The trading ship Vanguard Voyager sailed smoothly through the calm green waters of the Laraka River. Cydric Araesto and Mandi Mercallion stood at the rail, watching the town of Port Sevlyn slowly come into view along the left bank.
“At long last,” Cydric remarked. “It’ll be great to get back on solid ground again.”
Mandi clapped her hands excitedly. “Party!” she exclaimed.
“Where?” Cydric looked at her quizzically. “What party are you talking about?”
“The one that Uncle Quill and the Lord Mayor of Port Sevlyn always throw for Brynna whenever she gets back from a voyage,” Mandi replied. “Long voyages I mean, like when she got back from Bichu, but after they hear about how we gave Challion and his pirates a good thumping I’m sure they’ll have one for her–probably not tonight but for sure tomorrow night, or the next night at the very least. I’ve just got to get a new dress!”
Cydric stretched and leaned against the rail. “I’m sure you’ll have a nice time. Myself, I just want to get to a decent tavern. I haven’t had a good Lederian since we left Shark’s Cove.”
“You’ll have a nice time too,” Mandi said. “The Lord Mayor stocks plenty of Lederian.”
“Is the whole crew invited to this party?” Cydric inquired.
“Truthfully, no.” Mandi twisted a strand of her tawny-auburn hair. “Well, except for Kayne and Scarabin, they’re always invited. But since you did help save the ship I’m absolutely sure Brynna will invite you as well. She owes you that much.”
“It’s not necessary. I’m not all that fond of parties anyway.”
Mandi’s jaw popped open in surprise at his comment. “Why on Makdiar not? There’s food, music, dancing–it’ll be fun! Don’t tell me you wouldn’t want to go.”
“I’ve been to enough of them to know what goes on. I’d rather spend my evenings engaged in more meaningful activity.”
“Really? I didn’t know scribe’s sons got invited to the Mayor’s mansion very often.”
Cydric started to reply, but decided to let the remark pass. He didn’t want to start any conversation that would lead him to reveal his true past. To change the subject, he pointed out towards the docks. “Say, isn’t that a Navy ship over there?”
Mandi snapped her fingers. “I know what it is. You’re worried about showing up without a date! I can take care of that for you. I know lots of girls who’d–”
Cydric put his hand over her mouth. “Mandi, even on the wild chance that I did get invited, there’s nothing you could say or do that would make me go.”
Light chamber music mixed with the sound of many simultaneous conversations filled the spacious feast hall of the Lord Mayor’s mansion.
“It was very kind of you to invite me to this celebration,” Cydric said to Brynna Thorne. The twenty-seven-year-old captain of the Vanguard Voyager nodded and tipped her wine glass. “Quite welcome, Cydric,” she replied. “Mandi convinced me that double the usual voyage pay wasn’t enough of a reward.”
Cydric made to protest that it was more that enough, but the silver-haired gentleman standing next to Brynna clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Now, now, Brynn. You can’t put a price on bravery such as his.”
“Thank you, Lord Thorne,” Cydric replied, “but I didn’t do all that much. The bow was enchanted; anyone could have made the shot.”
Lord Quillien Thorne shook his head. “The dweomer is such that it makes good archers even better. You underrate your own skill. Myself, I think you’re a fine addition to my daughter’s crew.”
A large brown-bearded man in rich maroon robes approached them, accompanied by a tall woman in similarly elegant dress. “Quillien! Brynna!” the man called. “You’ll be pleased to know that Captain Hellriegel has just captured the last of the Black Swan’s crew–even that Danner fellow. The messenger was just here.”
“Excellent news,” said Lord Thorne, looking to Brynna for her reaction.
“That’s wonderful! Thank you, Lord Mayor,” Brynna said. “The Navy’s certainly done their job. I’ll have to send him a note of thanks before he leaves.”
“They ought to be the ones thanking you,” said the woman, who was the Lord Mayor’s wife. “All those months spent chasing down Challion and Skoranji and their mangy lot–then look who brings them in!”
Brynna smiled. “You’re too kind, milady. Some of the credit, though, belongs to Cydric here.”
Suddenly feeling uncomfortable, Cydric said, “I think I’ll go and tell Mandi that Danner’s been captured. She was concerned that he might come back for her. If you’ll excuse me?”
“Enjoy yourself,” said the Lord Mayor. Cydric nodded to everyone, then took his leave. He spotted Mandi by the musicians and made his way over.
“Did you have a nice chat with Brynna and Uncle Quill?” Mandi asked. Cydric answered affirmatively, then told her about Danner’s capture. “That’s such a relief!” Mandi exclaimed. “Not that I was really worried, though.” She tugged at the side of her black evening dress. “Oh, while you were talking some of my friends arrived. Let’s go, I’ll introduce you.”
Moments later, Cydric and Mandi arrived at a table where four young people were seated. “Everyone,” Mandi said, “This is Cydric, the one I was telling you about. Say hi!”
A well-dressed young man with almond-brown hair stood up and gripped forearms with Cydric. “The name’s Kifton, I’m the Lord Mayor’s son. Sorry I wasn’t here to meet you at first–the meeting with my personal treasurer ran a little long.”
The next to greet Cydric was a meek-looking youth and an ample- bosomed flaxen-haired young woman. Mandi introduced them as Garrett and Tassy Covington. She mentioned that Garrett was studying to become a healer, and that Tassy was one of her best friends.
“I sure hope you’re planning to tell us about your adventure on board the ship,” Garrett said. “It must have been enormously exciting.”
The last person at the table was a slender young lady in a midnight-blue satin ball dress. Her cinnamon-brown hair was twisted in a long loose braid that lay across her shoulder; in her left hand she held a small white lace fan.
“Cydric,” Mandi said, “this is Rayna Silverwood. She’ll be your date for tonight.”
Cydric looked at the girl and immediately felt his blood turn to ice. No, it’s not possible, he thought. Damn! Of all the girls in Baranur….He felt Mandi nudge him slightly. “Ah, I am very pleased to meet you,” he said woodenly, taking Rayna’s outstretched hand and quickly pressing it to his cheek.
Rayna flashed the barest hint of a smile. Her pale blue eyes locked with Cydric’s for a moment, then her gaze flitted to the tabletop. “I-I’m pleased as well,” she replied, a hint of confusion in her voice. She stole another glance at Cydric as she began fanning herself.
Mandi stared at the two of them, puzzled by Cydric’s reaction. She knew that Rayna was somewhat of a shy girl, but she expected more enthusiasm from Cydric. It couldn’t be that Rayna was unattractive–she and Jannis had spent hours getting her ready for the party. The look on Cydric’s face was one of shock, surprise, and dismay–like he’d seen someone he never hoped to see again.
“Mandi! Have you seen Jannis?” Tassy asked. Mandi turned and motioned to the arched entrance to the gardens at the back of the feast hall. “Last I saw, she was with the Baron Fianchetti’s son.”
“Brynna’s little sister certainly is popular, isn’t she?” Kiff said, grinning. Mandi shot him a disapproving look. “You know what I mean,” he hastily amended.
From the front of the room came the Lord Mayor’s voice. “The feast will begin shortly,” he announced. “I would ask that everyone please be seated now.”
The guests gradually left the dance floor and made their way to the banquet tables that were set up around the hall. Cydric hesitantly sat down next to Rayna, while Mandi took a seat next to Kiff. “I thought Kayne and Scarabin were supposed to be here,” Cydric said to Mandi. “I haven’t seen them since we left the ship yesterday.”
Mandi started to make a cutting reply, but decided to speak to him later on in private. For the mean time, she would act as if everything was fine. “Don’t you remember?” she replied. “Scarabin’s at the healer’s getting cured of his razorworms, and Kayne went off to see some woman. This is the first time they’ve missed one of our parties.”
“What about Brynna’s mother–your Aunt Rolanda?”
“Someone challenged her to a game of King’s Key. She’s probably out on the terrace beating the pox out of him.”
A serving girl came by and filled their goblets with wine. After taking a sip Kiff said, “So Cydric, you seem to be the hero of the day around here. Why don’t you tell us all about the pirating incident of a couple days ago?”
“Yes, please do,” Rayna said.
Cydric drank a bit of wine, not acknowledging Rayna’s words. After the liquid had cleared his throat he proceeded to relate the events of the day before last. The group let him talk uninterrupted; when he was finished, Tassy asked, “So who exactly is Commander Challion? I think I heard the name somewhere before.”
Kifton, in the process of drinking, looked over the rim of his goblet and set it down. “Hah! Now there’s a good story.” He wiped his lips, then spoke. “Challion used to be Knight Captain of the Southern Marches about five years ago. My cousin was in the Army at the time; he told me that one night old Captain Challion had a bit too much fine wine, then went out and tried to have his way with a peasant’s daughter. Hah! Obviously, the Army kicked him out. They say that Challion used to brag about how one day he’d become Knight Commander, so after his discharge the troops gave him that title to mock him.”
“Serves him right, I think,” Garrett said. “But then, how did he become a pirate?” Kifton shrugged, then looked at Mandi. “You ever hear anything about that?”
Mandi cocked her head in thought. “Yes, but bits and pieces, mostly. They say that he was at the Abyssment in Shark’s Cove once, and met up with Captain Skoranji–who owns the Black Swan, by the way. Well, Challion supposedly played high-stakes paquaratti with Skoranji and it ended up that Challion won the ship, but since he didn’t know spit about sailing he made a deal with Skoranji that they go into scavenging treasure from wrecked ships and split whatever they found evenly, but Brynna said that she once ran across them off Cape Perpetual where they were searching for a sunken ship that was carrying gold that the pirate Soloman Banshee supposedly stole from the vaults of the Beinison Emperor and–”
Kifton reached over and put his hand over Mandi’s mouth. “I think he understands now.”
Mandi sputtered and pushed his hand away. “Pox! Why are people always doing that to me?” She glared briefly at Kifton, then delivered the same look to Cydric.
A middle-aged woman in elegant dress swept past their table. Suddenly stopping in mid-stride, she backtracked and spoke to the group. “Greetings everyone, having a good time? Hello there Cydric, nice to see you again. You’ve met Lord Silverwood’s daughter, I see. Getting along, are you?”
“Ah–glad to see you too, Lady Thorne,” Cydric replied. Mandi’s temper sparked as she saw the hurt look in Rayna’s eyes when Cydric didn’t answer the question. Not now, she told herself. I’ll get him later.
“Where’s Jannis?” asked Tassy. “Seems like she vanished all of a sudden.”
“Oh, she’s out by the stables–showing off her horse to the Fianchetti boy,” Rolanda Thorne replied. “He’s rather a geeby type, if you ask me, but don’t tell the Baroness I said that!” She grinned widely. “But he’s harmless, and at least Jannis likes him. I told them to come in, so they’ll be here soon. Well, enjoy yourselves, all. Dakka-zee, as the Bandalusians say!” She tousled Mandi’s hair, gathered up her voluminous dress and hurried off.
A bell sounded, followed by Lord Thorne’s voice. He stood behind the table at the front of the feast hall; Lady Thorne took the chair to his left, and to her left Brynna was already seated. The Lord Mayor sat to Thorne’s right, and next to him sat his wife Miriyan.
“Thank you all for being here,” Lord Thorne said. “Once again my daughter Brynna has proved herself a worthy sea captain, and made her family and friends all very proud of her. Before we begin the feast, there is something we would like to do for her. Corbin?”
The Lord Mayor stood. “I’ve known Brynna ever since she was a child, and she was never one to believe the limits other people set upon her. Three years ago she set sail on her maiden voyage in spite of all those who said a woman couldn’t command a ship, and her reputation has grown with each succeeding journey.”
He went on to describe her past voyages and accomplishments, then signalled to a servant who handed him a carved wooden box. He went over to Brynna and motioned for her to stand. Brynna looked confused for a moment, then got up at the urging of her mother, who also rose from her seat.
The Lord Mayor continued, “It is with great pleasure that I present to you, Captain Brynna Thorne, this symbol of Port Sevlyn’s highest honor.” He opened the box to reveal an eight-pointed silver medallion inlaid with the likeness of Cirrangill, God of the Seas. Brynna smiled broadly and thanked the Lord Mayor amid loud applause from the guests. Lady Thorne lifted the medallion out of the case and looped the attached ribbon around Brynna’s neck. Lady Thorne hugged her, as did her father. The Lord Mayor and his wife extended their congratulations as well.
“Got her totally by surprise!” Mandi exclaimed.
Brynna looked down at the medallion that hung against her chest, then up at the still-applauding crowd. She waited until the ovation had died down before speaking. “This is, this is certainly an unexpected honor,” she said, her hand going to the blue streak in her long dark hair. “I’m not usually at a loss for words….” She made a brief speech in which she expressed her appreciation for all the support her friends and family had given her over the years, and mentioned that her crew also deserved recognition for their loyal and faithful service. She was making her closing remarks when Lady Thorne broke in.
“Wait a moment! That’s not the only surprise we have for you,” she said. “Okay, Jannis, bring him in!”
Through the back entrance to the feast hall came a tall well- muscled man in a gray uniform, accompanied by a slim young girl. The man strode up to the Lord Mayor’s table and bowed, while the girl sat down with Cydric and the others.
Lady Thorne smiled widely. “Everyone, may I present Captain Xane Hellriegel, of the Royal Navy ship Storm Challenger. Dakka-zee, Captain, so nice that you could attend!” Captain Hellriegel thanked his hosts and smiled at Brynna, who stood open-mouthed in surprise. “Greetings, Captain Thorne,” he said. “Very glad to see you again.”
“Now now now, none of this ‘captain’ business, please,” said Lady Thorne. “This is a celebration–first names only!” She leaned close to Brynna and whispered, “Don’t just stand there gaping like a fish! Say something to the man, lest he think you’re a statue.”
Brynna cast her mother a dark look, then turned to Captain Hellriegel. “So nice that you could attend,” she said.
“Please do have a seat, Xane,” said Lady Thorne. “Next to Brynna, if you would.”
Mandi shook her head. “Pox, Jannis, I thought you were giving Fianchetti Junior a tour of the stables. Don’t tell me you were outside with *him* all this time!”
Jannis Thorne grinned at Mandi from the opposite end of the table. “I certainly was, sure as snow! Are you jealous?”
“Oooh, I could poke your eyes out!”
“Thank you,” Jannis said with a laugh, tossing back her golden hair.
“Hah! What’s to be jealous of?” said Kifton, putting his arm around Mandi. “Those Navy fish-kissers don’t make a tenth of what I could get from a caravan contract. I could spend in a day what he makes in six months!”
“Oooh, I’m not the only one jealous around here!” said Mandi, elbowing Kifton in the ribs. “You always bring up your money whenever you feel threatened, don’t you?”
“I do not,” said Kifton.
“You want to bet on that?”
“Just as I thought.”
“He’s just a fish-kisser! There’s nothing special about what he does.”
Mandi thrust his arm away from her. “What he does is the same thing that Brynna does! Are you saying that being a ship captain is nothing special?”
“That’s not what I meant,” Kifton said defensively. “What I meant was…simply that…uh….”
“Forget it, Kiff,” said Jannis. “You’re in deep enough as it is.”
“So Jan,” Tassy said, “Whatever happened to young Fianchetti? Was he impressed by El-Johan?”
Jannis giggled. “About that! Soon as we stepped into the stables, he started sneezing like a thunderstorm. He never said that he was allergic to horses. It got so bad he decided to go home. And a good thing too, for just then Mother came over with Captain Hellriegel and asked me to keep him company until she called. He told me all kinds of fascinating stories–he’s a very interesting man, a perfect match for Brynna.”
“You mean Captain Thorne isn’t married?” asked Cydric.
“Not yet,” replied Jannis, “but not for long, if my mother has her way.”
“I was about to send a messenger to inform you that we’d captured all of the Black Swan’s crew,” said Captain Hellriegel, “but it was such a fine day I decided to deliver the message myself. I was halfway to the doors when Lady Thorne intercepted me and invited me to the celebration. What I didn’t expect was that I’d have to make that surprise entrance.”
“Yes,” said Brynna, “Mother always manages to surprise everyone.”
“I’m afraid Corbin and I are also partly responsible,” said the Lord Mayor’s wife. “Rolanda coaxed us into going along with it.”
“So tell us, Captain, what’s the word from Magnus?” asked the Lord Mayor. “Is there any truth to the rumors of an invasion from Bichu?”
“There’s plenty of speculation, yes, but I personally don’t believe it,” Hellriegel replied. “For one thing, it’s highly doubtful that the Bichanese–”
Lady Thorne clapped her hands. “Please please! You men, all you talk about these days is war. Let’s discuss more pleasant things. This is a celebration, after all.”
“How right you are, Rolanda,” said Miriyan. “The subject is growing rather tiresome. I doubt we’ll see any major war in our lifetimes.”
Lord Thorne drained the last of his wine and signalled for a refill. To Captain Hellriegel he said, “It’s extremely fortunate that you decided to replenish your water supplies at Port Sevlyn. Otherwise, those pirates might be causing trouble in town right now.”
“They won’t be troubling anyone for a long time to come,” Hellriegel replied. “We’re taking the ship in tow, and the whole crew is safely in the brig–except for the oarsmen. We had to find a mage to disperse them.”
“So it is true,” said the Lord Mayor. “Skoranji *did* have undead among his crew. I didn’t think it possible.”
“How gruesome,” said Miriyan, shuddering.
Lady Thorne started to speak, but her husband cut her off. “We’re not discussing war, Rolanda,” he said.
“I meant anything that dealt with death on a mass scale,” Lady Thorne snapped.
“That reminds me,” said the Lord Mayor’s wife, “the first course should have been served by now. I’ll have to see what the problem is.” She excused herself and left the table.
In keeping with Lady Thorne’s topic limitations, the men began talking of less gruesome things such as the state of Lord Thorne’s trading business. “The Land’s Rim is doing quite well,” Quillien said. “I’ve added spell-protection to the vaults, plus installed a secret exit–might come in useful if the Bichanese invade.” The group laughed. “In addition,” continued Lord Thorne, “the items that Brynna brought back from her last expedition have sold extremely well; I can now afford to either add a new room to the house, or buy another ship.”
The Lord Mayor shook his head. “I’ve a better idea, Quillien–build a summer home in the Catswoods. Duke Quinnat and I were thinking of some kind of joint project….”
Lady Thorne suddenly looked at her daughter. “Brynna dear, you’ve been unusually quiet. Feel free to join in at any time.”
“I need to get a breath of air,” Brynna said. “Please excuse me.” She stood up abruptly and hurried out through the back of the feast hall.
“…so as soon as we’d docked, Captain Thorne went over to the Storm Challenger to tell them about the battle and have them pick up the survivors,” Cydric was saying. “I did see her talking briefly to Captain Hellriegel–something he said seemed to irritate her, and she left the ship in a hurry.”
“She didn’t mention anything about that to me,” Jannis said. Just then, Brynna rushed past them out of the room. Lady Thorne followed not a moment behind.
“Not again,” sighed Jannis.
“Cydric,” Mandi said, “did you know that Rayna’s father supplies almost all of the pottery that’s used in the towns along the Laraka?”
“Really,” Cydric said. “I didn’t know that.”
“It’s true,” Rayna said. “He owns three shops here in Port Sevlyn and two in Magnus. Have you ever seen how pottery is made?”
“Ah, no, but I’m sure it’s fascinating.” Cydric turned back to Jannis. “What do you mean ‘not again’?”
Mandi made a tiny sound of frustration.
“Mother and Brynna–they always seem to get into an argument whenever Brynna gets back from a voyage,” Jannis explained. “And it’s usually about the same thing.”
Mandi said, “Cydric, could I see you for a moment–in private?”
“Hold it, what do you want to see him alone for?” Kifton said suspiciously.
“It’s about–his horse,” Mandi said quickly. “He had to leave it behind in Shark’s Cove when he joined the ship. I promised him I’d let him ride mine when we got home.”
“But now? They’re about to serve the food!”
“Well, it’ll be dark soon. He can’t very well ride around at night–it’s so hard to see things! Honestly, Kiff, think before you speak.” Mandi got up and indicated for Cydric to do the same.
Cydric looked confused. “Ah, Mandi–”
“Once around the pond, isn’t that what you said? Well let’s go then, come on!” She went around to Cydric and surreptitiously pinched him.
“Ow! Owv course. Pardon us.” Cydric followed Mandi out into the garden. Brynna and Lady Thorne were there, having a discussion near the rose bushes. Mandi led Cydric away from the house and over to the stables.
“What is this about, Mandi?” Cydric demanded.
“I ought to–I ought to poke *your* eyes out!” seethed Mandi. “I’m not going take it anymore!”
“Calm down and tell me what you mean.”
“Oh, you don’t know what I mean–I’ll tell you what I mean! You have been utterly, totally, and completely rude to Rayna! You hardly spoke to her–you barely even looked at her! I’m not going to sit by and let you treat one of my dearest friends this way! Oh, I could just scream! Rayna’s a bit shy, and I thought you’d be at least nice to her. Her mother died recently, and she needs someone she can talk to. I just can’t believe how you’ve behaved towards her! For your sake, you’d better have a reason for it!”
Cydric stood stunned for a moment, taken aback by Mandi’s tirade. He gulped, quickly weighing the consequences of telling her the truth or compounding the little lies he’d already told.
“Well? I’m waiting,” said Mandi.
“I had no idea her mother was dead,” Cydric said cautiously. “You should’ve told me.”
“I didn’t think I needed to. I thought you’d be at least polite. Is there a reason that you weren’t, or did you suddenly become a scrud- sucker overnight?”
“Yes, there was a reason. But I don’t need any abuse.”
“Sorry. Do you feel like telling me?”
Cydric looked away and began to pace. He turned the question over and over in his mind. Would it do more harm than good to tell her? Was it really that much of a secret? Would it be so bad if he did tell? He debated within himself for several minutes. Finally he made his decision.
“All right, I’ll tell you.”
“Brynna! Slow down! You can’t just walk out of the party–you’re the guest of honor! What’s the matter?” Lady Thorne hurried to catch up with her daughter.
Brynna stopped and spun to face her mother. “Was it truly necessary to invite him?”
“Him? Xane? Well, why shouldn’t I have? After all, he is a captain like yourself. I imagine you two have lots of things in common.”
“You may as well have invited every other ship captain currently in dock, for that matter.”
“Oh Brynna, please. He’s come to apologize for whatever it was that he said to you. Not many men would do that! And besides, I do believe that he’s never been married before, either.”
Brynna exhaled loudly and crossed her arms. “Gods’ breath, that’s exactly what I thought. You never change, mother.”
“I don’t understand….” Lady Thorne stopped speaking as Cydric and Mandi came out of the house and headed past them toward the stables. Brynna waited until they were out of earshot, then said, “I suppose I’ll have just to say it plainly: I want you to stop throwing men at me in the hopes that I’ll marry one of them! It’s becoming extremely annoying to return home and find you waiting with the ‘catch of the day’, as it were. Haven’t I said enough times that marriage isn’t important to me right now?”
“But Brynna dear, you’re almost thirty. It’s–”
“Age again. Mother, I don’t want to talk about. Straight?”
Lady Thorne shook her head. “I just–I don’t know what more to say. How can I convince you? You can’t go rambling around the world for the rest of your life. Someday you’ll have to settle down.”
There was the sound of someone coming down the paved garden path. Both women turned to see Captain Hellriegel approaching them.
“I’ll leave you alone,” said Lady Thorne. “But this is your chance –remember what I’ve said. Be nice to him, now!” She nodded to Hellriegel as she headed up the path back to the house.
“I don’t think he likes me,” Rayna sighed, rapidly fanning herself.
“That’s not true,” Jannis said, trying to sound reassuring. “Cydric’s probably just trying to work up the courage to–”
“Hah! Just be serious for a moment,” Kiff interjected. “The man killed a sorcerer with nothing but an arrow. I think he’s got courage enough. More likely he’d prefer someone more–” He suddenly realized that Rayna was sadly staring at him. “Uh, what I meant was, someone who’s not so…well, let’s just say….”
“Kiff,” Jannis said.
Jannis made an obscene gesture to him. Kiff sputtered in indignation. Tassy giggled. Garrett looked over at Kiff and shook his head.
“Perhaps I should be going now,” Rayna said. She started to get up, but Jannis gently pushed her back down. “No, you don’t have to leave. I think that’s what Mandi’s talking to him about out there. I did notice that he was somewhat cool towards you.”
“Cool!” Kiff snorted. “Dead of winter was more like it. His look alone could’ve frozen water! I mean, frostbite….”
Jannis coughed loudly. “One more word Kiff, and I’ll tell Mandi about Corinne.”
Jannis took out a handkerchief and impressed her lips upon it. She held up the cloth to display the red blotch left by her lip stain. “The girl Mandi will think this belongs to, that’s who.”
“Hah! You wouldn’t,” Kiff said, his tone sobering.
Jannis smiled sweetly.
Rayna folded up her fan. “I think I really should leave. I’m not feeling all that well anyway.”
“But Rayna–” Jannis looked to Tassy for help.
“Tell your mother it was a lovely party.” Rayna got up and began to walk away.
“Ah–you should at least have dinner!” Tassy called. “It would be a shame, almost an insult really, to walk out before the meal’s been served.”
Rayna paused, then returned to the table. “I do suppose that’s true.” She sat back down. “But why do you think Cydric was acting that way?”
“Maybe he’s got another girl,” Kiff mumbled.
“Kifton!” Jannis and Tassy said together.
“Is anything wrong?” Captain Hellriegel asked.
“Just a little family disagreement. Nothing to be concerned about,” Brynna replied.
“Why did you run out here, though? You seemed a little upset.”
“As I said, nothing to be concerned about.” Brynna turned away and peered closely at a nearby rose.
Hellriegel nodded and clasped his hands behind his back. After a moment he said, “Congratulations on the medal. It’s an honor well deserved.”
“Indeed,” Brynna replied without turning around.
Hellriegel let out a breath and rubbed the back of his neck. “I didn’t expect this to be easy,” he muttered to himself.
Brynna straightened up and faced him. “I think I’ll be getting back to the party now. Do please excuse me.” She started to walk past him.
Hellriegel grasped her arm. “Brynna–Captain Thorne, please wait. I–”
Brynna glared at him until he released her. “Don’t you have to get under way soon? Your prisoners must be anxious to get to trial.”
“About what I said the other day. I’m sorry.”
“So mother was right. You did come to apologize.”
“Listen, Captain–I can’t excuse what I said to you that day. It was wholly obnoxious, it was entirely uncalled for, it was–”
“Typically male?” Brynna finished.
“All right, that too. There’s no way under Kisil-Doon I can take back what I said. All I can say is, I wish I’d never said it.”
Brynna nibbled her lower lip, but said nothing.
Captain Hellriegel let his hands drop to his sides. “That’s all I really came here for. I suppose I should get back to my ship now. Goodbye, Captain.” He slowly turned and started up the path.
“Captain,” Brynna called after a moment.
Hellriegel stopped and faced her.
“Would you have said similar things to a…a non-female ship captain?”
Hellriegel grinned. “Definitely not. I’d have said something much worse!”
Brynna strode up to him. In a softer tone she said, “If I might ask a small favor?”
“Of course, anything.”
“I have some business to take care of in Magnus, and since you’re already going there….”
“My cabin is yours–if you want it, that is.”
Brynna smiled slightly. “We’ll see.”
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with the Codex Araltakonia–the book that Challion wanted so badly–would it now?”
“It might,” said Brynna. “If I could have an hour to get ready?”
“Take all the time you need.”
Cydric sat down against a tree. “You may be surprised at what I’m about to tell you, and for you to fully understand I’m going to have to start at the very beginning.”
Mandi plopped down in front of him, legs crossed underneath her. “I’m listening.”
“You also have to promise not to say anything until I’ve finished.”
“Yes! Now get on with it.”
Cydric sighed, then proceeded to tell her the truth. He told her that instead of being a scribe’s son like he initially claimed, he was in fact the son of Khysar Araesto, who was the King’s Royal Treasurer and Duke of Pyridain. He told her of his long-standing desire for adventure, of his love for the King’s niece Lysanda, and of the Dreamrealm adventure he had shared with the Sage of Dargon. He then gave an account of how he was forced to marry Lysanda after he learned of her pregnancy, and of how the resulting scandal caused the dissolution of their marriage.
“…so that’s why I decided to leave Magnus, and how I ended up in Shark’s Cove. But when you introduced me to Rayna, I couldn’t believe it–she looked exactly like Lysanda. Same hair, eyes, lips…they could almost be twins. And everything that I was feeling after she left with the baby–it all came flooding back to me. I thought I’d forgotten her, about what she said…I was afraid that I might take it all out on Rayna. So I tried to say as little as possible. Damned unfair of me I know, but…” He shrugged. “I don’t blame you if you’re still angry.”
Mandi sat silent for a moment, digesting all he had revealed to her. “Pox,” she said at length. “When you said you had a reason…I thought it was her looks, or her dress–I had no idea I’d be getting a full confession!”
“I felt I needed to tell you the entire truth. It was becoming too difficult to keep my lies straight.”
“I’m glad you trust me enough to tell me all this,” Mandi said, placing her hand on his knee. “But you actually lived in the same castle with the King! That is the most amazing thing I’ve–”
“Are you still upset about how I acted towards Rayna?”
“Well–well of course I am. I know what’s she’s feeling; my mother’s dead, too.” Mandi traced a circle in the dirt. “It happened when I was a child, though. I never got along with my stepmother– that’s why I ran away and came up here to join Brynna.” She looked up and shook Cydric’s leg. “But Rayna’s a completely different person from Lysanda. Just because they look the same–that means nothing. Rayna may be a little shy, but she’s warm and caring, a really good friend. She would never do anything to hurt anyone, and right now she needs someone that won’t leave her after a single night. Do you understand what I mean? She deserves a honest chance. Will you give her at least that much?”
Cydric slowly nodded. “You’re right. I suppose I do owe her that. Should I apologize?”
Mandi stood up and dusted herself off. “How about if the two of you go out to a tavern together? You can start all over without being distracted.”
“Sounds like a good idea. Help me up, would you?” He stretched out his hand. Mandi reached for him, but withdrew her hand at the last moment.
“That was extremely humorous,” Cydric said, getting up on his own. Mandi giggled. Cydric frowned. “Is that a leafhopper?” he said, putting his finger on her shoulder.
“What!” Mandi said, quickly turning her head. Cydric flipped his palm over and lightly slapped her cheek.
“Oooh!” Mandi exclaimed.
“Now we’re even. Shall we go?” Cydric grinned.
“You have to tell Brynna, you know.”
“Oh,” Cydric said.
The first course was served shortly after everyone had returned to the house. Garrett frowned down suspiciously at his plate. “Is this it?” he asked.
The dish consisted of a slab of cooked beef in between two thick slices of bread. Kifton said, “It’s a recipe Mother learned about from a bard who came through here a few weeks ago. He said it’s very popular down in the southeastern duchy where it originated. In fact, it’s named after the Duke himself.”
“What Duke is it named after?” Tassy asked.
Kifton thought. “Leftwich,” he said.
“A Leftwich,” Mandi repeated. She took a small bite. “It’s good,” she said.