Earthly Crown

Earthly Crown by Kate Elliott Read Free Book Online

Book: Earthly Crown by Kate Elliott Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kate Elliott
beside Marco’s chair.
    At least he didn’t stand up. “Golden fair, please, sit down.” Marco had the ability to look at you as if you were the only object in the world of interest to him.
    She sat down. Her heart pounded in an annoying yet gratifying way.
    “You’ve met Charles, of course,” said Marco. “This is David ben Unbutu, and this is Suzanne Elia Arevalo.”
    Soerensen greeted her with polite interest, David with evident good nature, and Suzanne with a pitying glance. Then Soerensen, Suzanne, and the two mining engineers they sat with fell back into a heated discussion about the ratio of volume to cost in the transport of metals in the Dao Cee system from the asteroid belt to the processing plants orbiting the planet Odys.
    “How is rehearsal?” Marco asked.
    “Slow. A little frustrating today. Owen says you’ve actually met the nomadic people we’re going to be traveling with, once we’ve left Jeds. What are they like?”
    He rested his chin on one hand, tilted his head to the side, and regarded her with amusement. “What do you imagine they’ll be like?”
    Diana laughed. “Don’t think I’ll fall for this trap. Gorgeous clothes, of course, and beautiful jewelry. Dashing horses. Stern men and shy women who possess honor and simple dignity in equal measure. I suppose they’ll have weapons. And lots of dirty but sweet-faced children.”
    “Yes, I think you covered most of the clichés,” he said approvingly, and she laughed again, half from relief and half because the whole scene between them was so transparent, without losing any of its intensity.
    A hush fell over the hall. Marco’s attention jerked away from her. A Chapalii dressed in the pale tunic and trousers of the steward class stood in the far doorway, holding a gold wand in his hands.
    Soerensen rose. “Excuse me,” he said to others at the table. “Suzanne.” She rose as well, and together they collapsed their trays, deposited them in the sort bin, and walked over to the door. Soerensen received the gold wand from the steward, and after a brief conversation with the alien, he and Suzanne left the hall. At once conversation flooded back along the tables.
    David ben Unbutu, unruffled at being abandoned, went back to his meal. The engineers begged pardon and left. Marco glanced at the strip on the back of his left hand. “Ah,” he said. He returned his attention to Diana. “My heart, it grieves me to part from you, but I must go.” He lifted her hand to his lips, brushed a kiss there, and hurried out of the hall.
    Don’t watch him go. Even as she thought it, she wrenched her gaze away from Marco’s back only to find David ben Unbutu watching her with a wry smile on his face. Instantly, she blushed.
    “Sorry,” said David. “I noticed your necklace. Are you a Trinitarian, or is it just a family heirloom?”
    She lifted a hand to touch the necklace, with its intertwined star, book, and cross. “I was brought up in the worship, yes,” she replied. How kind of him to change the subject.
    “Have you visited the chapel on board? It’s very…quiet. I’m going there now.”
    Diana smiled, a softer smile than the one she had offered to Marco Burckhardt. She felt like an idiot, sitting down by Burckhardt only to be deserted; probably he had gone off on Soerensen’s business. Probably David ben Unbutu understood her plight. “Oh,” she said, noticing the four short, beaded braids hanging from his coarse black hair down the back of his neck to dangle over the collar of his tunic. “You’re Orthodox.”
    “Orthodox Judaeo-animist,” he agreed with a chuckle. “Our village is one of the last pockets of Trinitarian animism left in western Africa, and, of course, there’s a long history of engineers in our family because of it.”
    Behind them, through the other doors, a horde of actors swept into the dining hall.
    Diana jumped up, collapsing her tray over the uneaten food. “I’d love to see the chapel.”
    Along the red

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