Sethra Lavode (Viscount of Adrilankha) (9 page)

BOOK: Sethra Lavode (Viscount of Adrilankha)
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Having come to this decision, then, Zerika called out, “Captain! Sergeant! Ensign!” We should explain that it was not, in fact, three soldiers for whom Her Majesty called, but, in fact, only one: in such circumstances, she had been accustomed to summon the captain, and so had made the first call. She then, however, remembered that the captain was no longer on duty, and, instead, recalled to her mind his
replacement, the first name on the list with which Khaavren had presented her, that being an experienced guardsman whose name happened to be Sergeant. On reflection, however, after asking for him, she thought she ought to address him by his rank, which a moment’s reflection brought to her mind; it being, of course, Ensign.

Whether three or one, this worthy appeared quickly enough in answer to her call and made a respectful bow.

“Your Majesty desired something?”

“Yes, Ensign. I desire to be entertained.”

The worthy soldier frowned. “I beg Your Majesty’s pardon, but, while I know a few barracks songs well enough to sing them when there are enough other voices so that mine is lost—”

“No, you idiot. I am not asking you to entertain me.”

“Ah. Well, I tell Your Majesty in all honesty that I am just as glad.”

“I wish to know,” said Zerika, speaking slowly and carefully, as one might speak to an outlander or a small child, “what entertainments are available this evening—entertainments that it would not compromise the dignity of the Orb for me to be at. I require distraction, life, noise.”

“Your Majesty, how am I to tell?”

“How? Well, there is a stack of invitations on that table in the corner; go and see if any of them are dated this evening.”

“Yes, Majesty.”

Sergeant crossed to the indicated table, picked up the top-most of the rather large pile of letters, and, after glancing at it, announced, “Today the Count of Southmoor celebrates the completion of his home, Castle Black.”

“What do you tell me?”

Sergeant repeated what he had said.

“Southmoor, do you say? Morrolan?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“But, it has been less than a year!”

“It seems, Your Majesty, that he has an astonishing number of Vallista at his disposal.”

“Well, but, why wasn’t I informed of this?”

“But Your Majesty was informed—the invitation is here, on thin black paper with gold lettering, addressed to: ‘Her Imperial Majesty, Zerika the Fourth, House of the Phoenix, Empress of Dragaera, at Whitecrest Manor, Adrilankha.’ ”

“Bring it here.”

Sergeant handed the invitation to Her Majesty with a bow. Zerika looked at it carefully, and noted that, in fact, it was not written on thin paper, but, rather, on silk; and, moreover, the lettering itself was, in fact, gold.

“Well, that is certainly addressed to me. And the proof is, the invitation is here. And, moreover, it does not lack for style.”

“Then shall I make arrangements?”

“Yes, do so.”

“Very well. But—”

“Yes?”

“What arrangements am I to make? That is to say, how will you get there?”

“Do you remember a certain Athyra named Bebbyn?”

“I do.”

“He is the Imperial Sorcerer. He will arrange transportation.”

“Very well. What else?”

“Do you know Lord Brimford?”

“The—that is to say, the Easterner?”

“Exactly.”

“I have seen him.”

“Inform him that I will be at—what is the name? Castle Black. That I will be at Castle Black this evening.”

“Yes, Majesty.”

“And find my maid,” said Zerika, standing up. “Send her to me in my apartment. I go now to dress.”

The Empress was going to the ball.

Chapter the Seventy-Fourth

How the Entertainment at
Castle Black Took Place

I
t was on a Skyday in the winter of the first year of the reign of the Empress Zerika the Fourth that Morrolan opened the doors of Castle Black. Lady Teldra was there to greet the guests, who included, among others, Sethra Lavode, Sethra the Younger, the Sorceress in Green, the Necromancer, Viscount Lászlo of Brimford (that is, the Warlock), Khaavren, Aerich, Tazendra, and three score or so of nobles of various Houses, mostly Dragon, who were either teleported in by Morrolan himself, who had fairly mastered the art, or were levitated up to the courtyard after arriving below it by some other means.

It is worth mentioning that this event, quite aside from its effect on the history we have taken it upon ourselves to relate, marks the first time an entertainment was given to which any of the guests (not to mention most of them) arrived by teleportation, and, as such, is significant to those who make a study of the social customs of such affairs. While no doubt interesting, such a study is beyond the scope of this history, wherefore we will content ourselves with the mere observation of the fact.

Morrolan himself was kept busy answering questions, most of them having to do with the problems unique to construction carried on far off the ground. Even endless repetitions of the remark “Well, it is certainly a defensible position” or near variations did nothing to depress his spirits—he smiled and laughed and greeted his guests through the night, at one time remarking to Teldra, “This is very nearly as enjoyable a pastime as battle.”

Morrolan had arranged for confections from Nacine, where there were two quite respectable bakers. In addition, he had imported creepers from the Shallow Sea, squabs from the Southern Coast, beef and kethna from the surrounding peasants (prepared by chefs discovered
and recommended by Teldra), and wines from as far away as Aerethia. For entertainment, he had raided both Hartre and Adrilankha for instrumentalists, singers, and jongleurs, as well as bringing in several of the local peasant orchestras, with their traditional instrumentation of violin, bagpipe, fretted demkor, and slim-whistle. There were, as well, a number of cittern players, some of them quite skilled, others only providing accompaniment for their voices, which in these cases was never less than pleasant.

The ball-room, which had nearly been a temple, and before that had been a room of some unknown purpose, served its function quite well: there was not only easy access to the kitchens and storage lockers, but, in the event, the small alcoves connecting to it were perfect places for those who desired a few minutes of private conversation, and were thus in nearly constant use.

Khaavren, dressed in a pure white shirt with ruffled collar and sleeves, an azure doublet, blue leggings, and black boots, accompanied the Countess of Whitecrest, who had made, it must be admitted, a spectacular toilet. Her dark hair was swirled up, held in place by a golden pin set with four pearls. Her gown was bright red, cut low enough to attract interest, and it fell quite simply to her trim ankles—its only shape was Daro’s shape, which was certainly sufficient. The gown featured tall wings of lace upon the shoulders creating a sort of frame for her lightly powdered face. Around her neck hung another string of pearls, this one so long that it fell nearly to her waist. A sort of sash or baldric of bright, shimmering blue ran loosely from her left shoulder to her right hip, and on it were three small rubies. Her shoes were white, buckled, and adorned with a sapphire upon the toe. She had rings on each hand, one a pearl, the other a ruby. Upon seeing her complete ensemble as they prepared to leave Whitecrest Manor, Khaavren had observed, “Madam, it would appear that, today, I am an accessory.”

Khaavren met Morrolan in the ballroom, and, bowing deeply, said, “My lord Morrolan, Count of Southmoor, permit me to present my wife, Daro, Countess of Whitecrest.”

For the sake of completeness, we ought to mention that, by advice from Teldra, Morrolan had dressed very simply, in an elegant black and silver warrior’s costume—Teldra pretended that, as the host, he ought not to wear anything that might make any guest feel he had paid insufficient attention to his toilet.

“But,” said Morrolan, “is it not as bad if someone feels he has gone to too much trouble?”

“No one will feel that way on this occasion,” said Teldra. “Your invitation will insure that.”

“How, it will?”

“You will see.”

Having made this necessary interruption, we return to the introduction of Daro and Morrolan. The Dragonlord made a courtly bow (Teldra had gone to some pains to show him how this was properly done) and kissed her hand. Daro, for her part, made a thousand compliments on his castle, not forgetting to observe the sweeping marble stairway, the elegance of the gold banisters, the fountain in the central hallway, and the three quite remarkable chandeliers, each with over two hundred candles, that graced the ballroom itself.

“You are too kind, madam,” said Morrolan. “May I show you and my good friend Khaavren where we have hidden the wine?”

“A splendid idea, sir; we should like nothing better.”

“But,” observed Khaavren, “Cha! Who is this I see guarding the wine?”

“Not guarding it in the least, my dear Khaavren,” said Aerich. “Rather, standing in what I knew would be the best position to intercept you.”

“You are right once more, my friend.” He turned to Morrolan, saying, “I hope, sir, that I may trust you with the Countess for some few minutes while my friend and I have conversation.”

“Sir,” said Morrolan, “I promise that she will be entertained, but not excessively.”

“That is exactly right,” said Khaavren, while Daro said, “You are charming, sir.”

“Your arm, Countess?”

“Here it is, Count.”

“Come, I will introduce you to the Sorceress in Green.”

“Ah, permit me to guess: She is the one wearing green?”

“How did you know?”

As Morrolan led Daro in one direction, Khaavren took his friend Aerich in the other, finding one of the private rooms that was, by chance, unoccupied. They took chairs, and silently toasted each other, after which Khaavren, looking carefully at Aerich, said, “If you
were Pel, rather than yourself, I should say, ‘my conscience pierces me.’ ”

“ ‘Stabs’ is the formula, my friend.”

“Well, stabs then. It doesn’t matter, as you are not Pel.”

“No, I am not. And yet—he has become the Discreet. I am happy for him.”

“Yes, his ambition is realized. Or, at least, one of his ambitions. Who knows how many he has?”

“That is true, dear Khaavren. And Tazendra has realized her ambition—Tazendra Lavode. For myself, I should never have guessed it.”

“Nor I, and yet we should have. You remember how well she and the Enchantress seemed to understand one another.”

“That is true, and she has always had an abiding love for sorcery.”

“And what of your ambitions, my dear Aerich?”

“Mine? They are all fulfilled. I grow grapes, I watch them turn into wine, I drink the wine. What more could I want?”

“And that is enough for you?”

“More than enough, my dear friend.”

“Family?”

“Perhaps, someday. It would be good to be able to pass on my estate to an heir, but I am in no hurry.”

“That is good.”

“Moreover—”

“Yes?”

“I very nearly have a son.”

“How, you do? You, Aerich?”

“I said nearly, Khaavren. I was speaking of the young Viscount. He—but what is it, my dear friend?”

“What is it? Why, you wrote to me.”

“That is true, but then, you know that the Countess wrote to me.”

“Well that is true.”

“She indicated that you would be pleased to speak to me.”

Khaavren smiled. “I do not deny it. But she said nothing of the subject upon which I desired speech with you?”

“Not the least in the world. Does it concern your son, my friend?”

“Aerich, how did you know?”

“Because of the expression that crossed your countenance when I mentioned his name.”

“It is impossible to deceive you.”

“Well then, it does concern the Viscount?”

“It does, Aerich.”

“Is he well?”

“I don’t know. That is to say, I do not know where he is.”

“How, he has vanished?”

“He has run off.”

“But, he must have had a reason.”

“Oh, yes. I think he had a reason.”

“Well, relate the entire history to me.”

“I will do so.”

Khaavren described his conversation with Piro. Aerich shook his head upon learning that the young Tiassa had wished to marry outside of his House, and looked sad upon hearing of the Viscount’s embittered departure.

“My poor friend,” murmured Aerich.

“Tell me frankly,” said Khaavren. “Have I done wrong?”

“To drive away one’s own son is wicked; to permit him to marry improperly is infamous.”

“Had I a third choice?”

“I don’t know, my friend. I am only glad, now, that I was never faced with the challenge of raising a child during a time when there was no Empire. The Empire is all we know of right and wrong; without it, we are lost, as a ship is lost when out of sight of land, with no record of its direction and rate of sail.”

Khaavren emitted a short, barking laugh—the laugh one gives out of bitterness, rather than amusement—and said, “If the Empire is all we know of right and wrong, then I am surely wrong, for I have left the Empress’s service.”

“Have you, Khaavren? That astonishes me.”

“Well, it is good that I can still astonish you on occasion.”

“Would you care to tell me why you resigned, Khaavren? You needn’t if you don’t wish to.”

“Bah. This Phoenix annoys me.”

“Does she?” said Aerich, with something of a smile. “More than the last one did?”

“Oh, the last one couldn’t help it, so I didn’t mind.”

“You have unusual standards.”

“Perhaps I do.”

“So then, what will you do now?”

“I wish I knew. Aerich—”

“Well?”

“Do you think I ought to search for him?”

The Lyorn nodded slowly. “If you wish my opinion—”

“I always wish your opinion, Aerich.”

“Well then, yes, I think you ought to at least speak to him.”

“Ah, well!”

“Yes?”

“I must tell you, first, that I do not know how to find him.”

“Yes, and after that?”

“After that? Well, if I did find him, I do not know what to say.”

BOOK: Sethra Lavode (Viscount of Adrilankha)
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