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served the guests with plates of dainties. Enough wine had been drank by this time that the guests were starting to raise their voices in less-than-delicate jests, and lose what few inhibitions they had when they arrived here.

V'sher Tennith er-Lord Kalumel raised one long, silver eye­brow sardonically as he surveyed the occupants of the dining couches before and below him. "I must admit," he drawled, "that seeing Varcaleme making a fool of himself is far more en­tertaining than fending off would-be brides and their anxious fathers."

Aelmarkin laughed and continued to caress the platinum tresses of his slave, chosen out of all the possible candidates presented to him, because she most resembled a delicate Elven maiden. He dressed her like an elven girl, too, in flowing gowns of delicate pastel silks with huge, butterfly sleeves and long embroidered trains, ordering her attendants to weave strings of pearls in her silver-blond hair—and to arrange her hair so that it covered the round tips of her ears. So long as one didn't look too deeply into her eyes, the illusion was complete; and he could use his magic to change her blue eyes to Elven-green if he chose. Her name had been "Kindre" until he ordered it changed to the Elven "Synterrathe."

The aforementioned Varcaleme was chasing one of the wine-girls around his couch; the flower-wreath she had bound around his brows had slipped sideways and was obscuring one eye, and the fact that he had drunk most of the wine in her now-empty flask was not aiding his ability to catch her. She had cast one look at her master when she began eluding those clutching hands, to see if he objected to her evasions; he had nodded slightly, and she needed no further encouragement to keep dodging his advances. Varcaleme's couch-companion, one of his personal concubines, a tall, dark-haired wench gowned in brilliant emerald that matched the beryl of her controlling col­lar, seemed relieved that she no longer had to entertain him, and was nibbling on spiced fruit, wearing a bored, but wary, expression.

Now the rest of the guests had taken an interest in the pro­ceedings, calling out encouragement to Varcaleme or the slave,

taking bets on whether or not he would catch her, as she dodged his outstretched hands and outpaced his stumbling feet. Most of Aelmarkin's guests were male, with a scant pair of Elven ladies. One of the ladies, clad in pearly silks that revealed scarcely less than the slaves' costumes, had brought her own couch-companion, a muscle-bound human gladiator; the other Elven lady, swathed from nape to ankle in skin-tight black satin, had come with another of the Elvenlords-—who was not her affianced. Of the remaining twenty guests, half had brought their own concubines, and half had made a selection from the slaves offered to them by Aelmarkin.

All of the Elvenlords present, with the exception of Ael­markin and the lady who had brought her own male concubine, were the sons of ruling Elvenlords—but had not joined the Young Lords' Rebellion. Most of them saw themselves as los­ing far more than they would gain by rebelling, and the rest were cynically hoping for the rebellion to eliminate their fa­thers for them.

Aelmarkin and V'dann Triana Lord Falcion—who, despite being female, was Lord of the Falcion holdings in her own right, and thus (it recently had been ruled) was entitled to the ti­tle of Lord rather than Lady or er-Lord—were the only Elven­lords in the room with their own estates and property. Aelmarkin, however, was hardly a Great Lord—his property was a fraction of the size of any of those with real power; most of his wealth came from the sale of the exquisitely bred and trained concubines who were literally worth their weight in gems. That gave him a certain status, but no real power. As for Triana, her standing had plummeted after her involvement in the debacle of the Second Wizard War, and she was no longer a desirable ally to anyone on the Great Council. She generally kept to herself on her own estate. He suspected that she was biding her time, waiting to see which way the wind blew in the Young Lords' Uprising, before she tried to worm her way back into the good graces of the powerful.

As a party guest, however, she was still of value; an acid wit and a reputation for depravity gave her all the fascination of a captivating serpent, and people enjoyed seeing what she would

say or do next. Any time Aelmarkin invited her to one of his en­tertainments, he knew he would have full participation, and her own parties continued to be extremely popular among the younger sons, those who did not possess great power, and those who did not have a Council seat.

Aelmarkin was by no means as certain as the Great Lords that Triana would remain out of power for the foreseeable future. She was clever, resourceful, and learned from her mistakes. The Wizard Wars and the Rebellion were changing everything; it was always possible that Triana would prove to be a potent ally at some point. It was even possible that she would somehow claw her way to power entirely on her own. The extent of her boldness was demonstrated in her dress tonight; gowned in transparent silks like a concubine, she knew very well that how­ever tempting she might be, there was no one here with suffi­cient power to dare touch her without her consent—and so she taunted them with her very appearance.

Besides, she had no scruples to speak of; he liked that in a woman—provided he didn't have to marry her.

"Have you heard anything more from the Council about your petition?" Triana called to him from across the room with a half smile. Her gladiator offered her a choice tidbit with a servile gesture; she allowed him to feed it to her, nibbling at it with white, sharp teeth. He was new to Aelmarkin, but that was hardly surprising; Triana went through male slaves at an aston­ishing rate.

He concealed a wince; Triana had a vested interest in the out­come of that petition, and it was one quite opposite to his. She would bring up the subject; he'd cherished the notion, when he'd scheduled this entertainment, that it might be a victory cel­ebration. Since it wasn't, he had hoped no one would bring up the subject.

"They denied it," he said, trying to sound as if he didn't care about the outcome, even though his defeat ate at him.

Triana made a little pout of sympathy, and Tennith turned his head to gaze at Aelmarkin with astonishment. "No, really? I should have thought that your cousin had proved himself men­tally unbalanced a hundred times over by now!"

About half of the guests looked puzzled; they didn't know who Aelmarkin's cousin was and he really didn't wish to en­lighten them.

"Really!" chimed in another, sending away a server with a flick of an impatient hand, "Your cousin is quite a piece of work, Aelmarkin. Playing soldier with human slaves as if he was still an infant playing with toys! It's ridiculous! If he was going to have an obsession, it at least ought to be a dignified obsession!"