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.He stood tall, shoulders back, and his gaze met Jyrbian’s squarely, without flinching.“It’s almost as if he doesn’t consider himself a slave at all,” Lyrralt murmured.Jyrbian, who usually was offhand with slaves as long as they performed their tasks with a minimum of efficiency, found the slave’s attitude unsettling.“A slave wearing decoration?” he questioned, pointing out the black-and-red stone wrapped in silver hanging from a silver chain on the slave’s neck.“It does seem a bit frivolous,” Lyrralt agreed.Despite his misgivings about the slave, Jyrbian was impressed with the quality and quantity of raw gems being processed from the mines.Igraine’s fields, also, were thriving.What could this philosophy do for his father’s estate?He glanced speculatively at his brother, who had edged away and was standing near Everlyn, listening as the slave explained their mining procedures.He sounded unbearably pompous.Yet Everlyn was smiling at him as if his words were as fascinating as thoughts from the gods.* * * * *Later that evening, Jyrbian lay in bed and remembered the slave and the way he held Everlyn’s attention.Jyrbian didn’t seem to be able to coax more than a pleasant but detached smile from her.He pulled the rope over the bed, which rang a bell in the kitchen.When the night slave entered his room hesitantly, minutes later, he was standing beside the window, naked, the moonlight shining on his magnificent skin.* * * * *Lyrralt, too, could not get the slave out of his mind.He could almost hear Igraine’s persuasive words.“Think of it, Lyrralt, a choice.A true choice.Decide for yourself what is right or wrong.Good or bad.”In the privacy of the room he’d been given, he opened the vial of water, rinsed and spat, touched ears and eyes.Worse even than Eadamm’s face, the whispered words that none of the others had heard kept returning.When Igraine had seen that the sight of Eadamm and the happy, confident slaves had intrigued him, had puzzled him, Igraine had whispered, “Free will, Lyrralt, such as only the humans who live on the plains have.To choose even which gods you will worship!”He banished the memory and prepared to pray, to meditate.There was no warning.No buildup of itching and tingling.The searing agony branded his flesh, speared him with instant pain.He writhed on the cold stone floor and cried repeatedly the name of his god until it was over.When sanity returned, and he could move his arm without torment, he sat up.It was several minutes before he dared look down at his arm.To his surprise, there was only one rune.Even with his novitiate’s eye, he had no trouble reading the augury.It had only one meaning: Doom.CHAPTER SIXMagic to Spill Men’s BloodOn the morning they were to start for Taker, Khallayne slept late.In her dreams she found herself alone in Igraine’s audience parlor.As she looked up at the constellations on the ceiling, they began to spin, moving faster and faster, until the pinpoints of brilliant light became magical threads, streams of silver, gushing across the sky.Her feet drifted upward.The embroidery on her tunic, which depicted an inferno, ignited.She could taste the smoke, smell charred skin, singed hair.Then Jyrbian was at her side, and Lyrralt, and Briah, smiling as their faces melted, as their flesh dripped in globs onto the floor.And still the constellations swirled, visible through the flames and smoke.And she, whirling in the flames, untouched, laughed and laughed and laughed.* * * * *Although the members were the same, the group that started back to Takar was not the noisy, playful one that had left three weeks before.Subdued, lost in thought, they rode the steep path single file.Instead of taking the faster route, through Therax Pass, the way they had come, Jyrbian had decided to return by a western trail that wound around the mountain and along a high ridge.Brian and her sister, Nylora, and Tenaj and her two cousins rode together and spoke in low whispers.Jyrbian, Khallayne, and Lyrralt rode apart, alone with their thoughts.The roar of rushing water drew them forward and upward.The sound at the beginning of the steep trail was just a distant hissing, but it grew louder and louder as the trail leveled and foliage thinned, becoming scrubby plants and tufts of grass.Right beside the waterfall, the sound grew deafening.The rushing water threw a rainbow of spray into the air, then fell away into the valley, a silver ribbon snaking its way through the fields.Stands of green-and-gold grain rippled gently in the breeze.Khallayne, riding in the middle of the group, reined in her horse and sat staring at the magnificent view before her.One corner of the fields, all Igraine’s land, was bisected by the river.Farther to the northwest, out of sight, was the manor, and even farther were the mines.She had been to the mines, riding with Igraine.There had been no special magic at work there, just the usual activities of slaves, the starting of cook fires, the wielding of common tools, jewels laboriously dredged up from the bowels of the earth.Those were mostly mundane tasks, which was disappointing, but the things Igraine had begun teaching her, spells of higher cunning than anything she’d stolen from humans, unusual wards of defense, were special.And there would be more.Just as soon as she could, she would make arrangements to return.“What do you think of it?” Jyrbian stopped beside her, interrupting her daydreams.“It’s breathtaking.”“I didn’t mean the view,” he said acidly.“I meant Igraine and his ideas.”“I don’t know.It’s… They’re… “ She was stalling.She knew exactly how she felt.Igraine’s ideas were at best dangerous, at worst treason.Lyrralt stopped beside them.“What if everyone decided to act in this fashion? What would happen, Khallayne? Our world is built on order.To each, his place.To everything, its reason.What will it mean if everyone chooses to behave anyway he or she pleases?”“For myself, I think I like the idea of choice.” Jyrbian nudged his horse on [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]