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
 this afternoon."
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 met again. 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 to nervousness. "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 done. "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 help." "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 weeks." 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 clenched teeth. "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 recruits." 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 expressionless. "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 characteristic birthmark?" "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." Callisa sighed. "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, twisted offspring." 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 away. 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 latent Talents." 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 fortune. 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 reach. "Do you know, I would almost suspect you weren't happy with my company." "The Council has commanded. It is not my place to question them." Ah, what a wonderful opening! "Why not?" The look she gave him would have done mortal damage to a thinner-skinned man. "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 mouth. 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 fountain." 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.