either Aemris or the Marshall any satisfaction, any hint that he might be a weakling like the other men.
Instead, he reaches for the winds, weaves them and hurls them against the walls until his face smarts and sweat flows from his face to freeze upon his leathers. Until the walls are coated with a layer of ice as hard as rock. Until his eyes burn and he can see only with his thoughts. Until the winds slip from his thoughts and go where they will.
Then, and only then, does he slowly trudge back toward the warmth of his room, ignoring the pair of guards who have watched, wide-eyed, as the consort of the sub-Tyrant flails against the destiny that others have arranged for him.
CRESLIN's STEPS CARRY him along the east wall to the covered passageway leading to the tower, called Black for all that it was built of the same gray granite as the rest of Westwind. Within the Black Tower are the fallback winter stores and spare equipment, the not-quite-discarded packs and oil cloths and old winter quilts. They will have to do, for the newer equipment is within the guard armory below, where is posted a live guard.
His short silver hair blows away from his unlined face, and his strides are quick in the darkness of morning just before dawn. The gray-green eyes are set above dark circles, for he has not slept well, not after learning his future. Despite the snow film on the stones, his steps are firm, his boots clearing the risers mechanically.
Creslin glances at the narrow white expanse that drops off into the sheer cliff defining one edge of the Roof of the World. Beyond the thousand-cubit drop, beyond the jumble of ice and rock below, the darkness of the high forest thrusts through the deep snow, massive spruces and firs that march both north and south toward the barrier peaks of the Westhorns, those peaks that separate the eastern lands from the civilized west. Between and upon the high forest giants, the snow glistens, untouched. Beyond the high forest lie the unseen trade roads.
Creslin looks away from the dim vista, turning the corner into the darker shadows, more preoccupied with the past than the present.
He staggers from the impact and finds himself half-falling, half-drawn against a blond guard, nearly as tall as he, nearly as strong.
Her lips burn his. Then they are standing separately, thrust apart by the practiced motions of her training as a Westwind guard. Creslin is sorry to lose the warmth he has so briefly held.
"Greetings, honored consort."
"I'd rather be a guard."
"Everyone knows that, including the Marshall. It doesn't change things."
Her eyes are level with his. "I could be sent to North-watch for years for what I just did."
North watch? For a kiss?
"Yes," she answers, her narrow face severe in the shadows. "For daring to kiss the Marshall's son, for leading him on."
"What difference does it make? Llyse follows the Marshall, not me."
Fiera frowns, but the expression is gentle. "Men. It matters. And the sub-Tyrant would not be pleased either, though a one-time love would be difficult to prove."
Her words are meaningless, and Creslin has no response.
"Good day, sweet prince."
He reaches out but she is gone, battle jacket and sword, cold cap and helmet-down the inner staircase to the barracks below.
Again he shakes his head.
The covered section of the parapet is empty, and he fingers the key in his belt pouch. Fiera will not speak of their meeting, and he must obtain what he needs from the storeroom and return to his quarters before the day's formalities begin.
He steps toward the lock. Better old supplies than none.
"SEE? LIKE THAT." The arms-master adjusts Creslin's formal sword-belt. "It did some good to let you learn the basics. The Marshall should have stopped there. All you needed was enough to put up some defense." Her voice is impartial, stating facts.
"Defense? Just defense?"
"I'm not fond of armed men. The