Authors: Frankie Robertson
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #fullybook
There was that look again. It made her feel indecent. She’d dressed appropriately for a short hike, but Dahleven’s intense gaze made her feel like she was half naked.
Ghav intervened. He waggled his bushy gray eyebrows at Dahleven, then turned to Cele. “You must tell me more of the healing arts of your home. The differences must be as great as in your customs and dress.”
“Indeed.” Dahleven got to his feet and began climbing to where Falsom kept watch near the top of the ridge.
Sorn poked his head out of the cave. “Ghav will keep you talking about healing and herbs all day if you don’t stop him. Come in out of the heat.”
Ghav laughed. “He’s right. Go. Rest. We’ll talk later.”
Cele put on her socks, then gathered up her belt-pack and boots and followed Sorn inside.
“How’s your knee?” Sorn asked, sitting down cross-legged on Cele’s left.
“It looked worse than it was. Ghav fixed me up so it doesn’t hurt at all.”
“He has a Talent for that.”
“I guess so.” Ghav had a talent for healing. Sorn had a talent for kindness and Dahleven had a talent for pissing her off.
Cele changed the subject. “I don’t know anything about anything or anybody here. Tell me about yourselves.”
A twinkle appeared in Sorn’s eye. “I’ve been in Lord Dahleven’s company now for six years. I like roast duckling, sleeping late on holidays, and my favorite color is blue.”
Cele snorted, and dug Halsted’s dried fruit from her pack. “What about your family? Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“None living. My only brother died before I was born. The fever took my mother and sisters five years ago, so it’s just me and my father now. What about you? Do you come from a large family?”
“No,” Cele said around a mouthful. She didn’t want to talk about herself. She was more interested in what Sorn’s life was like. “What’s your father like?”
“He’s a jeweler. His Talent is Enhancing Beauty, so everyone wants one of his pieces. When I was younger, I wanted to be just like him.”
“You wanted to be a jeweler?” Cele couldn’t keep the disbelief out of her voice. Sorn seemed so comfortable in his skin, she couldn’t imagine him doing anything else. Certainly not making jewelry.
Sorn chuckled. “No. I wanted his Talent. When he was young all the women wanted to be seen with him.”
“Because he made them jewelry?”
Sorn gave her an odd look. “Because his Talent made them beautiful. Before he learned to harness it, his Talent ran loose. Anyone within its aura appeared more beautiful. When I was young, I thought being surrounded by beautiful women sounded pretty good.”
That sounded new-agey. “I doubt you had much trouble gaining the attention of the ladies, even without your father’s talent thingy.”
“You have the truth of it, Lady Celia! Our Sorn here is a smooth hand with the ladies. He’s not lonely much of the time, are you Sorn?” Fendrikanin grinned and winked at Cele.
“Shut it, Fender,” Sorn growled.
“That’s right. Our Sorn here seldom lacks feminine companionship. Or should I say,
companionship?” Fendrikanin leaned forward to push his jibe home with a direct look.
Sorn rolled his eyes. “Yes, Fender, back home I’m surrounded by women. Thronged. Hounded.”
“I’m a little confused,” Cele said tentatively. “I thought you were an only child?”
“He is, but half the ladies of Quartzholm would adopt him if they could.” Fendrikanin’s eyes glinted with his joke.
“We won’t discuss
reputation with the fairer sex, as there is a lady present.” Sorn looked away from Fendrikanin with exaggerated disdain, but there was a sparkle of humor in his eyes. “Actually, he’s right.” Sorn’s mouth twisted in a rueful grin. “The ladies at home do love me—as a brother. Whenever you see me engaged in conversation with a woman, it’s a safe bet she’s asking advice on how to deal with her beau.”
Cele didn’t say anything, chagrined to recognize a similar feeling within herself. Of course women talked to Sorn, he was easy to talk to. Sorn was comfortable. He was…safe. “I see your problem.”
“Now it’s my turn to ask a question.”
Cele grinned. “You can ask.”
“A true lady. She promises nothing.” Fendrikanin sketched a bow.
Cele laughed and inclined her head.
Dahleven appeared in the cave entrance. He gestured and Knut left the cave. Cele wondered if he would quash the conversation like the sudden appearance of a study hall monitor.
Fendrikanin seemed undeterred. “We were just sharing confidences. Care to play?”
“It sounds like a dangerous game. Whose turn is it?” Dahleven asked, sitting against the opposite wall. He bent his legs to avoid blocking the entrance and propped his elbows on his knees.
Cele glanced at him with surprise at his unstuffy reply and saw a smile lurking around his lips.
“Lady Celia’s, but she has reserved a lady’s prerogative.” Fendrikanin grinned at her.
Cele knew she was supposed to ask, and knew she shouldn’t, but did anyway. “To which of my prerogatives do you refer?” she asked with mock dignity.
Unrepressed, Fender replied, “Why, to change the rules at any time, my lady.”
Cele had to laugh, and so did everyone else, including Dahleven. “And don’t you forget it.” She wagged her finger at Fender.
“You’ve heard about me,” Sorn said. “Now tell us about your family, Lady Celia.”
“I’d rather hear more about this Talent thing you mentioned.”
Sorn’s eyebrows rose, and Fendrikanin darted a look at Dahleven.
What did I say
“Do you not have Talent among your people, Lady Celia?” Dahleven’s face and voice were very casual. Too casual.
Cele answered carefully. “We have people back home who are talented in art and music. Or we might say someone has a talent for fixing things, but that sounds different from what you’re talking about.”
Sorn’s brows were drawn together. “We have those among us who are skilled in the Arts as well, but Talent is a separate thing.”
“Separate how? Are you talking about some kind of magic?”
Sorn glanced at Dahleven, who gave a slight nod. “Our Talents are neither trickery nor ritual magic,” Sorn said. “They’re part of us, but separate from gifts of skill. A man might have a Talent for shaping wood, but no skill for woodcarving. So he might become a cooper or a wainwright. My father could have applied his Talent by working with paint, or cut stone, or fabric and laces, but his skill and his heart lie in working with metal and fine stones. His Talent enhances the natural beauty of his creations, and the beauty of those who wear them.”
Cele wasn’t sure what to think. Were these guys serious? It sounded like they were talking about psychic stuff, and they obviously took it very seriously.
“A few poor fools have Talents of little use. I know one fellow whose Talent is imitating sounds and voices. Entertaining, but not of much value,” Fendrikanin added.
Cele thought of the highly paid performers back home who’d built their fortunes on mimicry, but said nothing.
. She’d been there only three days ago. Now it seemed very far away.
you have Talent among your people, perhaps called by another name?” Dahleven asked softly. From Lady Celia’s questions, he feared he knew the answer already.
Falsom came in off watch and picked his way past the others. A little of the midday heat drifted in with him. It would be a while yet before the day cooled enough for them to move on. Dahleven wished they could have kept moving, but none of them, bred in the mountains, tolerated the lowland heat very well, so they rested each midday while in the drylands.
Lady Celia waited for Falsom to pass before she answered. “I don’t think so. Not the way you talk about it.”
Fendrikanin studied the ground. Dahleven felt awkward, but he forced himself to meet Lady Celia’s eyes. What did you say to someone who was Talentless? Sorn reached out and squeezed Lady Celia’s hand. To his surprise, Dahleven wished he were the one comforting her.
Lady Celia gave Sorn a quizzical look. “What’s wrong? You all look as though someone died.”
Dahleven exchanged an embarrassed glance with the other two men.
Sorn broke the awkward silence. “We’re just sorry that you’re…Talentless.”
“You’re new to Alfheim. Your Talent could still Emerge,” Fender suggested.
Dahleven knew that was unlikely, but he didn’t gainsay Fender. Talent Emerged during puberty, not in well-grown adults. “It’s rare among us that a child fails to develop Talent,” Dahleven added gently. It generally meant pitying glances and ostracism.
Understanding broke over Lady Celia’s features. She removed her hand from Sorn’s grasp. “You mean it’s like a deformity to be without Talent, don’t you? From your point of view, I’m not quite whole.”
All conversation had ceased. Falsom froze, still standing. No one spoke.
“Well, I’ve never had a talent, and until I got here I never knew anyone who did, so I don’t miss it. In fact, people who claim to have unusual abilities like that are considered a little flaky where I come from, so it’s not a problem for me. And, no offense, but while your Talents are handy, they hardly seem essential.”
Dahleven said nothing. No one else did either; there was nothing to say. Many people coped with their shortcomings by viewing them as unimportant. No good would come of persuading the Lady otherwise.
“You said some among your people have unusual abilities?” Sorn asked.
“So some of your people do have Talent?” Fendrikanin joined in.
“A few people claim they can move small objects without touching them, or see things that are far away with their minds, but they can’t always get it to work when they want it to. Most people are pretty skeptical about that sort of thing.”
“It sounds like Talent is rare among your people,” Dahleven said.
“Maybe. But if it doesn’t work consistently, what good is it?”
“Our Talents are consistent.” Dahleven spoke softly but firmly. He wanted Lady Celia to be clear on this point. He didn’t want her thinking of them with the same distrust she obviously had for the Talented among her own people. Maybe they deserved that doubt. He and his men did not.
Lady Celia was thoughtful for a moment. “Do you all have only one?”
Dahleven nodded. “One is enough.”
“What are they? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“Pathfinding,” Dahleven said.
From Sorn: “I’m a Cat Foot.”
She nodded, understanding his unusually silent movement now.
“Water Finding,” Fendrikanin said softly.
“Heimdal’s Sight.” Falsom finally sat down.
Lady Celia looked confused. “What’s that?”
“Like Heimdal, I can see things at great distance.”
“Oh. And Ghav’s Talent has something to do with healing, doesn’t it?” Lady Celia looked around for the healer. “Pain. You stop pain, don’t you? That’s why you were upset when you thought I was hurting. You were afraid your Talent wasn’t working.”
Talentless or not, Dahleven admired her quick understanding.
“You’ve so recently arrived,” Ghav said. “It’s possible my Talent might have had no effect on you, but the lack of your response still would have distressed me.”
Lady Celia nodded. “Yes, of course.”
They fell silent again.
Ghav was right to silence me out there
, Dahleven thought. He’d been thinking ill of her for looking like a lady and dressing like a—what? A sex thrall? The lady Celia, however, kept the pace like a soldier, without complaint, and faced the truth without flinching from it. She might be Talentless, but his criticism was out of place, even if her lack of clothing was a hazard to her well-being and a distraction to his concentration.
Sorn again broke the tension. “Now that you know about our Talents, tell us about yourself.”
Not for the first time, Dahleven thanked the weavings of the Fates for Sorn’s presence, as his friend redirected the conversation with instinctive empathy.
A wicked twinkle glinted in Lady Celia’s eye. “I’ve been an emergency response operator for three years and a supervisor for two. I like pizza, hiking at dawn, and my favorite color is green.”
There was a perfect pause, then Fendrikanin hooted his laughter.
Sorn touched his forehead in mock salute. Then he asked, “What’s ‘pizza?’“
Lady Celia’s eyes widened and she put a hand on Sorn’s. “You’ve never had pizza? No, I guess you wouldn’t.” She smiled. “It’s wonderful! You put meat and onions and cheese and mushrooms and spicy tomato sauce on thin bread and bake it. I’ll make you some, sometime.”
Dahleven wished she’d offered to cook for him, then crushed the thought. “Tell us of your home and family. Your life there must be very different.”
Lady Celia looked at him as though she were surprised he could be civil. Well, he supposed he’d earned that.
different. I live in a valley full of people—about a million of them. We have cars and planes and television. Of course we also have car accidents, gunshot wounds, and heart attacks.” Her mouth twisted into a sour moue on the last few words.
Dahleven didn’t recognize all of her words, but he understood what she left unsaid. She missed her home, but she hadn’t been happy.
“And your family?” Sorn prompted.
“There isn’t much to tell.” Lady Celia’s eyes dimmed a little as she looked off to the side. “My mother died two years ago after a long illness. My cousins live on the other side of the country, so I hardly know them. The family pretty much shunned my mother after she met my dad. She didn’t have much use for them either. I share a house with my best friend, Elaine.” Lady Celia’s eyes came alive again. “Poor Elaine! She’ll be out of her mind with worry.”
“And your father?” Fendrikanin asked.
“My father was never part of the picture. He took off before I was born. Mom raised me on her own.”
“He deserted a woman bearing his child?” Kep burst out.
Dahleven felt the same, but he kept his flare of outrage and disgust under control, wishing young Kep had more restraint.
The lady shrugged. “It happens. I never suffered for it. Mom saw to that.”