end her misery soon.” Although Zenith had not seen Leagh in some four years, they remained in close touch; Zenith not only knew how much Leagh hungered for Zared, she understood why Caelum and Askam were going to deny Leagh her heart’s desire. Poor Leagh, she thought, it’s time she was told to move on with her life. Five years of alternating between misery and gut-wrenching hope was too long for anyone.
Caelum nodded slowly, and rubbed his face with one hand. He suddenly looked very, very tired. “The time has come to solve this. Askam has gone too far with his debt– and Zared should have been astute enough in the first instance to know that a marriage between him and Leagh, especially with Bethiam remaining so stubbornly barren, would be a political impossibility.”
He drew a deep breath. “This needs not only my authority, but the weight of the Council of Five.”
Zenith’s eyes widened. The heads of the leading five families of Tencendor only met on a biennual basis; to call them in now, not eight months since their last meeting, bespoke how serious Caelum thought the problem was. As ruler of Tencendor, Caelum’s final word was law – legally he did not need to call the Council on this matter – but he obviously felt both Zared and Askam needed the judgment of their peers as well as his own word.
WingRidge snapped to attention.
“Send couriers to Zared, Sa’Domai, FreeFall, Yllgaine and Askam. We meet with the utmost haste – no later than seventh-day three weeks from now. And send for Isfrael as well.”
Isfrael, now Mage-King of the Avar, was not officially a member of the Council of Five and did not have a vote, but for the past ten years he had attended all the meetings, and given and listened to advice. As Caelum’s half-brother and leader of one of Tencendor’s three main races, he was usually invited as a courtesy.
Besides, no-one particularly liked to make a decision in Isfrael’s absence that might subsequently annoy him.
As WingRidge put his hand to the doorknob, Caelum called him back. “No, wait. Leave Askam. I will send a personal courier rather than one of yours.”
WingRidge nodded, and was gone.
“Zenith?” Caelum smiled at his sister, although his eyes remained tired and careworn. “Why don’t you tell Askam?”
“Me? But –”
“The bridge can connect you to Spiredore easily enough, and from there it’s only a short flight across Grail Lake to Carlon.”
“But why me?”
“Because I think Leagh should be here as well. I need to tell her my decision, and I’d rather do it to her face than by courier bird. Don’t you want to see her? Bring them both back by Spiredore. Askam can send his escort north by more conventional means.”
“I don’t know that I want to leave –”
Caelum’s voice hardened into command. “You need to be more involved with Tencendor, Zenith. I am asking you to go, but if you wish I can make your departure slightly more compulsory.”
Zenith’s chin tilted up, and in that movement Caelum saw all of his mother’s fire and determination. “As you wish, brother. I shall leave before sunrise.”
And with a slight but noticeable twitch of her shoulders, she brushed past him and left the room.
Beggars on the Floor, Travellers O’er the Bridge
S he preened before the mirror in her chamber, running her hands down her lightly clad body, liking what she saw, what she felt.
RiverStar SunSoar was a lovely, alluring birdwoman, and she knew it. What man had ever been able to resist her?
She lifted her hands to her fine golden curls and shook them out. How they complemented her violet eyes! Her pale skin!
“I am irresistible,” she said, then laughed, low and husky.
Irresistible indeed – except to the one who continually resisted her.
She froze at a subtle touch. Power.
His. It stroked at her arms, lifted the material from her breasts, rippled down over her belly, her legs.
Her lover. He was close.