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Authors: Dave Duncan

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BOOK: Magic Casement
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“Unonini,
“ said that terrible voice-somehow it sounded like thunder and yet it was
not loud and it did not echo, “what do you know about this man Sagorn? “

Mother
Unonini made a sort of croaking noise and then whispered, “His Majesty
told me that he was coming. That he is a great scholar...” She paused.

“Go
on! “

“That
he was an old friend of his Majesty’s. They traveled together in their
youth.” There was a tense silence. That dark and icy chapel should be hot
and brilliant from the divine fire, but it was not. The flags were cold and
gritty under Inos’s knees. They smelled of dust.

“So?
“ the God asked in a voice that Inos thought would not be heard outside
the door and yet could have laid low the hills.

With
obvious reluctance, Mother Unonini said, “So I do not think he is evil,
or a sorcerer. I... I should have told her that, to reassure her. “

“Yes,
you should!”

Inos
had covered her face with her hands. Now she opened her fingers just a tiny bit
and peered through them. She could see the God’s toes. They blazed so
brightly that her eyes hurt, yet the floor beside them was still dark. Greatly
daring, she sneaked a glance upward at the glory of the God.

He...
it... she... No, They, she remembered. Gods were always “They.”
They were a female figure, or so it seemed. They seemed to be without clothes,
but she felt no shock or shame as she would have done if They had been really
naked. For one thing, her eyes were watering so much that she could not see
Them properly. For another, there was a white rainbow glow about Them, a
radiant nimbus that flowed incessantly, a surging tide of iridescence. Within
it she seemed to catch glimpses of a female body of incredible beauty and
grace, radiating also compassion and affection--

Then
suddenly it had a maleness of strength and power, and a terrifying anger that
made her very glad she was not Mother Unonini. Inos could feel the chaplain
trembling at her side as that divine wrath washed over her.

Her
eyes ached so much that she closed them quickly and bent her head again. It had
been like trying to see the rocks in a tidal pool when the sun was shining on
the ripples, but these ripples were waves of beauty and strength and maleness
and femininity and love and splendor-and now anger. Yet in that glimpse of
unbearable blazing glory, she had the strange feeling that she had seen
familiarity. Her mother, perhaps? Could that have been her mother’s face
in Their coldly burning radiance? She did not feel quite so fearful, then.
Probably the God was well meaning and just could not help looking so awesome.

“Unonini,
“ the voice rumbled, and somehow it was now male, also, although the
pitch did not seem to have changed, “what is wrong with the cloth on this
table?”

The
chaplain whimpered. “Nothing, God.”

“So
where is the Good and where is the Evil in frightening the girl into making an
offering of something she does not own and does not want to offer? “

The
chaplain wailed louder. “God, I was wrong! It was more an Evil than a
Good.”

“You
are sure? Gods can mislead, also, remember!”

“I
am sure, God. I was being spiteful.”

“Very
well, “ They said, more gently. “Repent!”

The
waves of anger faded, to be replaced by something which so wrenched Inos’s
heart that she wanted to weep and laugh at the same time. After a moment’s
silence, the cowering Unonini began to make very curious noises that Inos
eventually decided were sobs.

Then
the God spoke again, and this time the voice had returned to being softer,
feminine. “Inosolan?” Now it was her turn and she had been on the
side of the Evil.

“Yes,
God?” she whispered.

“You
will have to try a little harder, won’t you?”

Inos
heard teeth chattering and realized they were hers. “I shall return the
silk, God.”

“No
need for that. “

She
looked up in astonishment and had to close her eyes at once against the sudden
agony. “You mean Father will buy it for me?”

The
God laughed. It was simultaneously a quiet chuckle and an awe-inspiring
explosion of vast, immortal enjoyment. It should have been deafening and it
should have echoed around and around the tiny chapel, but it did neither. “That
and many others. We do not say that you deserve this. We are only making a
prophecy. There are hard times ahead for you, Inosolan, but you may find a
happy ending if you choose the Good. “

She
said, “What must I do, God?” and was astounded to realize that she
was questioning Them.

“Seek
to find the Good, “ They said, “and above all, remember love! If
you do not trust in love, then all will be lost. “

And
They had gone. Without waiting for a reply or thanks, without demanding praise
or prayers, neither worship nor ritual, the God had vanished.

 

5

Mother
Unonini had uttered a great wail and prostrated herself completely.

Inos
considered that procedure for a moment and then decided that it was not called
for. Nor did the chaplain seem to want to continue their earlier conversation.
Come to think of it, old fishy-breath Unonini had been most divinely snubbed
and put down.

The
God had made Their appearance to save Inos from Mother Unonini’s spite.

Feeling
very calm and pleased now, Inos rose and walked out of the chapel, blinking at
bright sunshine that was nothing compared to the brightness of a God. She had
seen a God! Most people lived all their lives without such an honor. What a
pity she had been wearing her dowdy brown worsted, she thought, and then
scolded herself for such improper vanity.

Nevertheless,
she decided to go back to her room and change. Once she was looking a little
more regal and princessy she would see what she could do to patch things up
with Aunt Kade and the man who was obviously not a sorcerer. And she must show
Father the silk that he was going to buy for her. That and many others, the God
had said? Most curious!

She
had seen a God! It would be a topic of general interest at dinner.

She
headed toward her chamber, walking with her head very high, feeling elevated.
Yes, elevated! It was as if she weighed nothing at all and had to reach her
toes down to touch the ground as she walked. If she passed anyone on the way,
she did not notice. She came to the stairs and began to float up them...

But
by the time she struggled to the top, her mood had changed totally and she
seemed to weigh as much as the whole castle. She dragged her reluctant carcass
up the last few steps and could hardly find the strength to open the door. She
staggered in and the first thing she saw was herself, in the mirror, her hair
still all smeared with cobwebs and her face as white as a seagull, with a
seagull’s round, bright eyes.

And
behind her reflection, her father was sitting on her bed, waiting for her. She
saw an expression of impatience change instantly to alarm. He jumped up and
held out his arms and then he was hugging her tight and holding her head as she
buried her face in his soft velvet collar and began to sob.

Still
holding her tight, he sat her down beside him on the bed and held her for a
long time as she sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. And sobbed.

At
last she was able to find one of her mother’s linen handkerchiefs and
wipe her aching eyes and blow her nose and even, somehow, manage a small smile.
Her father regarded her with a worried frown. He was wearing a deep-blue robe
and he looked very regal with his short brown beard-very comforting and
reassuring. A little tired, perhaps. His velvet collar was stained with tears
and cobwebs, and she dabbed at it with her handkerchief, feeling stupid now,
and childish.

“Well!”
he said. “You haven’t had a good cry like that in a long time,
young lady. What provoked all that?”

Where
to begin? “I thought he was a sorcerer!”

“Sagorn?”
Her father smiled. “No! He’s a very learned man, but he’s not
a sorcerer. I don’t think it would be possible to eavesdrop on a
sorcerer, my princess.” Then the smile faded. “He’s also a
very private man, Inos. He does not like to be spied on. How much did you hear?”

“You
said you would not marry me off to Kalkor. Or Angilki.” She paused and
thought carefully. “I didn’t understand the rest, Father. I’m
sorry.”

“Sorry?”
He laughed ruefully. “You realize that you almost burned down the castle?”

“No!
How could I... Oh, no! The urn?”

“The
urn,” he agreed. “That disgusting, smelly, hideous old thing that
your aunt is so absurdly attached to. The oil went everywhere. Luckily young
Kel was quick-witted enough to throw, a rug over the flames... Well, don’t
do it again! And that’s all? All that weeping because you thought you’d
met a sorcerer?”

She
wiped her eyes again and fought down an insane desire to laugh. “No. Then
I met a God.”

“What?
You’re serious?”

She
nodded, and told him. He believed her, listening solemnly. Then he stared at
the floor and tugged his beard for a while, looking worried.

“Well,
I’m not surprised you were upset,” he said at last.

“Meeting
Gods must be a very scary experience. I fear it means trouble. We must discuss
it with Sagorn. But I’m not sorry to hear about Mother Unonini, I must
say. “ He glanced sideways at her, his eyes twinkling. “I can’t
stand the woman, either! But don’t tell anyone I said that! “

“You
can’t?” She was astonished at both his words and his conspiratorial
grin-not regal at all!

He
shook his head. “It’s very hard to find a suitable, well-educated
chaplain willing to live in a place like Krasnegar, Inos.”

“There’s
nothing wrong with Krasnegar,” she protested. He sighed. “Well, I
agree with you. But many wouldn’t. Now, what was all this about silk?”

She
jumped up and fetched the silk from where it lay beside the mirror. She shook
it loose and draped it over her shoulder for him to see and, before he could
speak, she hurriedly explained how the gold matched. her hair and the bronze
was just right for her skin and the green for her eyes. “I was hoping you
would buy it for my birthday?” she finished hopefully.

He
shook his head and motioned for her to sit again. She dropped the silk, feeling
her spirits drop with it. As she sat, he lifted a small leather box from the
bed beside him.

“I
am giving you these for your birthday. “ He opened the lid and she
gasped.

“Mother’s
jewels!”

“Yours,
now.”

Pearls
and rubies and emeralds! Gold and silver!

“They’re
not a great fortune,” he said, “but they are all good pieces.
Beauty, not riches. Some of them are very old. This belonged to Olliola, Inisso’s
wife...”

She
was overwhelmed, listening with open mouth as he told her the history of some
of the jewels. Then she hugged him and wanted to start trying them on, but he closed
the box.

“As
for the silk... “

Trouble!
“Yes, Father?”

“Where
did you ever find something like that?”

“Mistress
Meolome’s.”

“I
might have guessed!” He smiled. “How much?”

“Well,
more than I meant to pay, but-”

“You
sound just like your mother,” he said. “How much?” Inos bit
her lip and whispered the terrible truth.

“What?”
He stared at her. Then he quickly turned away, and after a moment she realized
that he was laughing.

“Father!

He
looked around at her, and his laughter exploded aloud. He bellowed with
laughter. “Oh, Inos, my pet! Oh, princess!” He laughed some more.

She
felt hurt, and almost angry.

“Come!”
he said at last, still fighting down amusement that she did not understand. “Come
and meet Doctor Sagorn.”

Once
it had been called the Queen’s Room, but now it was His Majesty’s
Study. Inos had not been in it very much recently, although it was almost the
only place in the castle that could ever be classed as cozy in the winter. She
preferred now to seek warmth and friendship in the kitchens, mostly. The
familiar chairs and sofa had not changed since her mother’s time, but
they suddenly registered on her as the furniture in her father’s bedroom
had done-old and shabby, and not regal. She was annoyed to see the long and
bony form of Doctor Sagorn stretched out in her mother’s favorite chair.

He
rose awkwardly and bowed to her, and she curtsied. She had insisted on changing
and felt much better in her cypress-green wool. It was too warm for this
weather, but it did have a hint of padding and it did make her look older.

Keeping
her gaze firmly on the threadbare rug, she apologized.

He
bowed again. “And my apologies to you, Highness, for frightening you. “
She thought he could have put a little more conviction into the words. “Your
father and I were perhaps a little too trusting in not locking the bedroom
door.” The old blue eyes gleamed nastily. “We put too much faith in
the aversion spell. It must be wearing thin, I suppose, after so many
centuries.”

“Spell?”
Inos echoed. “Sorcery?”

“Did
you not feel it?”

“She
thought you were a sorcerer,” her father remarked, smiling as if that
were a big joke.

“Alas,
no! I should hardly go around looking like this if I were a sorcerer, now would
I?” Doctor Sagorn attempted to match her father’s smile, but his
angular face looked even more predatory when he did that.

Inos
could not think of a ladylike answer to that question, so she countered with
one of her own. “How did you know about the silk and the dragons?”

“I
saw you in the road! You were clutching it as if you thought all the Imperial
armies would be trying to snatch it from you. You went by me at a tremendous
rate.”

Her
father chuckled and gestured for her to sit. “Like the time you befuddled
the customs men in Jal Pusso, Sagorn?” Sagorn guffawed and folded himself
back into the chair. “More like you and the meat pies!”

BOOK: Magic Casement
2.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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