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
 no one.
	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,
 no doubt."
	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
 help her.
	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
 change drastically.
	"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
 to Perian.
	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.