Authors: Jennifer Roberson
Jennifer Roberson writes
Chronicles of the Cheysuli
is a dynastic fantasy, the story of a proud, honorable race brought down by the avarice, evil and sorcery of others—and its own special brand of magic. It’s the story of an ancient race blessed by the old gods of their homeland, and cursed by the sorcerers who desire domination over all men. It’s a dynasty of good and evil; love and hatred; pride and strength. Most of all it deals with the destiny in every man and his struggle to shape it, follow it, deny it.”
DAW titles by Jennifer Roberson
THE SWORD-DANCER SAGA
CHRONICLES OF THE CHEYSULI
THE SONG OF HOMANA
LEGACY OF THE SWORD
TRACK OF THE WHITE WOLF
A PRIDE OF PRINCES
DAUGHTER OF THE LION
FLIGHT OF THE RAVEN
A TAPESTRY OF LIONS
THE GOLDEN KEY
(with Melanie Rawn and Kate Elliott)
RETURN TO AVALON
HIGHWAYMEN: ROBBERS AND ROGUES
Copyright ©, 1984, by Jennifer Roberson.
All Rights Reserved.
Cover art by Julek Heller.
First Printing, February 1984
PRINTED IN U.S.A.
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For all those who believe in fantasy,
and the special few who believed in me.
She sat by the creek, half-hidden in lush grasses. Carefully she twined purple summer flowers into her single dark brown braid, and dabbled bare feet in the rushing water. Stems and crushed blooms littered the coarse yellow gown she wore and damp earth stained the garment, but she paid it no mind. She was purposefully intent on her work, for if she allowed her thoughts to range freely she would be overtaken by the knowledge—and the hope—that he still might come.
A songbird called from the forest behind and she glanced up, smiling at the delicate melody. Then her attention was caught by an approaching rider, and she let fall the flowered braid from limp fingers.
Sunlight glittered off the gold of his mount’s trappings and painted the chestnut warhorse bright red. She heard the jingle of bit and bridle and the heavy snort of the big stallion. His rider, who had yet to see her, rode unconcernedly through the meadowlands.
She drew her knees up and clasped her arms around them, resting her chin on their tops. She felt the familiar leap of excitement, anticipation and wonder within her breast, and quickly tried to dismiss it. If she allowed him to see it she would be no different from anyone else to him, and therefore of no account.
And I want to be of account to him
, she thought intently.
His tawny-dark head was bent as he rode, blue eyes on the shedding of his gloves. He wore black hunting leathers, she saw, and had thrown a thin green woolen mantle back from broad shoulders. A flash of green and gold glittering at his left shoulder caught her eye: the emerald cloak-brooch he favored. At his heavy belt was hung a massive two-handed broadsword.
The warhorse splashed into the creek, splattering her liberally. She grinned in devious anticipation and straightened in the deep grass, wiping water from her sun-browned skin.
“I did not think you would come,” she said, pitching her voice to carry over the noisy horse.
The animal reacted to her unexpected appearance with alacrity. He plunged sideways, halfway out of the creek, then unceremoniously slid down the muddy bank into the water again. His rider,
equally startled, reined the animal in with a curse and shot a glare over his shoulder. When he saw her his face cleared.
“Alix! Do you seek to unseat me?”
She grinned at him and shook her head as he tried to settle the horse. The creek bottom offered treacherous footing to any beast, and the warhorse had yet to find a comfortable spot. Finally his rider cursed again in exasperation and spurred him through the water onto the bank, where he stared down at her from the chestnut’s great height.
“So, you wish to see Homana’s prince take an unexpected bath,” he said menacingly, but she saw the amusement in his eyes.
“No, my lord,” she responded promptly, very solemn and proper. Then she grinned again.
He sighed and dismissed the topic with an idle wave of his hand. A ruby signet ring flashed on the forefinger of his right hand, reminding her of his rank and the enormity of his presence before her.
By the gods
, she whispered within her mind,
he is prince of this land and comes to see me!
The prince stared down at her quizzically, one tawny eyebrow raised. “What have you been doing—harvesting all the flowers? You are fair covered with them.”
Hurriedly she brushed her skirts free of clinging stems and blossoms and began to pick them from her braid. Before she could strip them away entirely he swung down from the horse and caught her hands, kneeling.
“I did not say you presented an unattractive sight, Alix.” He grinned. “More like a wood nymph, I would say.”
She tried to draw her hands from his large weapon-callused ones. “My lord …”
“Carillon,” he said firmly. “There are no titles between us. Before you I am as any other man.”
But you are not
…she thought dimly, forcing a smile even as she let her hands stay trapped. After a moment he released one and lifted her to her feet. He led her along the creek, purposely matching his steps to hers. She was tall for a woman, but he was taller still than most men and twice as broad, for all his eighteen years. Carillon of Homana, even did he ever put on the garments of a common crofter, was a prince to the bone.
“Why did you think I would not come?” he asked. “I have ever done it before, when I said I would.”
Alix watched her bare toes as she walked, not wishing to meet his steady blue eyes. But she was honest before all else, and gave him a blunt answer.
“I am only a crofter’s daughter, and you heir to Shaine the Mujhar. Why
“I said I would. I do not lie.”
She shrugged a shoulder. “Men say many things they do not mean. It does not have to be a lie. I am, after all, not the sort of woman a prince converses with ordinarily.”
“You put me at ease, Alix. There is a way about you I find comforting.”
She slanted him a bright, amused glance. “Men are not always seeking
, my lord. At least, not in conversation.”
Carillon laughed at her, clasping her hand more tightly. “You do not mouth idle words with me, do you? Well, I would not have it another way. That is part of the reason I seek you out.”
Alix stopped, which forced him to. Her chin lifted and she met his eyes squarely. “And what is the
part, my lord prince of Homana?”
She saw the brief conflict in his face, following each emotion as it passed across his boyish features. Carillon, even at eighteen, was an open sort, but she was more perceptive than most.
Yet Carillon did not react as she expected, and inwardly dreaded. Instead of embarrassment or condescension or arrogant male pride, there was only laughter in his face. His hands rested on her shoulders.
“Alix, if I wanted to take you as my light woman and give you chambers within Homana-Mujhar, I would seek a better way of telling you. For all that, first I would
you.” He smiled into her widening eyes. “Do not think I am indifferent to you; you are woman enough for me. But I come to you because I can speak with you freely, and not worry that I have said the wrong thing to the wrong ears; hearing it later from the wrong mouth. You are different, Alix.”
She swallowed heavily, suddenly hurt. “Aye,” she agreed hollowly. “I am an unschooled crofter’s daughter with no fine conversation. I am very unlike the sleek court ladies you are accustomed to.”
“The gods have made a place for every man and woman on this earth, Alix. Do not chafe at yours.”
She scowled at him. “It is easy for a man of your rank to say such a thing, my lord. But what of the poor who live in Mujhara’s streets, and the tenant crofters who must live on the questionable bounty of their lords? For all that, what sort of place has Shaine left to the Cheysuli?”
His hands tightened on her shoulders. “Do not speak to me of shapechangers. They are demons. My uncle’s purge will rid Homana of their dark sorcery.”
“How do you know they are demons?” she demanded, arguing out of fairness rather than conviction. “How can you say when you have never met one?”
Carillon’s face went hard and cold before her; aloof. Suddenly she longed for the even-tempered young man she had known and loved but a few weeks.
“Carillon—” she began.
“No,” he said flatly, removing his hands to stand stiffly before her. “I have no need to see demons to know they exist. The breed is accursed, Alix; outlawed in this land.”
“By your uncle’s doing!”
“Aye!” he snapped. “Punishment for a transgression which required harsh measures. By the gods, girl, it was a Cheysuli who stole a king’s daughter—my own cousin—and brought civil war to this land!”
“Hale did not
Lindir!” Alix cried. “She went willingly!”
He recoiled from her, though he did not move. Suddenly before her was an angry young man who was more prince than anything else, and therefore entitled to a short temper.
“You freely admit you are an unschooled crofter’s daughter,” he began coldly, “yet you seek to lesson me in my House’s history. What right do you have? Who has said such things to you?”
Her hands curled into fists. “My father was arms-master to Shaine the Mujhar for thirty years, my lord, before he became a crofter. He lived within the walls of Homana-Mujhar and spoke often with the Mujhar. He was there when Lindir went away with the Cheysuli she loved, and he was there when Shaine called curses on the race and outlawed them. He was there when the Mujhar
Muscles moved beneath the flesh of his jaw. “He speaks treason.”
“He speaks the truth!” Alix whirled from him and stalked through the grass, stopping only to remove a thorn from her bare foot. Her slippers, she recalled glumly, were back where they had begun this discussion.
“Alix—” he said.
“By the gods, Carillon, it was the Cheysuli who settled this land!” she said crossly. “Do you think they seek this—purge? It is Shaine’s doing, not theirs.”
“With just cause.”
Alix sighed and set down her foot. They stared at one another silently a long moment, both recognizing they jeopardized the tenuous friendship they had built. She waited for his curt dismissal.