Chapter 3 – original version

3.

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 about four chins; but within this unprepossessing exterior lurked a mind that was every bit as sharp as Rainald’s. Rainald had come to realize this during this three-month incarceration 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 again, in fact, just before we came here, to a youth from my own Clan. So in effect you haven’t jumped anything; and both your precogs… she knows you had one, by the way… are about to become truth very quickly. So,” she said, clapping his hands together, “may I say I’ll be glad to welcome you as a kinsman as well as friend. I should be delighted to perform the betrothed. Do you wish me to do so privately, or in open Council?

“Privately,” said Rainald immediately. He was going to enjoy announcing this in council, but the thought of actually going through a betrothal in front of all those people gave him the shivers.

“Very well. I shall make the necessary arrangements. Council starts tomorrow; when do you wish this to be done?”

“Today. Tonight. Now, if possible.”

“Possible,” agreed Rimmuz. “In that care, would you care to present yourself and anyone you might wish present at my chambers within the hour? I shall assemble the other pertinent personages myself.”

“I will be there.”

“Then, if you will excuse me, I shall take my leave. There are preparations to be made.”

He took his leave; and Rainald sent a footman for Mirella. He wanted 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 he didn’t get to use this plan, Characteristically, when he say her come in, he blurted the news 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 after gives you away, my brother. It did yesterday. Besides which, you left almost as soon as they did, looking very intent and serious. I just pieced the rest together.” She paused. “Which one is it?”

“Aleta.”

“The younger?”

“Yes, Mirella… will you come and be present at it?”

“I…” she bit her lip. 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 more formal. 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, again 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 the two rings that they sought.

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, who was very receptive to any feeling on a strong mental wavelength, had picked up scattered images. 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. Bur the ring had lifted it, and now Rainald shared it, willing or unwilling. He sighed, and shook his head as if to rid himself of a persistent dream; then carefully extricated one diamond ring from its place on the black velvet cushion and placed it on his own had for security. Then he shut the little casket and returned it to its abode, relocking the drawer after it. On his way out of the room he paused to stare one more at the wall on which hung portraits of Avigor brides. Soon another would hang there, just below his own mother’s. 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 down 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.

“Yes. 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 are a fine one to talk, you who are inseparable from the Diamond which is in our gem. 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?”

“Yes.”

“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 on account of the young bride’s affiliation to that Clan as well. The three rose from their seats when the two net arrivals entered. They greeted Mirella formally, and then turned to Rainald with greetings and congratulations. De Skari was the only one in the room who had not had an occasion to get to know Young Avigor at all; as a consequence of this, he was left out of the more intimate circle almost my default. Acharmi and Dow both embraced Rainald under the beaming eye of Rimmuz, and then remained standing, talking to the young Avigor. 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.

Dow grinned at Rainald, almost boyishly conspiratorial. “I can’t help feeling at least a little pleased with myself,” he admitted. “I think I must be experiencing what a successful matchmaking Mama must feel at the height of her triumphs. I think I’ve beaten them all to the prize this time! If you didn’t choose the candidate I originally advocated, Avigor, at least you had the sense to pick my ward!”

“How come you are her guardian and not her sister’s, Dow?” asked Rainald curiously.

“Half-sister’s,” corrected Dow. “Has nobody told you that before? No? Well, there was quite simply a wangle with surnames. Aleta’s mother was a Rimmuz-Dow, her father a Rimmuz-De Skari. They never married, but he acknowledged the child, and gave her his surname. The Dow side of her mother’s lineage came from my father’s half-sister, Jerinna, who married a Rimmuz-Acharmi, and… oh, to cut a long and involved story very short, Aleta and I are related, albeit distantly. Liara’s mother was a full De Skari, and as a consequence she was made a ward of the De Skari Clan. Any clearer?”

Rainald raised an eyebrow. “No, but this should cure me of asking questions pertaining to Clan interrelationships. I once heard someone mutter that with intermarriage and fostering, everyone is related to everyone else in the Clan.” Prudently, Rainald did not mention that this information was gleaned in an inn at Colgarma’s fishing wharfs. Dow might have reconsidered his suitability as a husband for his ward if he had done so.

Any further conversation was precluded by the entrance of the rest of the required cast for the ceremony that was about to be enacted. 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 look away. His spine was stiff with the precog wash, and he found himself unable to tear his eyes away. She made no move, no gesture, her hands serenely folded in her lap. But she was aware of his scrutiny.

I feel you, I know you. It won’t be long now…

Aleta’s touch was gentle, but firm and strong. Rainald’s, when he responded, was calmer than he felt.

I feel you, I sense you, I know you, too… It won’t be long.

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, and the girl, now standing at Rainald’s side, offered her hand with a touch as soft as her mind’s. Rainald took it. His 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, and he placed it on the middle finger of Aleta’s right hand, repeating his Truth Vow after Rimmuz. The ring fitted perfectly, as if by magic. Then he received his own from her, on the middle finger of his right hand, and heard her repeat her own Vow. And then, as if someone had pricked the bubble of silence that had surrounded him with a pin and burst it into smithereens, 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 of wide-eyed youngsters staring at him. “Time enough for that,” she said, conversationally, the solemn part of the pledge sharing clearly over. “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 there were refreshments provided in the next chamber. Only now did Aleta meet Rainald’s gaze, her eyes simmering and bright with a barely concealed 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.

And then their moment was gone. Swamped by the jovial Dow and Rimmuz’s calls, and the sporadic congratulations of everyone present, they were swept apart and then together, and then apart again. Yet all the time between them there was a tenuous link, which, fed through both ends by powerful precog and telepathic potency of two strongly Gifted true telepaths of the Clans, grew slowly stronger as the time passed; it was established so firmly by the time they bade each other farewell at the end of the evening that they were in more or less continuous Contact all the time, and would never need the channel of the Pattern stones to initiate communication even when they were far from one another. Rainald knew this was not the case with his own parents. His father’s had been a powerful Gift; but is 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 care with many of the Clan kinsfolk, and like the implications of it – that the Clan Gifts were failing, and the ch’ia stones were serving as crutches.

He reflected on these things when he was getting ready for bed that night. Clan should be able to intercommunicate on a clear mind plane only, he decided, and was upheld in the decision by Aleta’s gentle agreement, the last thing he remembered before falling asleep.

I am here.

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, showed up at Council, usually. They seemed to be perpetually busy with their gems and the science of Gem-resonance that they practiced. They were the ones to whom every Clan went for to receive the Pattern-stones for their youngsters; the Ichari, who had their own dwelling on the tip of Claw point, the most westerly point of the mainland, seldom traveled far afield, but rather waited in their stronghold until they were actually sought out. They had made it their life’s work to study the mind of the Clan people, and the way it worked; and they had extensive knowledge of Patters, and therefore Contact. So much so, in fact, that they tended to communicate with one another almost entirely in contact, a custom that did not altogether endear them to the Clans – there was something distinctly unnerving to be present while two telepaths carried on a mental conversation that excludes one entirely. Clan did not like them, but they respected them, and usually the children with the strongest Gifts were given up for Ichari training at an early age. When they went, they more or less completely renounced their Clan, and held allegiance to the Ichari and their Lord, whom they chose amongst themselves on the basis of the power of the Gift he held. 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 revered for it. Although the Clans, who ruled in Council and not though one person only, had no overlord or High king as such amongst them, their kind all equals, the Lord of the Ichari was the nearest to that office they accepted. If a matter was referred to the Lord, his words were commands, and were obeyed. Even the High Council would accept his dominion, for, by very virtue of his position, in a society graded by the power of the mind, he was by for the superior of anyone who held a Council seat.

But this submission was hardly ever called for. The Lord of the Ichari kept to his rocky peninsula, and ventured rarely out into the world. It was not such a sure thing that anyone would recognize him, even if he died; very few people, other than the Ichari themselves, knew his actual identity.

Be that as it may, an unusually high number of Ichari had turned up for this particular Council session, Rainald noted as he approached the Full Council Chamber. Their purple, unadorned was 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 to Colgarma. Ichari were quite ascetic in their habits, and so that face of Colgarma, the middens and warrens of 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 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 when it met. But if they did not do so, and Rainald knew not with the same surety that had yielded Aleta to him, then the Ichari would. And Rainald, shocked by his own thoughts, questioned the readiness of the hodge-podge Clan gathering that usually constituted Full Council to accept the new with impunity. The High Council had decreed that the people from the fallen ship were to be left to blend themselves into the tapestry that was Castala’s background and way of life. He himself happened to think that was a wise decision, since, to anyone’s best knowledge, they were not Gifted and so must take their place amongst those who served Clan. But he realized that they would find it extremely hard to adapt to the background if the whole 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. Is 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 …” he went solemn again, and 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 do 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 ban a beady look. “Why?”

“I think we’re in trouble,” muttered Rainald.

“What?”

“If we don’t announce it,” said Rainald, the Ichari will. They mean to query.”

“How did you… oh. Precog?”

“Soft of,” said Rainald. Then, about to speak again, he drove his fist into the palm of his other hand and swore softly.

“What bothers you… apart, of course, from the Ichari and their little plan?”

“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… and there is Catallin.” He looked at Rainald Avigor with something like awe, but it fell somewhat short. It was a kind of exaggerated respect. “I shall call him, 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 small Council Chamber.” This was where the High Council met, but it would be deserted now. “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 hears 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. “Foster-brother! Come, you have not met my promised Lady!”

“Ay, but I know her. Greetings, Senya Rialle… Gilden,” said Rainald, tearing his eyes from the girl’s welcoming smile, “I have you pull you away from such charming company, but you are required at the small chamber. 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, sensitive to nuances, picked it up 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 be like that, Gilden Lammuir, you know damned well it was one of my doing!”

Gilden cast his eyes down, rebuked. “Sorry, Rainald.”

“That’s all right. Oh, bother Carlin; we’d better get to the others before Council proper starts.” 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 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,” he was saying as they approached the doors, “but they may have to, to avoid being forestalled by the Ichari, who mean to do it 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 whyever not? This is something at 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. Gilden smiled at the air of vulnerability it gave his Foster-brother. “How? So far as we know, they 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 awaited them. They were deep in a heated discussion of their own.

“…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, 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 exposed 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 no, but suspected it was; D’Alleara’s own Gifts were said to be vestigial. But he did not react either way.

“Oracle indeed,” he agreed blandly, “if by that you mean that I have the intention of the Gem-wrights. But no more than that, my lord; now must we decide which path to follow in the fork the precog has set us.”
D’Alleara’s barb had been turned firmly against his own hide; he scowled at Rainald for a moment, and then smiled again. Rainald ignored him. “Well?” asked the young Avigor. “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 in any stratum…”

“I think,” said Catallin, his face stony, “We have no real choice. 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 pace until suck 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, then?”

“Yes,” said Gilden.

“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 them.” He looked around for his consent, and, receiving it from everyone, he nodded once Again. “All right. Now, we had better make our way to the other chamber. 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!”

Now!

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 he had been hoist by his own petard, and by his foster-brother, who had been the butt of many of his ‘announcements.’ Now it was Rainald’s turn to shine out, however briefly, in this craft, and he reveled in it. He touched the ring he wore, which Aleta had given him… 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 friend encounter with the Lammuir-Catallin couple earlier, Rainald would have been prepared to sweat 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?

I know, he thought, realizing that he did. And the black and white pattern that had been floating before his eyes the whole morning, that must be some needlework of Aleta’s that he could see though her 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 had owed honor and allegiance before 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 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 panned on after a moment. But although he was serious when he looked sharply back at her a moment later, he could have sworn he had seen a knowing smile play about her lips only an instant before. He knew he had seen it; and he liked not what he saw. For he had thought he had only kept the precog true; and now, 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 he had fleetingly though of on the night he had first learned of the crash and later dismissed from his mind due to the many things that had of necessity occupied it; the legend was what connected them. And the legend told how the Gods came down to the world from the stars. There were for 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, and they begot children who 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 he knew 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. But he shied from the thought of the portents of this. Did it mean a new rising Clan? If so, oh Gods, whether they were so or not, when what was to become of the Clan that existed already?

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