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Chapter Thirteen

This time the collision really was an accident.

Bahzell was walking slowly towards his own quarters, cutting across the passage outside Tellians library, while he considered the barons response to Sir Yarrans message from Lord Festian. Tellian had spent three days deciding his course of action, and Bahzell hoped it would do the trick, although he had to admit that he still cherished a few reservations. If people like this Lord Warden Saratic were sufficiently determined to undermine Lord Festians wardenship, they might not take the hint Tellian was about to send their way. Especially not if Baron Cassan was as deeply involved as all the evidence seemed to suggest. In which case, Tellians decision to dispatch two hundred of his own men, commanded by his nephew, could end up provoking the very confrontation it was intended to prevent.

The fact that Tellian had selected Trianal to command the reinforcements left Bahzell feeling a bit in two minds. The youngster possessed a disposition as fiery as might be anticipated from someone that young. Yet hed been better blooded than most his age during the previous years royal expedition against the Ghoul Moor. He hadnt been in command then, but hed seen the reality of battle and bloodshed, and for all his native impulsiveness, he had a level head. And if he still nursed any reservations about what Bahzell and his uncle were attempting to accomplish, he wouldnt let them get in the way. Trianals devotion to Tellian was obvious, and hed amply demonstrated his basic intelligence. More to the point, perhaps, hed had it explained to him in detail that he was to defer to the judgment of Lord Festian and Sir Yarran, and he was smart enough to do it.

Still, it was enough to make a man nervous, which probably explained why Bahzell wasnt paying as much attention as he might have as he started up the stair outside the library. If he had been, he might have noticed the sound of the light, quick footsteps pattering down it in his direction before the actual moment of impact.

Unfortunately, he didnt, and the shock of the collision was enough to jar his teeth.

His right hand flashed out as Leeana caromed off of him. Shed been moving at something much closer to a run than a walk, and he caught her elbow just before she tumbled headlong off the stair. He didnt have time to be gentle about it, and she gasped in as much unanticipated hurt as surprise as his fingers snapped tight.

Here now! Im hoping Ive not dislocated your arm, Milady! he said quickly, setting her back upright.

N-no, she said, and his eyebrows flew up and his ears flattened at the strange little break in her voice. She looked away from him as she flexed her wrenched arm.

I-Im all right, she said, still keeping her face averted, but Bahzell had too many sisters to be fooled.

Now, that youre not, he told her gently. Her shoulders jerked, and he heard something very like a smothered sob. If youre wishful to tell me I should be minding my own business, thats one thing, lass, he said. But if youre wishful for an ear as has nothing better to do than listen to whatever it may be weighs on you so, well, here I am.

She looked at him at last, unable to resist the gentle, genuine sympathy of his voice. Her jade eyes brimmed with tears, and under them was something more than mere sorrow. It was fear, he realized, and he reached out to her once more. He rested a huge, powerful hand lightly on her shoulder, with a familiarity very, very few Sothoii would have shown to the daughter of such a powerful noble, and met her gaze levelly.

I Its just that She drew a deep breath and shook her head. Thats very kind of you, Prince Bahzell, she said, rushing the words ever so slightly as she forced her voice to hold together. But its not necessary, I assure you.

And who was it said anything about necessary? he asked, with a crooked smile. But youre the daughter of a man whos after becoming a friend of mine, lass. And even if he wasnt, I know someone as has an over-full heart when I see her. Im not saying as how you couldnt be dealing with whatever it is all on your own. Im only suggesting theres no least reason in the world why you should be.

Her mouth quivered for a moment, and then every muscle seemed to relax simultaneously. She stared up at him, one tear trickling down her cheek, and nodded slowly.

* * * | Wind Rider's Oath | * * *