CHAPTER 1 (part 4)

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Chapter 1 (part 4)

That night in Mahoney's Inn, the Lady Everynne paced at the foot of her rough bed. The smell of its thick down tick and the soft texture of its heavy red quilts called to her, but even though she was weary, she could not rest. A single dim candle lit the room. She had taken two rooms for appearance's sake. Her guardian, Veriasse, sat at the foot of the bed, head bent in a forlorn attitude.

"Get some sleep, my daughter," Veriasse said. He had slept little in two days, yet she knew he would stay awake at the foot of her bed and keep wide-eyed until they reached safety. His brown hood was pulled back, revealing his weathered face.

"I can't, Father," she said honestly. "Who could sleep? Can you still taste their scent?"

The aging man stood up, shook his head so that his long silver-gold hair spilled down over his shoulders, and went to a basin in the corner of the room. There he poured a pitcher of cool drinking water over his wrists and hands, then toweled them dry. He opened a small window, raised his hands and held them out, long thin fingers curled like claws, and stood for a time with his piercing blue eyes closed as if in meditation. Though the old man could catch a scent with his hands, Everynne could see no sign that he was testing the air.

"Yes," he said at last. "I can still taste the scent of a van-quisher. He is distant, perhaps no closer than twenty kilometers away, but I am sure he's here. We can only hope that when we destroyed the bridge, the vanquisher got trapped on the other side."

"Perhaps vanquishers have another reason for coming to this world?" Everynne asked in a tone that was part argument, part plea. "Just because you taste the scent of a vanquisher, it does not mean he has come for us."

"Don't fool yourself," Veriasse said at last. "Tlitkani has sent her warriors to kill us. With only one gate to watch, this world is the perfect spot for an ambush." He said it as one who knows. Tlitkani had enslaved Veriasse for four years, had forced him to become her advisor. Veriasse was gifted at reading personalities, at studying motives and moods. He could anticipate an adversary's actions so well that many thought him a psychic. No one understood Tlitkani better than Veriasse did.

"The young man downstairs said that the gate is only five miles distant. Could the vanquishers have already found it?"

"It's hard to say-" Veriasse answered. "I feel certain that van-quishers are following, but they could be ahead of us, too. On such a windy night, I cannot even be sure that the vanquisher I smell is twenty kilometers off. It might be ten, or only two."

"Perhaps the vanquishers are searching for the gate, even as we are," Everynne offered.

"Or perhaps Tlitkani wants us to believe that her servants are only searching for the gate-hoping that we will foolishly rush into another trap. I think it best to wait here for the night." Veriasse yawned and rolled his shoulders to keep the muscles loose, clearly uncomfortable. "We should proceed to the gate cautiously. We may have to fight our way through."

Without Calt, Everynne thought, that will not be easy. She felt a pang of grief, hoped that Calt had died painlessly.

Veriasse said nothing for a moment, then asked, "And what of our guide, this Gallen O'Day? Shall we convert him to our cause? He reacts quickly, and he is marvelously strong."

"I won't do it!" Everynne said, perhaps too forcefully. She knew all of the arguments. She needed protectors, she needed an army of men like Gallen O'Day, but what could he know of her world, the weapons that her people used? You could hardly expect a man to battle vanquishers with nothing more than knives, and Veriasse had no weapons to spare. Even if she did

choose to persuade the young man to come along, it would be the same as murdering him.

Veriasse sat down cross-legged on the floor, but gazed up at Everynne past heavy lashes. He looked at her knowingly. It was as if he read her mind as she considered the arguments, almost as if he were placing the thoughts in her head.

"Then you are decided?" Veriasse asked. He smiled secret-ively.

"What?" Everynne said. "What do you know?"

"I know nothing," Veriasse said. "I can only guess at probable outcomes based on what I know of my associates."

"What do you guess?"

Veriasse hesitated. "I've seen men like Gallen before. He will want to follow you. Regardless of your good intentions, you must allow him to follow you, to fight at your side-if necessary, to die at your feet. So many people depend on you! I would advise you to use this man as your tool. He is only one, but his sacrifice might save many others."

Yet Everynne could not bear the thought of watching another guardian die. Especially not one so ignorant as Gallen O'Day, one so innocent.

"Let's get some rest," she said. Everynne crossed the room, blew out the candle. She closed the window and stood for a moment looking out into the dark streets of Clere. There was a little starlight shining on the town. From this height, she could see over several house-trees and buildings, down to the quay. Small fishing boats lay on the rocky shore, dark, like beached pilot whales. Poles in the sand held twisted coils of fishermen's nets, hung out to dry. Everynne could almost smell the kelp and the sea rime upon them. She had passed those nets only an hour before, as she made her way into town, and the memory of that smell came strong to her.

High on the beach, the seagulls had huddled under folded wings, eyeing her darkly, ominously. Almost, it felt as if they were watching now, through this window.

Everynne shivered, moved away from the window quickly and lay on the bed. Veriasse's heavy, uneven breathing came to her, and she listened to it as she drifted off. Veriasse-with his unwavering devotion, his strong back-seemed somehow more than human. Certainly, by the standards of this world, he would not be judged human at all. Her teacher, her friend. He had guarded Everynne's mother for six thousand years. And during the course of Everynne's short life, he had been a solid presence, always at her side. Sometimes she tried to distance herself from him, think of him only as a warrior, the only one of her guardians to survive this journey. But she could tell that he was weary to the bone, worn through. She could not ask that he continue fighting alone.

The old man sat in the dark at the foot of her bed, wrapped in dark robes-ever faithful, ever determined in the face of overwhelming foes.

With a pang that tore at her heart, Everynne realized what she must do. She needed another guardian, someone to fight beside Veriasse. She knew that men like Gallen O'Day could not resist her. Something in them responded to something in her. It was biological, inevitable. When she had first walked into the inn. She could tell from Gallen's eyes that he believed he had fallen in love. Given an hour in her presence, he would be sure of that love, and within a few days he would become ensnared. Another slave.

Yet there was nothing Everynne could do to dissuade the unyielding devotion of men like Gallen and Veriasse. So Veriasse sat at her feet, waiting to die. Everynne hated her lot in life. But it was her fate. For she had been born a queen among the Tharrin.

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