind of me to encourage any of the
young men, Prime Seeker," she said, her voice rough. "I am better
left to my work in the library."
I swear, the Prime Seeker thought, if I had ten
minutes alone with those ignorant bigots who made her this way I
would have to be restrained from killing them. What must they have
done to her to kill every sign of life and independence she had?
She had no answer to the question, and it was not
the policy of the Temple to inquire too deeply into the lives its
devotees led before entering its service. Perhaps if that had been
done five years before, the proposal she meant to make to Randrik
wouldn't have been necessary.
They continued for another few streets and were
nearly to the gate of the Temple before Callisa ventured another
"Do you know why I brought you with me tonight,
"No, Prime Seeker."
"Don't you have the least curiosity why I would
choose to take you to a waterfront tavern?"
Callisa knew she was starting to sound a little
desperate, but her conscience was being most insistent. If she
could only persuade the woman to show a little curiosity, she could
at least warn her that her narrow, self-regulated life was about to
"You wanted me to come and I did so, Prime Seeker.
Your business isn't my affair."
Aha! Callisa thought. I heard that, my girl, that
tone as though you had a bad taste on your tongue. You do have some
feelings and opinions.
She opened her mouth to pursue the issue, then
realized she couldn't unless Perian broke down her reticence and
asked. The Council's decision had left no leeway. Perian was not to
know what steps were planned to break down her Talent barriers. If
she did, she would probably resist to the point of making those
steeps moot. Randrik would come tomorrow -- sometime -- and she
needed his agreement to this... project...before she said anything
Perian halted the pony at the door of the Master's
quarters and climbed down from the seat to hand the reins to the
waiting guardsman. She remained there, a silent statue in Temple
white, until Callisa joined her.
"Good night, Perian. I'll see you in my quarters
tomorrow as usual."
The statue bent in the middle and then drifted
silently away into the shadows. Callisa watched until the pale blur
was gone, and then she sighed again.
By all the gods, she thought, I hope we are doing
the right thing.