“I apologize for intruding, Milord, but someone has arrived to see you.”
“Indeed?” Baron Tellian paused with his glass half-raised and looked up at his majordomo with a slight, inquiring frown. “Who is it, Kalan?” His tone added another, unspoken question—And why is his arrival important enough for you to disturb my lunch?
“It’s Sir Yarran Battlecrow, Milord. He says he carries an urgent message from Lord Warden Glanharrow,”the majordomo said, in a calm, unflustered voice, and Tellian’s eyes narrowed. Then he nodded.
“Thank you, Kalan,” he said. “Please have him shown into my study. See to it that he’s offered a chance to wash up first, if he so desires, and that refreshments are available to him. Tell him I’ll join him there as soon as I can.”
“Of course, Milord,”Kalan replied, then coughed gently. “In fact, I’d already given those instructions.”
“You’re entirely too efficient, Kalan,” Tellian said with a smile. “Certainly more efficient than I deserve.”
“It’s kind of you to say so, anyway, Milord,”Kalan murmured, and withdrew with a slight bow.
Tellian gazed down into his wineglass for several seconds, then took a sip and set the glass on the table. He wiped his mouth with a linen napkin and looked around the circle of his family and guests.
“Fortunately, I think we were about finished here,” he said.
“And if we weren’t,” Baroness Hanatha said, “we’d all pretend we were, anyway.”
“Of course you would, my dear. And so cheerfully and so well that I would never even suspect how I’d trodden on your enjoyment of the meal for reasons of state.”
The two of them shared a smile, but there was more than a hint of anxiety behind the baroness’ jade eyes. Tellian saw it, and reached out to touch the back of her hand in brief, wordless reassurance. Then he looked at Bahzell and Brandark.
“It doesn’t take a wizard or a mage to divine the reason for Sir Yarran’s visit. I think it might be as well for the two of you to join us in the study, if that would be convenient.”
“I’m thinking it would be convenient enough for the pair of us,” Bahzell rumble. “But it’s in my mind that Lord Festian and Sir Yarran might be minded for him to have a word or two with you in private without such as us listening in.”
“It might,” Tellian agreed. “On the other hand, the Gullet opens on Glanharrow. That means your father, and so you, Bahzell, have a legitimate interest in anything that happens there. Especially if it concerns the man who was named to replace that idiot Redhelm. Don’t tell me you haven’t been expecting a messenger like this for weeks, man. Just as I have.”
“Well, as to that, I’ll admit as how I’m more than a mite surprised he’s waited this long to be sending for help. I’ve no sources to match the ones you’ve no doubt got, but those I do have have been telling me as how things have been getting steadily worse in Glanharrow. And just as you—and, no doubt, Lord Festian and Sir Yarran—I’ve no least doubt as how it’s the doing of some of your folk who weren’t so very happy to be seeing Festian replace Mathian.”
“Who would just happen to be the same people who aren’t too happy about the novel concept of Sothoii and hradani living in a state which resembles peace,” Brandark added dryly.
“Exactly.” Tellian nodded. “You have both the right and the reason to know what sorts of problems your neighbor might be experiencing, if only so that you’re forewarned if … unanticipated changes require you to protect yourselves. More to the point, and selfishly, from my perspective, you may be able to offer some additional insight, Bahzell.” Bahzell twitched his ears questioningly, and Tellian chuckled. “I happen to know that your sister Marglyth’s agents in Glanharrow considerably outnumber my own, Bahzell, despite that rather diplomatic comment of yours on our relative sources. Which is as it should be, really.”
“I suppose it is possible I’m after hearing the occasional tidbit, or rumor,”Bahzell conceded with a grin.
“I’m sure,” Tellian said dryly. “But whether you have anything to add or not, I want you there. And you, too, I think, Trianal,” he continued, looking at the dark-haired young man seated at the foot of the table.
Sir Trianal Bowmaster was the oldest son of Tellian’s younger brother. Garlayn Bowmaster had married very young, but, then, Garlayn had always been the quintessential, impetuous Sothoii. He’d also died very young, in a training accident which had resulted largely from that same impetuosity, leaving three young sons and a daughter behind. Tellian had accepted Trianal for training in the military arts when he was only ten, and he’d just turned nineteen only two months before. Despite his youth, he was a thinker, unlike his father, who’d already demonstrated an insight into tactics beyond his years. He’d earned his knighthood, not simply had it handed to him, although he was still short on experience in the field. But for all of his good points, Trianal was considerably more conservative than his uncle. It had taken him quite a while to come to terms with Tellian’s “surrender” to Bahzell, and Bahzell suspected that he still harbored some prickly resentments.
“Me, Uncle?” Trianal sounded surprised, and Tellian nodded.
“You know as much as any of my officers about the situation in Glanharrow, and I trust your discretion. Besides, I think I’d like to get you more actively involved in supporting Lord Festian.”
“Yes, Milord,” Trianal said, and his face flushed just a bit.
So he’s after noticing his uncle’s tone, Bahzell thought, and hid a mental chuckle as he recalled times his own father had done the same sort of thing to him. “Whacking some wit into him,” as Prince Bahnak had described it. And I never enjoyed it at all, at all, Bahzell thought, so more power to the lad that he can be taking his whack without so much as a wince.
“Good,” Tellian said, giving his nephew a nod, then folded his napkin. He set it beside his plate, pushed back his chair, rose, and kissed his wife’s cheek. Then he glanced at Leeana and smiled crookedly.
“I’m not inviting you this time, daughter of mine,” he told her. Brief disappointment flickered in her eyes, but it came and went so quickly it was more imagined than seen, and she returned his smile. “After all,” he continued, “I’m quite sure you have your own sources. Come to the library before bed tonight. Let me know what you’ve been able to pick up about Sir Yarran’s visit on your own.”
“Yes, Poppa,” she murmured in her most dutiful tone, green eyes glinting wickedly, and Tellian laughed. He stroked one hand over her gleaming, golden-red hair, then returned his attention to Bahzell and Brandark.
“Such a submissive child,” he said, shaking his head regretfully. “Not a spark of spirit, not an ounce of spunk anywhere in her.”
“Aye,” Bahzell said, smiling as Leeana stuck out her tongue at him. “I’ve noticed as how all of your womenfolk seem to be beaten down, Milord.”
“Every one of them,” Tellian sighed, and then twitched as his “beaten down” wife poked him shrewdly in the ribs.