My, they were eager. Whether they would stick to the agreement
was something else.
"In that case, my lady, you have a deal. Now, if you'll excuse
me, I need a bath. "
He turned to leave, but as he passed her she caught his arm.
"I expect you to behave like a gentleman, Randrik alt
Harbinnen," she declared sharply.
He caught her hand and kissed it.
"You worry too much, my lady," he said. "After all, you don't
hire a blacksmith and then tell him how to shoe your horse. Until
Perian watched the reprobate minstrel from the tavern strut out
of the Prime Seeker's office, although not even Callisa would have
known it. She watched him because instinct warned her she was not
seeing the last of him. Reading his aura would at least give her
some information about why -- and how to deal with him when they
She was surprised when she failed. He was as shielded from her
probe as a belted Master, something that shouldn't have been
impossible for an untrained fortuneteller from the street. It also
made her very nervous, a feeling she detested. She was a trained
Adept and supposedly free of the lack of confidence that admitted
"What troubles you, Perian?" Callisa asked her, crossing to sit
behind her desk.
Despite their differences in rank, Perian was able to speak her
mind to the Prime Seeker without fear of retaliation. Even so,
judging that there was some connection between Callisa and the
musician, she hesitated. Oh, well, might as well say it and be
"I cannot help wondering why the Council has sought that man
out if it has no intention of recruiting him for the Temple. "
"You don't care for him?"
"He is rude, inconsiderate, arrogant and irreverent. And if the
smell of perfume is any indication, he is given to immorality. He
is certainly not the sort of person I would have expected you to
make a special trip into the lower regions of the city to beg for
"Not your sort of individual at all, is that it?"
Perian's belly quivered again with warning, and she took two
deep, calming breaths before she answered.
"No, my lady."
"That is unfortunate, because that you will be working closely
with Randrik on the orders of the Council for the next several
Perian managed to hide her trepidation, but only just. What
possible reason could the Council have for wanting her to work with
such a person?
"May I ask the nature of the project?" she asked through
"We are hoping to unlock the barriers that are preventing you
from using your full range of powers," Callisa said casually.
"Randrik has certain -- talents -- that we feel may work where our
standard methods haven't."
"I must respectfully refuse, Prime Seeker," Perian answered
promptly, not even having to think about it. "Such a program would
be hazardous in the extreme and I will not endanger even someone
like that man solely for my own advantage."
Callisa looked at her silently for a much-too-long moment and
then leaned back in her chair.
"Your concern is commendable, Perian, but I'm afraid the matter
isn't negotiable. I will explain more when Randrik returns. For
now, I believe you have a report for me on the new class of
Trained to obedience, Perian stifled the protest that beat
against her lips and did as she was ordered. Had she been asked to
remember the last time she had argued or complained or acted on a
moment's impulse, she couldn't have complied. Rebellion was
dangerous; emotions were to be tamed and kept on a tight leash if
she were ever to overcome the inherent wildness of her nature. If
that meant being in the company of someone she found utterly
abhorrent, then so be it. She would manage.
She had been managing all her life.
Resplendent in black leather that clung to his skin like a
lover's kiss, guitar slung on his back, Randrik used the front gate
to the temple when he returned just after noon. A long, hot soak
and a few hours of sleep had improved his attitude sufficiently
that he was actually looking forward to cracking the frost on the
Ice Princess. After considering what little Callisa had been
willing to tell him, he was certain he could learn more about the
Estlin situation if he could just spend enough time in the Temple
enclave. There had to be more to this than a lot of old fairy tales
and legends -- he'd done enough fortunetelling to know just how
much credence to give prophesies. Even learning just what Talents
the Council believed their Adept to have might give him a clue to
what they knew.
Callisa was alone when he reached her apartment, and again she
bolted the door. He wondered briefly whether she was trying to keep
other people out or him in. She looked him over carefully, her face
"As you see, Prime Seeker," he said, "The actor, the costume
and the prop are all in place. Our little farce can begin anytime.
Where is my leading lady?"
"She'll be here shortly. I just wanted to make sure you
understand what I want you to do."
"I know what you want me to do, lady. What I don't understand
is just what it is about this girl that has you tied up in knots.
It can't just be because of a lot of antique poetry -- and bad
poetry at that."
Callisa paced to the desk and leaned on it with both hands, her
head bowed. He waited while the silence went on to the point of
discomfort. Shortening it himself, though, would be interpreted as
curiosity and he knew better than to give her that much of an edge.
Finally, she straightened up and turned to face him.
"Do you know that each member of a Nomad clan carries a
"I had heard something like that. Each clan has a particular
shape -- a star, a crescent moon, a leaf. It passes from father to
daughter and mother to son and they use it to avoid incest taboos,
if I'm not mistaken."
"You aren't. " She paused again, then took a deep breath.
"Before I came to the Temple and Ellisia married your father, we
lived in one of the Fringe villages where Nomads come to trade. On
one market day, I met a boy -- a young man really. We fell in love.
"It was hopeless, of course. He was already pledged to another,
and such pledges are unbreakable among the Drevnya. He was Laurel
Clan, his mark was a four-pointed star. Perian has that same mark."
"I thought you were supposed to give up past personal
attachments when you joined the Temple."
"So we are, nephew, so we are. And had you asked me any time
before I saw her mark, I would have sworn I had done so. And will
so swear if you mention this to anyone else. To see this child who
might have been mine dying by inches because of the ignorance of a
pair of dirty-minded backwoods farmers breaks my heart."
"Come now, Aunt Callisa, isn't that a bit melodramatic?"
"Gods save me, you mean there is actually something you don't
know?" she smiled, though there was pain in it. "Randrik, Nomads
aren't like you and me. If we repress our emotions and our Talents,
we may become ill in one way or another, but the disease is rarely
fatal. For them, it is. If Perian cannot be brought to accept her
emotional side completely and unreservedly and so release her
Power, she will die. And to do that she must -- make love."
Randrik leaned his guitar against the desk and went to the
window. He placed his foot on the seat and leaned on his knee,
gazing at the activity in the courtyard below without really seeing
it while he mulled over what she had said.
"So," he said finally, "is this about opening up a Power for
the Temple or saving your lover's clanswoman?"
"For me? Both. I don't mind saying that what's going on in
Estlin frightens me, not just because of what happened to Simeon,
but because I sense a force there unlike anything I've ever known.
And because I see and hear changes happening everywhere for which I
have no logical explanation. But keeping that young woman alive
means more to me than fulfilling a prophecy. I would want her set
free even if afterwards she vanished into the Old Forest and was
never heard of again."
"What ‘changes'?" he prompted, catching the scent of something
that might prove advantageous. His aunt always kept silent about
Temple affairs. It was intriguing that suddenly she seemed to have
forgotten all her vows, at least enough to confide her fears to
someone she trusted. That didn't mean he wouldn't use any
information he could gather to his advantage, only that he would
need to find another source for it.
"The weather, Randrik. Or are you going to tell me it's common
for us to have midsummer weather a week after the equinox. It
hasn't rained in two months, fields are turning to dust and in the
east we have had reports of animals giving birth to strange,
She might have said more, but a tap on the door interrupted
them and she hurried to throw the bolt. Perian glided in, her body
held so stiffly that her robes barely moved. She looked right
through Randrik, as though if she ignored his existence he would go
Callisa sat down behind her desk and looked back and forth
between the two of them.
"I won't waste any more time -- the project the two of you will
be working on is much too important. So, Perian, this is my nephew,
Randrik alt Harbinnen. He has been engaged to work with you on your
From his vantage point behind them, Randrik could watch the
girl without her being able to reciprocate. Callisa's announcement
seemed to fall off her like rain off a slate roof, but he was more
observant. He saw the minute twitch of her spine, the infinitesimal
tremor of her shoulders as she reacted to the news of who he was.
It told him what he needed to know. The lady wasn't without
feelings. She simply had them penned in as tightly as she could,
locked inside a cage of will and a determination that they were
never going to escape.
They would just have to see about that.
"Does either of you have any questions about the nature of this
project? No? Then, I suggest you begin at once."
Perian bowed respectfully and turned to go, very careful to do
it so she moved away from instead of toward him. She likely would
have swept out just as swiftly and silently as she had swept in if
he hadn't decided it was time for lesson one.
"I'm not ready to leave yet."
She stopped dead, so still she might have been marble. Callisa
looked at him in surprise, then nodded once in understanding and
leaned back in her chair as she realized what he was doing. Good,
then, she was really going to let him do this his own way.
Taking his time, he sauntered over to pick up his guitar and
then went to Perian's side.
"Just where were you going, anyway?" he asked her.
"There are several suitable study rooms in the Academy. I'm
certain any one of them will suffice."
"Not today, sweetheart. I think I'd much rather work in the
Watergarden. Shall we?"
Without giving her a chance to start without him, he grabbed
her hand and strode out the door fast enough that she had to trot
to keep up with him. If she wanted to fight, she would have had to
plant her feet and try to keep him from dragging her bodily down
the stairs. He was gambling she was too much on her dignity for
that. He was right.
The Watergarden was one of many small, secluded groves
scattered throughout the Temple complex. They were meant to provide
the student, the master, the troubled civilian with a quiet,
out-of-the-way spot in which to meditate or study or pray without
danger of interruption. If they were also ideal spots for lovers to
share a kiss -- or more -- well, that was purely Randrik's good
This was one of his favorites, an oval of tall flowering hedges
inset with arbors shading wide benches of white-painted wrought
iron. A spiral walk of tiny gravel stones bordered on each side
with beds of pale pink sweetbalm and dark rose ladybells wound
through the close-clipped lawn to the fountain in the center of the
enclosure. Surrounded by a balustrade lined with more benches, an
artesian spring leaped into the air to cascade down
artfully-arranged rocks to a shallow pool. From there a tiny
streamlet wandered out through a narrow tunnel under the hedge.
Escorting his reluctant pupil through the shaded arch of the
entrance, Randrik turned the marker on the gatepost. That would
warn any other potential user that the garden was occupied and
privacy was desired. Perian yanked her hand from his grip the
moment he stopped, shoving both hands into her sleeves out of
"Do you know, I would almost suspect you weren't happy with my
"The Council has commanded. It is not my place to question
Ah, what a wonderful opening!
The look she gave him would have done mortal damage to a
"Obedience to those whose wisdom surpasses our own is the
greatest joy," she prated through stiff lips
He laid his guitar on a bench under an arbor and returned to
her, standing so close she would have had to look up to meet his
eyes -- had she had the inclination to do so. Instead, she stared
stubbornly straight ahead, which meant she had a closeup view of
his bare chest through the open front of his vest.
"I've never seen anyone look less joyful in my life, little
one," he said softly, running his finger across her tight-pinched
She jumped out of reach, twin streaks of peach on her
cheekbones. He took one step forward, and she two back, maintaining
the distance between them.
"If you continue this, I will be forced to complain to the
Prime Seeker," she hissed.
"And tell her what, exactly?"
He stepped toward her again, and again she fled.
"I will not be treated like a common streetwalker."
"Of course not."
She had already opened her mouth to argue, only to find herself
with nothing to say. Instead, she was left to analyze what he had
said to see if it were really an insult in disguise. Before she
could get her intellectual feet under her, he changed course again.
"Shall we begin, then, Adept Perian?" he said, all formality
and distance. "If you'll be good enough to be seated there on the
Automatically she obeyed the hint of command he put into his
voice, perching uncomfortably on the edge of the base of the
fountain. It was just high enough that she couldn't sit in her
favorite position with both feet flat on the ground and too narrow
for her to balance on. He waited to see if she would move to one of
the benches, or at least protest the awkwardness of her seat. She
didn't, apparently preferring to suffer the indignity in silence
rather than assert herself in the face of a direct order.
He picked up his guitar and sat down with his back propped
against one arm of the bench. Apparently unnoticing of the
uncomfortable woman on her precarious perch, he began to play.