Sliver of Light-Chapter 2

Chapter 2 ~ Relationships

Amustere was in the throes of anxiety and too fitful to sleep. Deep misgivings clouded his sobriety of thought and concocted endless questions to ponder. I was so young then, and Verity a stranger to me, he thought as he sat up and scratched his scalp from bangs to the base of his neck. He felt that sleep would continue to elude him and saw no recourse to his frantic pace of thought. Sluggishly he heaved himself out of bed, into the moonlight and a stone windowsill upon which a finely crafted ceramic cup sat. What madness brings me to the cradle of the man responsible for the destruction of the Yyone royal family?

Amustere clasped the cup in his hand and its coolness reminded him of nights spent in Verity’s arms. Nights spent playing violin while she sang; nights when the summer heat and endless conversation were their unfettered companions. The white-hall chambers through which she would run just to fall laughing into his arms.

What happened that day? What manner of being can evade me so? Amustere thought, and then: Did I lie to Diver?

He watched the sway of forest shadows, turned his ears to night hunters and waited for an expected visitor. He refilled his cup, then emptied it in a single gulp. Moonlit shadows gave way to a slight breeze not unlike the whisper that wafted to his ear, warm and feminine. It said, “I am to see you dead, Goldfinch.”

“And yet I live.”

This was, of course, the essence of her message: If not a pounce to slay, then one to play. Amustere had not moved, and nor had she. She whispered, again, “You are cunning. A trip-ward would reveal me, and yet…”

“I did not lay any. What make you of that?”

“You had wont to see me again.”

“I will not deny that accusation, yet now you stand at my back. Am I at your mercy?”

She let a thrumming in her throat swell upward and fade. “Nay, you are very cunning.”

“I am very cunning,” Amustere said in a teasing tone. “For I do not fight alone.”

From the wall a shadow thrust toward the intruder’s midsection. Amustere stood away from the window sill and another shadow spiked so that its lethally sharp edge grazed her black leather armour. A third was parried by a cobalt steel dagger. Shadows crossed each other, and she evaded each with a dance-like fluidity that Amustere regretted he could not properly appreciate.

“Have you underestimated me?” he said, then thought, again. There, that should be the ‘out’ you need.

A puff of dust was followed by an abrupt flood of light which dispelled the shadow blades. The Felynx, fully visible, closed the distance between them and sank her blade into his chest. Amustere gasped, face tense with pain, then slackened against her. She slowly extracted the blade, which left no trace of entry, and lowered him to the floor. The darkness returned and she melted into it, departing from whence she came.

@~%~~

Danette knocked with an adorable impatience that bordered on fury. Amustere’s door was locked from the inside, so after an extended period of pounding, she enlisted the resources of the guard on standby. The white and brass haired young man manipulated a small orb embedded in the door, which then parted slightly.

“Amustere!” she cried and shoved open the door. “You fool…?”

He did not react to the slam of the door against the wall, nor her drop to knee and thud of chest. The young guard stammered, “Wh-hat is — ”

“Fetch the MasterHealer you lump!” Danette ordered. The fellow shuffled in leathers and light plate, hurried by the strange scene and her tone of command. Alone, she could diagnose his condition with what skill she possessed.

What irony, she thought, that my thread cutting talent comes to the aid of the ‘immortal’ Foxtear. She listened: His heart beat slowly but was muted in volume. There were strands of energy woven through and around his torso, but she could not begin to understand them, much less disentangle them.

He breathed, but his chest did not appear to rise or fall. Lifted eyelids revealed motionless eyes, but clear as though in respite. She pressed her palm to the inside of his wrist and noted that his skin was warm to the touch. She sat back and examined the scene.

She spied signs of a fight: An overturned jug of water, unmade bed, smashed cup and serrated gouges of a blade in the bed frame. His body was not cut and there were no blood stains, so his assailant must be likewise uninjured. Was this not an attack, but perhaps a feint instead?

“Girl! Tell me what’s on my floor just now?”

Danette’s head spun like a windmill gear to address the newcomer. The woman was draped in greys and whites and walked tall though she put weight upon a wispwood cane. By the condition of her skin she was advanced in years, but —

“Well? Answer me! There’s a body on my floor!”

Danette blinked. Several times. She shook her head and took a deep breath, then inclined her head toward the MasterHealer. “He’s not dead, sister Gretna. Yet he fails to respond to me.”

“Are you trying to be clever, with those words, girl? Do you tease him?”

“I never — ”

A smirk lit her weathered face and then went away. She knelt down by his head and prodded, “Not dead, is that what you say? Who taught you this skill to discern so finely?”

“It was my business… some time ago… to know the workings of the body.”

“You’ll not say then, eh? No matter.” MasterHealer Gretna Thornbolt leered at Danette and then dropped her fist onto Amustere’s chest quite hard. His entire body jolted, then lay still. She rumbled, “Stubborn man. Come out of it.”

Danette was stunned to see her strike him, rather methodically, twice more. He gave a great gasp and began to cough. Gretna cradled his head in her lap and pressed her hands to his face. Several minutes passed and he smiled recognition.

“That’s it, reckless child. Wake up. Now you’ll not say a word. Your voice is gone, and like as not for the next day you’ll say nothing. Try as you might.”

“What? Why?” Danette croaked.

Grenta chuckled in her direction. “You going to speak for him? Aye, well, you might, if you’ve any gift for hand signing.”

“I… yes. I do.”

“Naturally. Wisdom is preparation, is it not, Amus. Brush off your skills an’ you might chase off the weave sooner. The choice is yours.”

Amustere averted his gaze as one does in the presence of one’s teacher. Gretna called the guard over so that he might carry Amustere to his bed. Danette let out a little sigh and asked, “So he will recover? He will be well?”

“Well? Nay child. What an unlikely outcome,” MasterHealer Thornbolt remarked, and gave a nod to Danette for the assistance from her knelt position. “What he was yesterday is what he’ll be, less a night of rest. Come t’ think of it, what’s his business here?”

“Gift assessment of the royal twins,” Danette said. Grenta fixed an eye on her, let it rove. “An’ who the bells are you, girl? Married, I’ll have you, and a warrior. Speak up, now!”

Flustered, Danette clenched her hands, then unwound them. She answered: “His apprentice, Fawnshale.”

“Wisened?”

Danette nodded, almost sheepish.

“Good then. I’ve no doubt you’ve great polish,” she said, then looked her over again. “Fawnshale, give my best to August.”

And before she could retort it seemed the well aged woman had gone, carried on an errant breeze. Danette walked over to Amustere’s bedside. “Do you know her?”

Amustere nodded. He lifted a hand and signed the letters, ‘T-e-a-c-h-e-r.’

“Even that could not have escaped the scope of my imagination.”

@~%~~

They were unruly and he had no idea what to do with them. Danette was no better, for she played the games they dictated and made no demands. For an entire candlemark he sulked on a bench in the garden, walled in by twenty man tall brick. The sloped parapets were strange yet modern looking. Even so, his mind was preoccupied with their escape rather than completion of the task at hand.

Amustere was frustrated by the astute preparations of the man who bordered on paranoia. Danette’s enthusiastic performance prompted his attention and study of the Rainwall children. Insight and Lief were in deed and appearance twins. Amustere was reluctant to admit that Danette afforded him time to observe their true natures.

They played Tuck and Trick, an ages old hide and go seek game with a twist: One must spy the other in hiding by means of one’s inner awareness extended outward. At five, Insight had sharp instincts and remarkable patience, systematically surprising her brother when he would lose his own and run out into the open to locate her.

Amustere raised a hand over his head and Danette soon acknowledged it. She neared him and signed, ‘Done moping?’

‘Yes. Ask Insight how long she has been weaving for,’ he signed in reply.

Danette frowned for an instant, then left to relay the question. When she returned, Insight was in tow, amber eyes brimming with intelligence. She looked at Amustere. “If I say it to you will you understand me?”

Astute girl, Amustere thought. He nodded at her.

“Very well. But you must promise not t’ tell Father.”

‘Why?’

He could see that her toes curled in the soft leather shoes she wore, dirtied by all of the traipsing through the garden. A decidedly mature look took root in her eyes, and she said, “I cannot explain, but I have been taught t’ trust my heart.”

‘Very well. I promise,’ he signed, and Danette relayed. She rocked her head back and forth, distracted, and did not speak. Amustere chuckled soundlessly and signed, ‘It is my oath to you as a protectorate of Greatshale that this knowledge is to be bound in secret and not revealed to any soul except by your release.’

It was a laborious process to sign the entire phrase, but proper, and Insight was summarily satisfied. She smiled. “Sis’er Thorn’olt taught me a white weave. It’s for Lief.”

Well that was charming and incomplete, Amustere thought, amused. Lief burst out of a stand of brush and charged up to her. “He dint make an oath, Insie! Whya tellin him tha’!”

She looked at him and her ruby red hair flared to match his. She declared, “He did too y’just didn’t see it! He can’t talk r’memer?”

He pouted and crossed his little arms. “Aw but its embarrssin’.”

They bickered and chased each other around the garden some more until Lief outright collapsed. Danette, uncharacteristically frantic, scrambled over to him. Amustere followed quickly behind her. When she flipped him over his complexion was pale and breathing shallow. She noticed that Insight was calm, and had begun a meditative weave.

“What’s she doing?” Danette murmured, and Amustere signed, ‘The first white weave Gretna taught me: Sharing of Burden. It’s tricky and risky to take on his infirmity for one so young, but her heart is like a dragon.’

“How can she… who would… no, I… I quite understand.”

Amustere levelled his gaze at her for all of a moment, during which the message sank in. His awareness told him that she had practised this weave for several seasons already, and become stronger for it. Danette startled when Lief’s eyes opened, a sheepish regard for his condition upon his face. Insight hugged him with such intensity that Danette wept silently.

‘And that is her gift, granted at so tender an age.’

Danette signed back, ‘And what is it?’

‘The insight to protect her family, even from the parent who would threaten it.’

Danette’s lips pulled tight, pensive, but then transitioned into a smile of comfort as Insight helped Lief to his feet, and then to the bench beside Amustere, where he plunked down. He trembled, still feeble from the attack, but his eyes were clear and the amber of his pupils bright. “Master Foxtear, I’m sorry ‘bout mistrustin’ ya.”

‘You are forgiven, young master.’

His eyes went round as Danette spoke for Amustere, then narrowed. He said, “Fawnshale’s trustable too? Is she? Uhm,” he blushed but looked right at her face, “are you?”

Danette suppressed a charmed smile at his distinct show of respect. “I make an oath that your secret will not pass my lips, young prince.”

No apparent inclination toward energy weaving, nor of any gift attended by the Pillars of Creation, Amustere thought. Yet I detect an evenness of hand and firmness of being to surpass even that of the Five Lords. It was then that a short, stuffy attendant made himself known. As if crawling in his cloth garments, he said, “Pardon me, my Lord and Lady, Prince and Princess.”

Insight called from halfway across the garden. “What’s it Father wants, Druffy?”

His pound of flesh, Amustere thought sardonically. He looked to Danette who he expected to run interference. She did just that. Impatient, she said, “The MasterWeaver has yet to recover. What are his majesty’s wishes?”

“MasterWeaver Foxtear, your Highness requests your company in his study.”

Amustere signed at Danette, ‘I’m not to be alone with him.’

Danette looked up from his hands and said, “The MasterWeaver will — ”

“As you wish, MasterWeaver,” said Druffy, stuffily.

So that was settled, and after they bid the twins farewell, they followed Druffy to the waiting chamber. Danette asked, “Do all the servants read hand signs?”

Druffy ‘harumphed’. “Nay m’lady.”

“Then?”

“Tis not so much that I read, but sense.”

“Sense?”

“We have arrived,” he interrupted and stood beside a hardwood door.

Danette was confused. “What does ‘sense’ mean?”

Druffy checked that the halls were clear, then motioned for her to come closer. She leaned in and he said, “I have the gift of comprehension.”

His little punctuating nod puzzled her further in conjunction with the weak preface. It was clear by the short fellow’s demeanour that she was not going to have any further explanation. Amustere nudged her and signed, ‘He means that understands communication by virtue of his Pillar granted gift. You could safely venture that includes all kinds of communication.’

He headed into the waiting chamber. Danette stood in the hall for a moment, befuddled. She said, “I still don’t… oh… wait!”

Druffy did not shut the door when she relented and accompanied Amustere into the King’s study, but waited outside the room. Inside were books stacked upon shelves that lined the single, semi-circular wall to the ceiling. Amustere took a volume and began to study it. When Danette selected one, she discovered that none of the text was decipherable. She flipped through from cover to cover and then brought it to Amustere, who shrugged. Danette felt a presence behind her, but did not turn.

“That is a Starwise volume. The… yes, recorded history of crysolen. It is the only one of its kind in all of Greatshale.”

Dread shot through Danette, and she replaced the volume into the empty slot where it had rested. King Rainwall passed in front of her to a reclined, carved ironwood seat and took his place upon it. He smiled, mouth closed, then said, “I tease. There is no history of crysolen recorded by anyone. That is a book about botany.”

Pillars of light poured down into the room and Danette gave them no thought, just the peculiar attitude of Ponteous Rainwall. She said, “You have an unusual sense of humour, my liege.”

Ponteous’ blank expression skuttled the remark and any possible rebuttal. Amustere bowed slightly and signed something. Danette blanched and turned even whiter when Ponteous requested she relay his question. She signed at Amustere, ‘Why would you ask that?’

‘What have I said about trust?’ he responded.

‘No! Absolutely not! I should start — ’

Ponteous sighed to indicate the state of his patience. He pronounced, “This fellow and I are bound upon the duelling sands. Bound until ‘just blood is spilt free’, so I am to understand. Were I he, and I am not, I must suppose he asks who I sent to kill him.”

To write it is one thing! To stand amidst them in this manner is quite another! Danette thought and stumbled back, light headed. She looked to a nearby seat, Ponteous waved a hand, palm down, and she sat. Amustere signed, ‘You must repeat me to him without hesitation.’

“Shards, fine!” Danette snapped.

“Have you agreed to his terms?” Danette’s silent glare satisfied his request. Rainwall pondered aloud: “Either he has not asked who, or we are bound only by words.”

‘Do not the claws tempt, Ponteous,’ Amustere signed sharply.

As the words fell from Danette’s indifferent recitation, Ponteous’ expression hardened. He said, “I admit it was a child’s hope. Now, of children, what of mine?”

‘A silver tail burrows into clouds that it may call its home, laying wait to — ’

“Your indignance bores me, Amus. Your death today would have given me an advantage. Nothing more.”

Amustere threw up half a grin as the rest fell flat. Having given the report much thought, he said, ‘Insight shows early talent in energy weaving, and Lief none at all.’

Ponteous’ mouth lifted like curling waves at either end, a disconcerting smile of appeasement. He intertwined his fingers, hands even with his mouth. “Is there any sign of weave mastery?”

‘Some. She is driven by her familial affection.’

Amustere’s answer irritated Ponteous, whose expectations were probably unreasonable. Upturned lips reversed their flow. “It has always been this way with the girl. I have hope yet that Lief will display strategic talent, but you say nothing of it. You presume not?”

‘He lacks patience but is very diplomatic.’

As Danette spoke, Rainwall’s attention did not deviate from Amustere. “Diplomacy has its uses. Druffy! Come here,” he beckoned, then demanded a cup of wine, and held everyone hostage until it arrived. He sipped once, then again, and then said, “Foxtear, now that I have failed, you are to have your chance. Is that not the tenor of your arrangement?”

Danette was aghast at Amustere, whose rigid visage was illegible. Amustere made several motions with his hands, but they were not signs. She had never before seen their ilk, but a moment later she was witness to their intent.

“The tenor, as you put it, is clear and you are bound to play along,” Amustere said, voice as neutral as his face. “Answer me this: Do you know anything about the death of my wife?”

“Aye.”

Frustration trickled into the stony mask Amustere wore. He could not afford to be vague for time was short. He asked, “Can you tell me what you know?”

Danette seemed puzzled by this, and Ponteous simply replied, “I cannot.”

King Rainwall sat forward and set his glass upon a small carved table to his right. Amustere shifted his stance slightly, body tense. Danette stood, attentive to her ally.

“Since the advantage is forfeit, and your task complete, I ask you now: Will you give me the location of the crown?”

To Danette, Amustere sounded much like Ponteous when he said, “I will not.”

“Then we are even. Druffy will escort you to your mount and you will receive your payment. Until next we meet, Amustere Goldfinch.” Amustere and Danette had nearly exited the room when Rainwall added, “I had hoped to make the acquaintance of the Browfine woman, but I regret that shall never be. Good day.”

Chilled, Danette kept silent while they followed Druffy to a guard who situated a weighty pouch in Amustere’s hand. Then they were guided to Nestle, who greeted Danette with an affectionate nudge of head against her shoulder and face. She seemed to sense her agitation, and Danette scratched her mane between her ears for reassurance. Amustere untied the reign from a post and gave it to her. They then walked out of the stable and into the courtyard.

“What is going on, Amus?” Danette prodded. The courtyard was empty, except for the permeating air of tension that drifted about them.

“Tell me how many are in this courtyard,” he commanded, but softly. She concentrated and murmured, “Two, beside us.”

“Beside us?”

“Other than.”

“Ah. Get ready to ride, but don’t mount up,” Amustere warned. “Where are they?”

“One is at the gate, the other is behind us.”

The air was stale, stagnant, rich with the odors of sawdust, sweaty leather and hot coals. Whomever Rainwall chose must reasonably know their quarry. A bowman would be of no use, nor would a swordsman, Amustere reasoned. Then he observed a cloaked individual standing tall over the gate. He clasped the companion stone and uttered a phrase under his breath.

The head of the cloak jolted upward, and arms raised up with white arcs of light surrounded by fiery motes. The arms dropped down and threw the arcs in Amustere’s direction. Danette steeled herself, dagger up in hand to parry. The twang of a bow, twice, loosed behind them. The arrows sank into the ground where the arcs charred a black circle.

Amustere, Danette and Nestle were gone.

@~%~~

Everything was white. Danette stumbled and grasped, then fell to one knee, dagger hand at the ready. A hand landed comfort upon her shoulder and gradually the white receded. It was like a giant sunspot, and shapes of a stocky face and body focused upon her in silhouette.

“ ‘Ey now, you alright?”

The accent of his voice was strange, and Danette stared hard until she could read features. Broad chin, thick brow and blocky shoulders. Not Amustere! she thought, and tried to get to her feet.

“Y’r stumblin’ up about all over, missy,” said the felor. “Have a drink. What’s y’r name?”

“Da — ” she started, but thought better of it. “Fawnshale. Weaver Fawnshale.”

“Scarjilt. Bow Scarjilt. I’m blacksmith here in Easterviel,” he introduced, and Danette could see it. Stocky, very muscular, but not sculpted. Raw strength, full head of hair and a kindly, round face. “Pretty new, and pretty too. Whereabouts y’ from?”

Danette’s mind spun, memories spurned. She thought, what happened? No, I’m in Easterviel?

A pond over which a pier had been built was nearby, and Danette ran to it. She dunked her face into the water and came up with a loud gasp. Bow laughed, certain he understood. Danette wiped her face with her sleeves and… what was she wearing?

Leather, farming leathers, in fact. Thick sun-faded brown pants and a heavy sheepskin coat. The sky was laden with dark clouds that masked the sun while cool air brushed her face. Don’t panic, she thought, don’t do it. There is an answer. Where is Amustere?

Danette checked her pockets. They were empty of any familiarity. She found, instead, a spool of thread, a leather-working tool and a ironwood marker. The marker bore the symbol of the crown and a name:

Shiri Lender. Commissioned Royal Leatherworker.

The second part made no sense, but she held firm to the fact of her beating heart. She laid hand on her fitted belt, and asked of Bow, “New? How new? Are we not known to each other, if I have been here long?”

“Slow down, woman. Mayhap you’ll want another drink to ease your troubled spirit.”

Danette glowered at Bow, whose voice had lowered to a solicitous tone. She took another glance at the clouds that gathered for a thunderstorm in the sky. “Mayhap.”

Bow picked up the heavy bag he had dropped in aid of Danette, and started to walk. She followed him. They were on the edge of Easterviel territory, and the brick border markers were still within sight. Memories returned with a fierceness that slashed at the inside of her head and she groaned.

“Come now, y’ve been off the dust for a spell an’ that’s vengeance,” he chided. “Bow don’t tell lies. Lakeface is no cure for the itch.”

“Lake.. face?”

He grinned toothily. “Stuck your face in the lake. Lake meets face. Lakeface.”

“Why?”

“Tried facelake, and it don’t sound no good.”

That was the bulk of their conversation until they arrived at a ramshackle house in much disrepair. It was low slung with a thatched roof, and Bow joked and called it a fire trap. His outdoor furnace was cold and looked to have been for many months. It was dark inside as though the light was blocked by… Danette thought, a weave?

Ever the gentleman he opened the door for her. Inside was a different story. Danette’s hand dropped from her head, all but agape. The space had shrunk, and the words from her mouth popped out: “Strange! It’s smaller inside.”

Footsteps lighter than before closed in behind Danette. He took her by the shoulders and eased her to sit on his bed. At first she struggled, but then she saw him. It was Amustere, and several emotions welled up at once. Anger, happiness and then the disconsolate doubt and anxiety that crowded in behind them.

Amustere put a ceramic cup in her hand. “Drink. Your mind will clear. Do it, before you say a word.”

Her mouth opened, and she brought the cup to her mouth and gulped quickly. The jabbing pain faded away, replaced by an ease of calm. More memories opened up, like boxed crystalline jewels. Some were sparkhewn, lively with lancing power. Others flashed with wild heat, the threat of seared flesh conflicted in beauty.

“You saved us,” she said, at length.

“We are alive, no more than that. My failure, as a student of weaving, is that I am a waste at transportation.”

“No, that’s not what I want to know.”

“I thought you would be angry.”

Danette glared at him, restrained, motherly. She said softly, “I am.”

Amustere swallowed, his typical dispassion not present. He took a breath and said, “Then I will tell you what I remember.”

Danette proffered the cup, and tilted it a little so that he would refill it. He took it and poured from a jug on the dinner table adjacent, and then returned it to her hand. He began: “A weaver of the elements, a Dire Woven, attacked us in the courtyard of Chalcedony Castle. Does that sound memorable?”

“Memorable? Your choice of word is interesting. Yes, I remember him. He was not alone.”

Amustere patted at a bruise in his shoulder and winced. “Aye, in his company was an archer, a Easterviel sharpeye. The King knows me well, and so the Dire and sharpeye were, assurance, that I would not take a swipe at his silver thread.”

She wanted to know badly what she was missing, but her curiosity about their conversation was prominent. “He was honest with you as if you… as if he… you, had authority over him.”

Amustere smiled stiffly and nodded. “When I was young I laid a binding oath upon him, but in my inexperience became caught up in the weave. We live on equal terms; honesty, lies, actions for or against each other. They must balance.”

Danette was taken aback, but the pieces fell perfectly into place in her mind. “So that is why he made a treaty with the coastal territories. Now I see the reason for his anxiety, and his discomfort at the dinner that night.”

“He could remove the Yyone family from power, but not its progeny,” Amustere said, and Danette was perplexed. “They were sheltered away from the massacre. When I laid my curse upon him, his hand was stilled. He could not pursue their silver threads any longer.”

“I had long suspected that,” Danette observed, terse. “He lives in fear of you.”

“Yes, in his way,” Amustere confirmed.

Danette blinked at this then asked, “What was your intent for the weave?”

“I was a child, I did not comprehend the consequence of the oath. I thought,” he sighed, “that I could cause him to become an honest man. I was gravely mistaken. His offer of protection and taxation brought with it the purpose of his warlike soul.”

“I have written many versions of his speech to you, but always the one that people ask for is the version that ends with you on hands and knees, weeping,” Danette reminisced. “You must know it.”

“Bravesire is a valiant character, but nothing like me,” Amustere remarked. “Aye. I know it, I know… it. Our conflict was far bloodier than your imagination, however. The King very nearly had my heart from my chest, and I his head from his neck. Were it not for MasterWeaver Thornbolt we would be dead and lingering in the mists of legend.”

Danette sipped at her drink, brow furrowed. “Then your hatred runs deep.”

Amustere made no effort to look anywhere but through the nearest window. He said, rather indifferently, “You desired to face him, and now you know his face.”

Danette raised a brow and opened her mouth as if to speak. She closed it and then shook her head. “Tell me how we escaped.”

“Well… I made an attempt at a very risky trick, and it went wrong.”

Danette emptied the cup and glanced at it as though deciding how it might break. “What did you… how did you get us out?”

“I did something very simple. Something you should never do. I shattered the companion stone.”

Rage rose up in Danette and she swallowed it. She closed her eyes and remembered August and Pewter. They must be safe. They were safe, she could feel it. It must be so. Nothing else was important. Amustere waited for her eyes to open again, and he chanced eye contact. She was calm.

“By doing that we were ejected by the coded barrier. I had hoped we would be shunted to the gate from which we would ride into Goldspire Forest, but I underestimated the King. All be told, we were removed to Easterviel, a full season later. You were livid, but in time we agreed to travel home.”

“And August? Pewter? A full season?”

I’m getting there… he thought, and said, “His lordship burned your home to the ground. We learned that he issued the order the very day of our visit. August and Pewter were safe at Greenswede farm, but he was not content. He learned of their whereabouts and sent Sir Flinstein and Sir Birhelm to find you.

“Lady Afterwillow is a resourceful one, and thwarted them. She convinced them that August and Pewter were in grieving for your loss and had sworn oath never to leave Traviel. They set an orshel stone in watch. We could not return.”

“I would not have you tell me what that means.”

Amustere just nodded, then continued, “Lady Afterwillow arranged a secret meeting and we… chose to go into hiding. They know you’re alive, but for now we… oh…”

The tears had built up unexpectedly and poured out like minuscule waterfalls. Danette was not known for outbursts, ever temperate and self mastered. Her throat pulled, chest tightened and the sobs came. Amustere searched for a cloth, and found a handkerchief sewn by Verity decorated with small flowers in bunches. Amustere choked up, sympathetic, but braced himself. He handed her the handkerchief and sat back, quiet, while she wept.

Later, Amustere prepared and served a light meal; salad with sliced fungus, dainty leaves, sprouts and a dusting of strong, white cheese. When she asked about the oil dressing, he called it ‘Sweet Oil,’ and she pestered him that the name was obvious. He agreed that it was.

His taste in furniture was not sophisticated, but choice of utensils quite modern. The imported Starwise implements were unusual but useful. Fork, spoon and knife, he explained, and demonstrated the use of the first.

Danette chewed, swallowed, and then said, “This is nice. I… I’m…” The slashing pain announced itself again, and she knew at once why. “Shards! Amus, I’ve eaten this meal before!”

Amustere did not pause to answer, and this also dredged up another memory. She dropped the fork with a clatter and pushed away from the table and so rocked the jug. Amustere caught it and gauged her while he ate. His evenness of temper was aggravating!

Her stomach growled, but then her appetite ceased, a wall of memories framed in her mind. Her arms dropped, hands supported her upper body, head lowered. She raised it and said, “I’m going away, Amustere.”

His face stiffened, inert. “If you must.”

She backed away from the table and said, “I do not know what you could have done. But, I will not know peace until he is dead.”

The food soured in his mouth, revulsion making it hard to swallow. He did so anyway. “Are you going to pursue him?”

She crossed to the threshold, and with her back to him, asked, “What do you suppose?”

Amustere set down his fork upon the plate, stood and looked to her. Danette returned his regard, an expression betwixt wan and determined upon her face. “You will come out of hiding?”

“Bow will disappear,” he supplied quickly.

“Good. If I am slain August must know from you what became of me.”

“I swear I will tell him, should you…”

The doorway emptied, and Amustere realized that the trust he had ceased to demand was granted eternal significance.

To Be Continued

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