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.He moved past thousands of the great marsupial cats.They looked like wolves with exaggerated maws, sword-like canines, and orange and black stripes.Everywhere one looked, the tygres looked back.There were tapestries, etchings, tiny statues, ancient mangy stuffed specimens, necklaces of teeth, paintings of tygres tearing apart children.The styles were a hodgepodge, unimportant.All that had mattered to Bertold Ursuul was that they featured sword-tooth tygres.Dorian reached the top of the tower breathless, shivering from the cold, sorry that the food he’d carried had long lost its warmth, and apprehensive about who would be up here.If she were one of the Talented wives or concubines, she might smell the magic on him.The depth of the women’s ensnarement was such that any who found a traitor would report him immediately.Dorian knocked on the door.When it opened, his breath whooshed out.She had long dark hair, large dark eyes, a slender but shapely figure under a shapeless dress.No cosmetics heightened her eyes and none rouged her lips.She wore no jewelry.She smiled and his heart stopped.He’d never met her, but he knew that smile.He had seen that dimple on the left side, a little deeper than the one on the right.She was the one.“My lady,” Dorian said.She smiled.She was a small young woman with sad, kind eyes.So young!“You can speak,” she said, and her voice was light and pure and strong, the kind of voice that begged to sing.“They’ve only sent deaf-mutes before.What’s your name?”“It is death for me to speak, milady, and yet.How afraid of them are you?” Halfman asked.Giving his real name was the ultimate commitment.He wanted to throw it down at her feet and abandon himself to her whim, but that was madness on a par with the madness he’d escaped by throwing away his gift of prophecy.Jenine paused, biting her lip.Her lips were full, pink despite the coolness of this high tower.Dorian—for Halfman would never have dared—couldn’t help but imagine kissing those soft, full lips.He blinked, forcing things carnal from his mind, impressed that this young woman was actually devoting thought to his question.In Khalidor, fear was wisdom.“I’m always afraid here,” she said.“I don’t believe I will betray you, but if they torture me?” She scowled.“That isn’t much to give, is it? I will keep your confidence to the last extremity I can endure.It is a poor and lame vow, but I have been stripped of riches outside and in.” She smiled then, the same beautiful, sad smile.And he loved her.May the God who saved him have mercy, he couldn’t believe it was happening so fast.He’d never believed in instant love.Such a thing could surely be only infatuation or lust, and he couldn’t deny that he felt both.But at seeing her, he had an odd feeling of meeting an old friend.His Modaini friend Antoninus Wervel said such things happened when those who had known each other in past lives met.Dorian didn’t believe that.Perhaps, instead, it was his visions.At Screaming Winds, he’d been in trances for weeks.Though his memory had been mostly scoured of those images, he knew he’d lived lifetimes with this woman in those visions.Perhaps that had primed him for love.For he believed that this was real love, that here was the woman to whom he would yield body and mind and soul and future and hopes, unflinching.He would marry her, or no one.She would bear his son, or no one would.It was either that—or the insanity Dorian had feared for so long had finally caught up with him.“They call me Halfman,” he said.“But I am Dorian Ursuul, first acknowledged son and heir to Garoth Ursuul, and long since stricken from the Citadel’s records for my betrayal of the Godking and his ways.”“I don’t understand,” she said.Her forehead wrinkled.He’d seen that wrinkle, in his visions, when it had become a worry line, permanent on her brow.He had to stop himself from reaching a hand up to smooth it away.It would be too familiar.By the God, he thought he’d left all the confusions of being a prophet behind! “Why are you here?”“For you, Jeni.”She stiffened.“You may call me Your Highness, or—as you have evidently come at great risk—you may call me Jenine.”“Yes, of course, Your Highness.” Dorian’s head swirled.Here he was, a prince himself, being granted permission to address a young girl by her full name.That grated.And it disappointed.Love at first sight was bad enough, but finding out that it wasn’t mutual.well, he would have thought her a flighty girl if she’d thrown herself at him, wouldn’t he?“I think you’d better explain yourself,” she said.Stupid, Dorian.Stupid.She’s far from home.She’s seen her land laid waste by your people.She’s isolated.She’s scared—and you’re not exactly at your best for romance, are you?Ah hell, she thinks I’m a eunuch! There was a nice dilemma.How does one interject into a polite conversation, “By the way, in case you’re ever interested, I do have a penis.”?“I know it seems implausible, Your Highness,” he said.“But I’ve come to res.help you escape.”She put her hands on her hips—damn she was cute!—and said, “Oh, I see.You’re a prince.I’m a princess trapped in a tall tower.You’re here to rescue me.How droll.You can go tell Garoth I got teary-eyed and breathless—and then you can go to hell!”Dorian rubbed his forehead.If only the snippets he remembered of his visions had given him good ways to deal with Jeni’s—Jenine’s—anger.“All I need to know, Your Highness, is if you want to leave and risk death or if you’d rather stay in your comfortable tower until my father—who’s old enough to be your grandfather—comes to take your dignity, your maidenhead, and your sanity.You’re a little old for my father’s preferences, but since you’re a princess, I’m sure he’d give you a chance.If you produce a Talented son, you’ll be allowed to live.You will watch him grow up only from a distance, so that your ‘womanly weakness’ doesn’t cripple him.When he’s thirteen years old, the two of you will be reunited and allowed to spend the next two months together.Then my father will surprise both of you by visiting personally and asking what you’ve taught his seed in the time he’s given you.It doesn’t matter.What matters is it will be the first time your son will have had a god’s undivided attention.At the end of the interview, your son will be asked to kill you.It’s a test few fail.”Her big eyes had gotten huge.“You didn’t fail it, did you?”“The north is a brutal mistress, Your Highness.No one leaves her without scars,” Dorian said.“I’ve got a plan, but it won’t be ready for five days, and everything depends on getting through the pass to Cenaria before the snow flies and the passes close.All I need to know is, if I risk my life to come again, will you leave with me?”He could count the heartbeats while she thought.She surveyed her prison with clenched teeth [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]