test she must undertake and overcome each and every year.
Creslin must worry only about palace intrigue, and about pleasing the sub-Tyrant. He snorts. Not if he can help it. Yet he knows so little about real life beyond the guards, beyond the Roof of the World.
Before the sound of his knock dies away, the door is opened by a guard, gray-haired and muscled. She lets him enter, glancing at his guard blade.
He makes his way into the study.
"Creslin!" The Marshall stands. "Even with those leathers, you look good. Except for the hair. Sooner or later you'll have to let it grow."
"Perhaps. Then again, things may change."
She laughs, her manner less formal in the study with only a pair of guards, and those a room away. "Still fighting destiny?"
Creslin grins ruefully. "Since I have no idea exactly what my destiny will be, I couldn't say what I'm fighting."
She touches his shoulder, then withdraws her hand. "You'll do well in Sarronnyn, son, if you remember that you can run to destiny, but not from it."
"That sounds like a rationalization of fate."
She shakes her head. "You need to be off. Shall we go?"
They proceed back out into the hall and down the stairs. Outside the castle's front entry, an honor guard awaits.
The consort swallows. An honor guard? Not including the armed-escort squad? He steps away from the Marshall and toward the single riderless battle pony. The parka he has not worn lies across the saddle, with the cold cap and gloves. Galen has forgotten nothing, except that being a man means more than expertise with domestic details.
"Have a good journey."
Creslin inclines his head as he pulls on the parka. The cap and gloves follow, and he swings into the saddle. The Marshall, in her normal black leathers, stands at the top of the stairs, the wind ruffling her short, gray-streaked black hair.
Creslin raises his arm in a farewell salute, then flicks the reins.
The sound of hooves is the loudest noise as the cavalcade heads out through the open gates onto the high stone road across the corner of the Roof of the World and toward the nations below.
"NOW WHAT ARE you going to do? The last thing we need is an alliance between Westwind and Sarronnyn. It's bad enough that the Black weaklings are muttering again about our abuse of the Balance. With Ryessa's power and hold on the southern trade routes, and that mad bitch Dylyss and her guards-"
"You still don't understand, do you?"
"What is there to understand? Ryessa needs some way to keep that . . . that abomination, her sister, under control, and both Creslin and Megaera need the appearance of being forced into the alliance. We need to keep them apart, and you need a lever over Montgren. That's the clear part. But how on earth this mad scheme will promote anyone's ends but Westwind's and Sarronnyn's, or your feelings about ..." The heavy, white-clad man continues for many elaborate sentences.
"Enough. Your words are interesting. You feel that Ryessa's sister is an abomination because she was born to the power and chose the White route. Yet the White is right for you? Or is that because she is a western woman who was born to the Legend?"
"The Legend, that involuted rationalization!"
"Who had the idea for the betrothal insinuated?" The older and thinner man cuts off the intricate phraseology.
"And what will happen if the boy never makes it to Sarronnyn?"
"Accompanied by Westwind guards? Who'd be fool enough to tackle them?"
"You're assuming that the boy will go along with the bethrothal. That is a rather large assumption. What happens if he flees to escape his well-planned destiny?"
"The Westwind guards will chase him and capture him."
"And if he won't be taken, or if he dies? Or if the Black ones attempt to help him?"
"Can you be sure of that?"
The thin man shrugs. "The seeds have been planted. Carefully, and he's good soil. After all, Werlynn's music was never chained. That was too bad; no one could sing like he could. He