Rainald was fully intent on letting things develop at their own pace, at least for a few days, but he spent a restless night haunted by dreams of Aleta’s face. Disturbingly, it was not the child’s face that she still wore – this was, he knew, what she would look like when she was thirty. When she was forty. And he woke knowing beyond any further doubt that he would be at her side to see her grow into those adult features.
Without quite knowing how he had got there, he found himself before the doors of the Dow apartments shortly after finishing his breakfast, and asked the footman to announce him. He was ushered into a set of chambers remarkably similar to his own except for the view out of the large window. Dow rose from behind his desk to greet him.
“Trouble?” Dow inquired. “Did you get to see Gilden Lammuir yet?”
“We’ve sorted that out,” Rainald said. “We can deal with the situation. No – it isn’t that. It’s about something else entirely.”
Dow gave him a long, apprising look, and then crossed the office to where a small cabinet contained a bottle filled with a honey-coloured liquid and a brace of goblets.
“Brandy,” he said, pouring a drink for his guest, and then another for himself. “The best. It’s from the D’Alleara cellars, and their people know how to make this.” He handed Rainald his goblet and raised his slightly, in salute. “From the expression on your face, one way or another, we will need this. Now. Tell me. What is it?”
Rainald took a sip of the brandy, gingerly, and it scalded its way down his throat. He shook his head, making a grimace. “Powerful stuff, this,” he said, and put the glass down, turning to face his companion. “Dow… last night, when your daughter came to us…”
“Is this about Liara?” asked the older man shrewdly.
“No,” said Rainald softly. “Her sister.”
“Aleta?” Down repeated, surprised. “She’s still a child… well, no, I suppose she isn’t, not really…”
Rainald hesitated, just for a moment, but there was no easy way around this – so he just said what was on his mind.“ Who is her Guardian, Dow? Who must I speak to?”
Dow paused just long enough to make a dramatic impact. “As it happens, I am,” he said. “I am her Guardian, and you appear to have just spoken. And I give my consent, willingly; Rimmuz, as the head of her Ranking Clan, will have to perform the ceremony, though. I shall speak to him tomorrow. If all goes well, you shall have a betrothed by Summer Solstice Ball.” He clapped Rainald, sitting silent, on the shoulder, smiling. “Congratulations. What is it, why so silent?”
“In shock, I think,” said Rainald. “Somehow I didn’t expect it to end like this. I thought that I’d be sent from one responsible person to another, with a possible eventual refusal owing to the fact that she had an as yet unbetrothed sister. I was even thinking of asking a kinsman of mine who is here with me, Sever Avigor, to offer for Liara, if it came to that – which is an underhand way of doing it, I grant you, but…” he shrugged, and then smiled.
Dow widened his own grin. Rainald’s smiles were usually infectious. “Life never quite turns out as one expects or indeed wants it to.” He rose. “Except if you are as strong a precog as Aleta herself is – I shall have a word with my Ward, to see if she has had any precognitions lately. And you should be hearing from Rimmuz himself concerning the rest of it.”
Rainald walked back to his own quarters with wearing a broad grin he simply could not conceal. Tomorrow – or the day after – would be quite a day for the entire Clan. This whole thing would be a veritable thunderclap from a blue sky – he had not so much as breathed of an intention to marry. The thought of the effect on the clan of the announcement made him almost skip with anticipation, as though he was still a child. Why, he was more like his Foster-brother Gilden Lammuir every day. Gilden, too, enjoyed springing news onto people. Rainald suddenly recalled the way he had been told of Gilden’s own betrothal – recalled, and planned retaliation.
The Lord of Clan Rimmuz came calling on Rainald Avigor towards evening of the next day. He was a round-faced, rotund little man with small, pudgy hands and several cascading chins; but within this unprepossessing exterior lurked a mind that was every bit as sharp as Rainald’s own. Rainald had come to realize this during his first three months as Avigor’s Lord – the Rimmuz Lands bordered on Avigor’s, and the two lords had had dealings over a tract of land given as dowry for an Avigor Bride. The betrothal had been performed by Rainald’s father, but the actual nuptial arrangements had remained after his death to roost firmly upon the shoulders of his heir. The thing had been resolved satisfactorily for both sides; the wedding was due to take place during this Council session, and in the interim period each Lord had judged the other worthy of his friendship and had given of it freely.
After the greetings and formalities, Rimmuz smiled at the younger man, his eyes twinkling.
“So!” he said. “It transpires that we are to become related, my young friend.”
“Indeed. Although I seem to have bypassed protocol somewhat.”
The older Lord shook his head, still smiling. “But you haven’t! There’s the beauty of it. Dow isn’t Liara’s guardian, so of course he wouldn’t know yet; but the truth of the matter is that I betrothed Liara not a sevenday ago, in fact, just before we came here, to a youth from my own Clan. So,” he said, clapping his hands together, “I’ll be more than glad to welcome you as a kinsman as well as friend. I shall make the necessary arrangements. Council starts tomorrow; when do you wish the ceremony to be performed?”
“Today. Tonight. Now, if possible.”
Rimmuz laughed. “In that case, would you care to present yourself and anyone you might wish present at my chambers within the hour? I shall take it upon myself to ensure your bride-to-be will be in attendance….”
He took his leave, to prepare for the occasion, and Rainald sent a footman for Mirella. He wanted to be the one to break the news to her, and ask for her to come with him. After all, she was his nearest relative in Colgarma at this time. She glided into his study, soundless as always, a few moments after his summons.
Rainald had thought of a gentle way to tell her, and had been rehearsing it in his head in the short interval before she arrived. But when he saw her come in, the words spilled from him without any preamble.
“Mirella… I am to be betrothed in an hour’s time.”
She took it better than he expected. Very pale, but in control, she even managed a smile. “To one of the sisters who brought Annica to us the other day?” she asked.
“How did you know?” Rainald asked, surprised.
“Your face gives you away, my brother. It did yesterday. Which one is it?”
“Yes, Mirella… will you come and be present at it?”
“I…” she bit her lip. She had avoided occasions such as this for many years. In fact, the last betrothal she had seen had been her own, and that had left scars. Then she raised her face to this, and smiled bravely. “It isn’t every day my only brother gets betrothed. Yes, I will come.”
Rainald hugged her with deep affection, moved. He knew how much this had cost her. She extricated herself after a moment, and squeezed his arm lovingly. “Congratulations. Where is it to be held?”
“The Rimmuz chambers.”
“All right. Let me just change into something appropriate. And so should you, by the way, it is quite a formal occasion.” She looked towards the desk. “Have you got the ring?”
The betrothal vows were symbolized by the exchange of rings by the couple. These rings, bearing the stones of the respective Clan, or affiliated Clan, were exchanged at the wedding ceremony for two plain gold bands which then indicated the wedded state. Rainald, characteristically, had quite neglected to remember this formality, and now looked blankly at his sister.
“I know Father had two rings in here,” Mirella said, hesitating. “Is there anything locked you haven’t opened yet?”
“A drawer in the desk,” said Rainald, and dashed off into his bedchamber to retrieve the key to the desk. In the locked drawer they found a neat stack of papers and a flat box covered in black velvet with a Unicorn’s head embroidered in silver thread on the top. Rainald took this and opened it gingerly. The inside was black velvet-lines, and on a cushion there lay two rings bearing the diamond of their clan.
Rainald sighed in relief.
“Do you know, I would really have gone without taking…” he stopped at the sight of Mirella’s frozen gaze resting in the box.
I remember this… the last time it was taken out was…
Rainald put out a hand, and touched her gently on the shoulder. She shuddered, as if woken from a nightmare, then slowly got to her feet from where she’d been crouching by the desk.
“I’ll just change,” she said quietly.
“Mirella…” said Rainald, also rising; then lapsed into Contact. Mirella, I don’t…
I will forget. It is time. The ring passes on. Mirella interrupted him, and then she was gone.
Rainald stared at the rings, his mind awash with memories not his own. Mirella, usually in flawless control of her feelings and her thoughts, had let the barrier slip a little during the intense moment in which she had seen the rings. Rainald had picked up a few scattered images that had escaped her tight control – he ‘saw’ a tall and spare youth, with a ready smile and dark, dreamy eyes; the betrothal ring on a slender, girlish finger; foaming waves and an upturned boat; the stern and white-browed face of the old Lord of Avigor, eyes flashing in anger. All that had been Mirella’s burden, to bear alone; and alone she had borne it by choice.
Rainald sighed, took one of the rings from its box, and slipped it on the little finger of his own hand for security. On his way out of the study he paused beside the wall on which hung the portraits of Avigor’s brides, his mother’s the last portrait on the wall. Soon another would hang there, just below hers.
His mother. He still had to tell his mother.
Rainald drew his hand through his hair, leaving it standing on end. His life was suddenly moving too fast for him.
The door opened behind him, and he turned. Mirella had chosen a gown that shimmered silver, and around his throat a black ribbon bearing a small ch’ia-incised diamond seemed to accentuate her long, graceful neck and the firm line of the jaw.
“You look beautiful,” said Rainald, and meant it.
She smiled. “What have you done with your hair?” she asked him. “Could it be nerves?”
“No. I was just thinking… of something else.” Rainald smoothed his unruly locks as best he could, and cast a critical eye on his clothing. Whether by accident or design he now forgot, but he found that he, too, was wearing the Colors of his Clan, although, unlike his sister, he had chosen predominantly black. He cocked a questioning eye at Mirella.
“Will I do?” he asked.
“I suppose,” she said. “Black has always suited you. I don’t know what you would have done to yourself if you had been born into a Clan such as Carlin, with their green and white.”
“Probably worn black,” chuckled Rainald. “And you, you who are inseparable from the Avigor diamond, don’t even start with me. What would you have done with an emerald or a sapphire?”
“Ah,” said Mirella, lifting a wryly admonishing finger, “but you forget – things are easier for a woman. I would marry into the Clan who holds the Gem of my choice. What is she, your girl – affiliated to Rimmuz? Carnellian?”
“She will suit Diamond.”
“Yes,” agreed Rainald firmly.
Mirella reached up to smooth out an obstinate lock of her brother’s hair which insisted on sticking out at an angle alien even to itself. Then she turned away.
“Maybe it’s time we started,” she suggested softly.
They weren’t the first arrivals at Lord Rimmuz’s. Lord Dow as already there, as were Lord Acharmi, who Rimmuz knew to be a friend of Clan Avigor, and Lord De Skari, who had to be present because of the young bride’s affiliation to that Clan as well. The three rose from their seats when Rainald and Mirella entered, offering greetings and congratulations. De Skari was the only one in the room who had not had an occasion to get to know the young Lord Avigor at all; Acharmi and Dow both embraced Rainald under the beaming eye of Rimmuz, and then remained standing, talking to the young Avigor while De Skari reseated himself in silence.
“I wish your father was still here to see this,” said Acharmi, patting his young friend on the shoulder.
“Believe me, so do I,” said Rainald softly, with feeling.
Any further conversation was precluded by the entrance of the rest of the betrothal party. Aleta, slight and lithe, walked in front, dressed in a gown the color of flame, which was the primary of her affiliated Ranking Clan. Her thick honey-colored hair had been caught in a demure dove-gray net, and her eyes were modestly downcast. Her mother was right behind her, and after her came Aleta’s half-sister, Liara. Aleta’s father had not come to this Council, and was therefore absent, as was Rainald’s mother, for that matter. The three women arranged themselves on the available seating.
Rainald stared at the bent head of his future Lady, unable to tear his eyes away. He was seeking for an echo of what she had called precog, that wash of sudden conviction… but it was gone, and in its place was nothing more than a quiet certainty. Aleta herself made no move, no gesture, her hands serenely folded in her lap. But he knew all too well how aware she was of his scrutiny.
Rimmuz had risen to his feet, and Rainald tore his gaze away from Aleta to look at him at the same time she raised her eyes. Rimmuz gestured them both to rise and approach him, and they did.
“Join hands,” Rimmuz instructed.
Rainald’s world had gone curiously silent all of a sudden; he could hardly hear Rimmuz’s intoning words. He understood when he was being asked for the ring more by the gesture than by word; he placed it on the middle finger of Aleta’s right hand, where it fit perfectly, as if by magic. He received his own from her, on the middle finger of his right hand. And then, as if someone had pricked the bubble of silence that had surrounded him with a pin, the world rushed back and he suddenly heard Rimmuz say in a voice as clear as a bell,
“…pledged to one another, in front of family and friends, witnesses all, and the Gods that watch over us. They are pledged to one another, in truth and in honor, until the promise is fulfilled and they become truly one in the sight of the Gods.” He paused, and then smiled at the pair who stood before him. “Time enough for that,” he said jovially.“In the meantime, congratulations, to both my kinsfolk!”
He embraced them both at the same time and then waddled off, calling for all his guests to follow for the refreshments provided in the next chamber. Only now did Aleta meet Rainald’s gaze, her eyes bright with joy. Their hands were still joined, and Rainald squeezed the small hand he held as if to make sure the whole thing was real.
It is real. I am here. Aleta winced at the pressure, but smiled while she was doing it.
It did not occur to Rainald to question the fact that they had this kind of instant connection in Contact, as though they had known one another all their lives. They would never need the channel of the Pattern stones to initiate communication even when they were far from one another. The link was just… there. It had always been there. It always would be. It lingered as they were swamped by the congratulations of everyone present, swept apart and then together, and then apart again. Rainald knew this was not the case with his own parents; his father’s had been a powerful Gift, but his mother had relied on the ch’ia stone a lot. She still did. He himself always required it when trying to come into Contact with her. Without that key, her mind was closed. Rainald knew that to be the case with many of the Clan kinsfolk, and did not like the implications of it – that the Clan Gifts were failing, and the ch’ia stones were serving as crutches.
The gathering of the Council began early the next morning. Ceremonial colors and gems flashed and mixed, the Lammuir Blue complementing the crimson of Catallin, the soft gray of D’Alleara setting off the dazzling green and white of Carlin.
Few of the Ichari, the ch’ia wrights, ever showed up at Council. They had their own dwelling on the tip of Claw Point, the most westerly point of the mainland, and they seldom traveled far afield, content to wait in their stronghold until they were actually sought out by Clansfolk needing new Pattern-stones for themselves or for their children. They had made it their life’s work to study the mind of the Clan, and the way it worked; they had extensive knowledge of Patters, and therefore of the finer points of communication in Contact. So much so, in fact, that they used Contact almost exclusively in communication with one another, a custom that did not altogether endear them to the rest of the Clan – even for Clan, used to such things, there was something distinctly unnerving to be present while two telepaths carried on a mental conversation that excludes one entirely.
Clan did not like the Ichari, but they respected them, and usually the Clan children with the strongest Gifts were tithed for Ichari training at an early age. When they went, they more or less completely renounced their Clan, and held allegiance only to the Ichari. They even had their own color, a lilac-purple shade tempered with gray, the dye for which they obtained in some mysterious manner from a source that thrived only on Claw Point and nowhere else in all Castala. They wore garments of this color whenever they went abroad in the land, and were recognized by it as well as revered for it.
Although the Clans, who ruled in Council and not though one person only, had no overlord or High King amongst them, the Lord of the Ichari was the nearest to that office they accepted. If a matter was referred to the Lord at Claw Point, it was too far gone for Clan to solve by themselves – and the judgment he handed down was a command, and was obeyed. Even the High Council would accept his final word on any matter – by very virtue of his position, in a society graded by the power of the mind, he was by far the superior of anyone who held a High Council seat.
This submission was hardly ever called for, in practice. The Lord of the Ichari kept to his rocky peninsula, and ventured rarely out into the world. Very few people, other than the Ichari themselves, knew his actual identity.
An unusually high number of Ichari had turned up for this particular Council session, Rainald noted as he approached the Full Council Chamber on the morning it was due to formally open. Their purple, unadorned as it was by precious jewels worn by everyone else present, made them stand out from the crowd. Rainald wondered what it was that brought them here in such numbers – Ichari were renowned for being quite ascetic in their habits, and so that face of Colgarma, the middens and warrens of the Lower City which many Clan visited secretly and in disguise during Council, savoring the forbidden pleasures, could hold no appeal for them. So it must be something else, something that had happened…
The middens and warrens of the Lower city…
The starship! Rainald had heard of it in the very middens and warrens the Ichari would scorn, but they, they had access to Patterns and to vision, and key people might have revealed the knowledge even without realizing it. After so many generations of practice, the mental touch of Ichari must be very soft and subtle.
Rainald did not know if the Lords had intended bringing the subject up at all at Full Council; the High Council had not committed itself to anything of that sort when it had met on the issue. But if they did not do so, and Rainald knew now with the same surety that had yielded Aleta to him, then the Ichari would.
Shocked by the strength of his own reaction to this, Rainald, found himself questioning the readiness of the hodge-podge Clan gathering that usually constituted Full Council to accept the news with impunity. The High Council had decreed that the people from the fallen ship were to be left severely alone – to blend as best they could into the tapestry that was Castala’s way of life. Rainald himself had accepted that as a wise decision, since, to anyone’s best knowledge, they were not Gifted and thus were not, could not be, Clan. But they would find it extremely hard to learn to blend into the background if the entire Clan, their imaginations fired, rushed into the Carlin village where now the castaways made their abode and began staring at them and prodding at them as if they were on exhibition. Was that what the Ichari wanted?
But could he, a youth not yet twenty, really question the wisdom of the wise of the wisest that Castala had?
“Why the long face, Avigor? What bothers you?” the good-natured voice of Lord Dow broke Rainald’s reverie. He hadn’t been aware of it, but he caught himself scowling darkly, and he dissolved his features into a smile as he looked up at Dow.
“Oh, it’s nothing, it’s just… I was worried about something …” His smile slipped and fled, and he gazed seriously at the older Lord, who sobered up in sympathy. “Tell me,” said Rainald softly so that they should not be overheard, “was High Council intending to announce the crash of that starship that fell on Carlin lands?”
“To the best of my knowledge, no,” said Dow. “Personally, I would not advise doing so. Those people are hardly our concern now… I mean, as a group, as a Clan. Their misfortunes would be met by boredom from some, which is not a good thing to plant in any Council, and by unhealthy interest from others, which is not to be hoped for either.” He gave the younger man a beady look. “Why?”
“I think we’re in trouble,” muttered Rainald.
“If we don’t announce it,” said Rainald, “the Ichari will. They mean to query.”
“How did you… oh. Another precog?”
“Sort of,” said Rainald, and scowled again, knowing he sounded less than convincing but constrained by too many conventions. “I was about to ask you to call Lammuir, and then I remembered that only Gilden was here, and you and I stood in Guardianship. We would be asking only ourselves for counsel, then.” He paused. “Who, then? Who can we ask? Who comes after Lammuir in… rank?” He had almost said ‘age,’ but hated to think of it like that.
Dow seemed to share his thoughts, for he shifted uneasily.
“Avigor was,” he muttered, “but they would hardly accept you now as… no offense, kinsman,” he added, hurriedly. Rainald shook his head impatiently. “Catallin,” said Dow finally, after a pause, “Catallin and Acharmi are the eldest… I shall call Catallin and find Acharmi… you look up Gilden Lammuir… his Clan does, after all, still hold the High Chair in High Council… and get Carlin also, if you can find him. Bring them to the High Council Chamber. We had better have a small council of war on this.”
Rainald nodded, and wheeled away, leaving Dow to hail Catallin, waving his hands like windmills above the heads of the crowd to attract that Lord’s attention. Almost immediately he spotted his Foster-brother, in conversation with three young and pretty girls, two wearing D’Alleara and one Catallin colors. The Catallin girl Rainald recognized immediately – she really had the most incredible color of hair, and could be none other than Gilden’s betrothed, Rialle Catallin. Rainald approached, hoping he was not in line for long introductions.
Gilden saw him coming, and waved to him. “Foster-brother!” he called, unmindful of the breach in protocol. Rainald was supposed to be in Guardianship over him, and most Clan knew that. “Come, you have not met my promised Lady!”
“Ay, but I know her. Greetings, Senya Rialle, and my congratulations – they would have come sooner had your betrothed told me of this when it actually occurred…”
She smiled, offering her hand, and Rainald took it reflexively and bent over it – but he was not here for small talk. “Gilden,” said Rainald, giving Rialle an apologetic grimace, “I hate to pull you away from such charming company, but I’ve been charged with collecting you – Council business,” he said, smiling, down to Rialle’s fallen face. “I am sorry, Lady.”
Gilden frowned, but took his leave of his lady-friends and fell into step beside Rainald. “Could it not have waited?” he grumbled. “Council is due to start in half an hour, and surely there…”
“Gilden,” said Rainald, his eyes still darting about for Carlin, “Did your father mention the starship to you?”
“Starship?” Gilden repeated blankly.
Rainald glanced at his puzzled face, and sighed. “No, I suppose not. High Council business and all that. I suppose I’d better fill you in before we get to the others…”
“High Council business, eh?” repeated Gilden with a touch of belligerence. Rainald, winced at the tone and turned his eyes on his Foster-brother. Gilden was staring at him with dark eyes.
“Ill chosen words, Foster-brother,” said Rainald. “I’m sorry. Still, it was aired in High Council, the same one my Lordship over Avigor was confirmed at, so I suppose it does make it High Council business. So don’t look at me like that, Gilden Lammuir, you know damned well it was none of it of my doing!”
Gilden cast his eyes down, rebuked. “Sorry, Rainald.”
“We’d better get to the others before Council proper starts.” Rainald said, sidestepping the apology. And then he turned to his companion, smiling wryly. “What are you complaining about? You’re the only Heir to Clan I know who will see the High Council chamber before his confirmation!”
Gilden flicked his gaze up, but his eyes were still guarded. “The starship?” he prompted.
For the few minutes to took them to walk to the High Council Chamber, Rainald gave Gilden an edited version of the happenings at Cavaril, the Keep of Clan Carlin.
“I do not believe the Lords meant to make it public,” Rainald was saying as they approached the doors, “but they may have to, if they wish to avoid being forestalled by the Ichari. I am perfectly certain that they mean to do this if we do not. So what we are having here is, in effect, a ‘council of war,’ as Dow puts it. You are here because Lammuir holds the Chair; Clan Lammuir’s opinion is to be taken into account.”
“What do you think?” asked Gilden.
“Me? Arella’s light, if the Ichari weren’t forcing our hand, I would not dream of it.”
“But why ever not? This is something that affects Clan…”
“How?” asked Rainald. They were now standing at the Chamber doors, facing one another. Rainald drew a hand through his hair, his usual gesture when he was nervous or agitated. Now he was both. The move played its usual havoc with his hair, setting it all awry like a young child’s. He caught Gilden’s grin, and snatched his hand back down again, conscious of a pang of wounded dignity. “How? So far as we know, the star people are not Gifted – so they do not touch Clan.”
“So far as we know.” Gilden underlined Rainald’s words. “Shall we go in?”
Inside, Lords Catallin, Acharmi, Dow and D’Alleara were deep in a heated discussion.
“…I believe the Ichari, as always, know what they are doing,” said D’Alleara, with a smug smile. Rainald glared at him. Why had they brought him? They ought to have known that the man would take the side with more power, and that, undeniably and traditionally, the Ichari held.
The four Lords all looked up at the opening and closing of the door; Rainald surprised a grimace of sick relief on Dow’s face when he entered, and wondered what losing cause the man had espoused this time. Catallin looked stern, and Acharmi troubled; it seemed that the Ichari had indeed been one jump ahead.
“Ah, our oracle,” said D’Alleara smoothly. Rainald wasn’t sure whether this was meant as an insult or not, but suspected it was; D’Alleara’s own Gifts were said to be vestigial. But he did not rise to the bait.
“Oracle indeed,” he agreed blandly, “if by that you mean that I have found out the intention of the Gem-wrights. But no more than that, my lord. Now we must decide which way to jump from here..”
D’Alleara’s barb had been turned firmly against his own hide; he scowled at Rainald for a moment, and then smiled again. Rainald turned away, choosing to ignore him. “Well?What are we doing, if anything?”
“The way I look at it,” began Acharmi slowly,” the Clan will be told anyway. And if it is not we who bear the word, well, you know as well as I do, my Lords, that there is always some discontented elements…”
“I think,” said Catallin, his face stony, “we have no real choice. That was taken away the moment the Ichari stepped in. And right now, it’s either they say it, or we do, and I’d prefer we do, and not just for your discontented elements, Acharmi. The others will not be happy about our going over their heads, but they will have to see it was the only road open to us.”
Acharmi was nodding. Rainald met Dow’s eyes, and then, sighing, nodded as well. So did Dow, once, sharply. Only now did D’Alleara widen his smile and say clearly,
“Yes, I think that is a good idea.”
You would have thought the opposite was a good idea, too, if we all agreed on it, thought Rainald savagely. Oh, to have that man away from Council! But he was Lord of a Major House, Rainald’s equal in rank; despite his shortcomings he was stuck in his place until such time as they needed to choose a new Lord.
Gilden, worrying at his lower lip, nodded too; and Rainald caught some of his surprise at his own audacity.
Catallin noticed the nod, and followed it with one of his own.
“Senyor Lammuir,” she said, using the courtesy title, “would Clan Lammuir agree?”
“Yes,” said Gilden. “I do not know all the details. But from what I’ve heard here, today…”
“With the consent of everyone here present, then, Acharmi, who holds the chair by proxy since Lord Lammuir is not with us, shall begin the Council with this news. That way we are sure to forestall the Ichari.” He looked around for his consent, and, receiving it from everyone, he nodded once again. “All right. We’d had better get back – they cannot start Council with so many Clan Lords absent, and they are like to get impatient.” He turned to Gilden. “Since you are under my Guardianship, Senyor Lammuir, would you sit with me in Council this day?”
Gilden smiled, and made a slight bow. “I would be honored to.” Then he cast an eye at Rainald behind Catallin’s departing back. “What luck!” he whispered conspiratorially. “Now I can talk to my Lady Rialle if the chatter on the Council floor gets boring!”
Rainald returned the gaze as innocently as he could, but he could not prevent his eves dancing in suppressed mirth. “I quite envy you. You see, my own betrothed will not be here this day. Otherwise I too would avail myself of her company.”
He had the pleasure of seeing Gilden’s mouth fall open in stunned surprise before he bade the speechless youth a calm and serene farewell, and excused himself to go after the four departed Lords.
There was a lilt in Rainald’s step, and a great big grin wreathed his face. How he had longed for this day! Gilden, who was forever springing shocks and surprises on people, himself always seemed unshockable; he would take everything anyone flung at him in his stride. But now, now Rainald had neatly turned the tables – Rainald, who had been the butt of many of his ‘announcements.’ Now it was Rainald’s turn to shine out, however briefly, and he reveled in it. He touched the ring he wore, which Aleta had given him and which he had deliberately turned inwards so that Gilden would not notice the stone… was it really only the night before? They seemed to have been together for years.
Well, Foster-brother, now we are even, thought Rainald with a good deal of smugness. Now you can start plotting again – I’ll be ready for anything.
And then he thought of Gilden and Rialle cooing together all Council, and peevishly wondered why he couldn’t bring his own promised Lady to sit at his side. And then his smile grew wide again.
But I am always with you.
It was Aleta, her touch already well known and loved. Yes, she was always with him. And, from his encounter with the Lammuir-Catallin couple earlier, Rainald would have been prepared to swear the highest oath, on his own ch’ia, that, although they seemed fond enough of one another, Gilden and Rialle did not share the bond that bound him, Rainald, and his Aleta so closely.
No. They do not, you are right. They talk; we have no need, came the soft agreement.
Aleta, love, I wish you could be with me, in person as well as in spirit! Councils…
Go, and have a good Council. Don’t you know I can see through your eyes?
And then he was in the Council Chamber, taking his place in the seat of the Lord of Clan Avigor. Those present of his Clan, led by Mirella and Sever, were seated in the gallery behind and around him. Rainald sought out the purple of the Ichari; most of them were sitting in their own special enclosure, which overflowed with purple. Some had scattered around the Clan galleries, taking their seats amongst their own Clans, where they might have owed allegiance before they had become part of the Ichari. A quick look was all he had time for, because already Lord Acharmi was on his feet and speaking. He declared the Council open, and welcomed all present; then, before anyone had a chance to claim to floor, he took a deep breath and went on.
“The High Council,” he said, “has an announcement to make, to begin the Full Council sitting.” He paused, and Rainald could see the sharp turns of the unconsulted Lords towards the speaker. Catallin stared straight ahead, and Dow was gazing intently into his lap, his face dubious. He still wasn’t sure… well, for that matter, neither was Rainald, and he had acquiesced. “A few months ago,” Acharmi carried on slowly, “a great vessel, a starship, crashed from the sky on the outskirts of Cavaril. There were survivors…”
A murmur began, which grew steadily louder. Rainald saw in some faces the inquisitiveness he had feared; on others, he saw the beginnings of an unease which could in itself turn into fear.
As he looked up again towards Acharmi, he caught the eye of a lovely young Ichara who sat in the galleries not far from his own seat. His gaze passed on after a moment – and then snapped back swiftly. He was already too late, though. Her expression was as serious and decorous as anyone might have wished… but he had seen it, he knew he had seen it, that small knowing smile that had played about her lips only an instant before. He had known their intent – he had gone to the High Council – but now… he had an uneasy feeling that he had been pushed where the Ichari believed he should go, and he had taken others on the road with him.
Why? Why this way? Were they and the starcrashed connected in some way?
And then it came to him. The legend of the Clans. The legend was what connected them. And the legend told how the Gods came down to the world from the stars. There were four of them: Eos, the Lord of Dreams and Power; Arella, the Lady of the Stars and Light; Aldra, the Earth-Mother, Lady of Birth and Lifeforce; Zarog, Lord of Darkness and Death. They came down from their high places in the heavens, and they begot children, and the children became Clan.
All the big Clan families claimed descent directly from Eos and Arella; Avigor itself was no exception. The Clan arose from Gods, who came down to the world from the stars… was it blasphemy to think that this was a reenactment, and the people from the starship were the forerunners of a new Clan?
Rainald shivered, clutching the arms of his seat. Somehow, turning everything he thought he knew on its head, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that the Clan’s own ancestors had not been Gods. They had been people, who had fallen from the sky much like the people in this starship had done. But he shied from the thought of what this meant.
Was a new Clan about to rise…?
And if so, oh Gods, whether they had ever been that or not, then what was to become of the Clan that existed already…?