a boy he was drawing his dagger against. There was just enough light for me to see the flash of his blade and the angry glint in his eyes. Terrified, I drew my own and struck out. I didn't mean to kill him, but I did." He let out a bitter laugh. "I don't suppose even Ilar expected that when he sent the Haman back."
"He wanted you to be caught?"
"Oh, yes; that's what all his attentiveness had been leading to. The 'faie seldom stoop to murder, Alec, or even to outright violence. It all comes down to atui, our code of honor. Atui and clan are everything—they define the individual, the family." He shook his head sadly. "Ilar and his fellow conspirators—there were several, as it turned out—had only to manipulate me into betraying the atui of my clan to accomplish their end, which was the disruption of the negotiations. Well, they certainly got that! What followed was all very dramatic and tawdry, given my reputation and my all-too-obvious
relationship with Ilar. I was found guilty of complicity in the plot, and of murder. Did I ever tell you what the penalty is for murder among my people?"
"It's an ancient custom called dwai sholo."
"Yes. Punishment is the responsibility of the criminal's clan. The wronged clan claims teth'sag against the family of the guilty person. If that clan breaks atui and does not carry out their duty, the wronged family can declare a feud and any killing that follows is not considered murder until honor is restored.
"Anyway, for dwai sholo, the guilty person is shut up in a tiny cell in the house of their own khirnari and every day they are offered two bowls of food. One bowl is poisoned, the other not. The condemned can choose one or refuse both, day after day. If you survive a year and a day, it's considered a sign from Aura and you're set free. Few manage it."
"But they didn't do that to you."
"No." — the choking heat, the darkness, the words that flayed —
Seregil gripped the cup. "I was exiled instead."
"What about the others?"
"The small cell and two bowls, as far as I know. All except for Ilar. He escaped the night I was caught. And he'd accomplished his purpose. The Haman used the scandal to wreck the negotiations. Everything my family and others had worked decades to accomplish was swept aside in less than a week's time. The whole plot had hinged on duping the son of Korit i Solun into betraying the clan's honor. And you know what? "
His voice was suddenly husky, so husky that he had to take another gulp of wine before he could finish. "The worst of it wasn't the killing or the shame, or even the exile. It was the fact that people I should have trusted had tried to warn me, but I was too vain and headstrong to listen." He looked away, unable to bear Alec's look of sympathy. "So there you have it, my shameful past. Nysander was the only other person I ever told."
"And this happened over forty years ago?"
"By Aurenfaie reckoning, it's still last season's news."
"Has your father ever forgiven you?"
"He died years ago, and no, he never forgave me. Neither did my sisters except for Adzriel—did I mention that Shalar was in love with a Haman? I doubt very many of my clan who've borne the burden of the shame I brought on our name will be in any hurry to welcome me back, either."
Talked out, Seregil knocked back the last of his wine as images from that final day in Viresse harbor flashed unbidden through his mind: his father's furious silence, Adzriel's tears, the scathing jeers and catcalls that had propelled him up the gangplank of a foreign ship. He hadn't wept then and he didn't now, but the crushing sense of remorse was as fresh as ever.
Alec waited quietly, hands clasped on the table in front of him. Stranded in silence by the fire, Seregil suddenly found himself aching for the reassuring touch of those strong, deft fingers.
"So, will you go?" Alec asked again.
"Yes." He'd known the answer since Beka had first told him of the journey. Framing the