Выбрать главу

And if anything happened because there was an inquisitive Great Lord sniffing around—well, he wanted to be ready for it.

"Maybe she'll want to take up the sword for herself," Gel suggested, with a sly twinkle. "You know she'd be good at it. I think if she ever got a feel for righting, she'd be as addicted to it as we are."

"Oh, there's a thought!" Kyrtian laughed wickedly. "I could make her my second-in-command. Then what would you do?"

"Go on my knees and submit," Gel admitted. "And bow to the inevitable. I've seen her move and I've seen her at the hunt— she's got better reactions than you do. Ancestors! Put a bow in her hands, and I'll surrender on the spot rather than face her!"

The carriage jolted one last time, as the wheels bounced up onto the pavement, then Kyrtian and Gel settled back with iden­tical sighs of relief as rough ride gave way to smooth rolling that was as comfortable as sailing on a smooth lake.

"I trust you've taken care of things for the men as usual?" Kyrtian asked Lynder. The young human had only been Kyrt-ian's body-servant for two months, but he'd been meticulously trained by Kyrtian's previous man, and the Elvenlord was con­fident he could handle his new responsibilities as invisibly as his predecessor.

The man looked a little anxious. "The bathhouse is cleared and ready, dinner's been held, there's to be music and late-leave

for the other servants to join the entertainment—" He hesitated, and glanced pleadingly at Gel, clearly wondering if he'd missed something.

"Exactly right, Lynder," Kyrtian said soothingly, to take the look of anxiety out of his eyes. Lynder had probably missed one or two details, but the other servants would see to it that everything went smoothly anyway. After years of these mock-battles, everyone knew what was expected afterwards. The house-and field-servants were expected to reschedule their own baths so that the returning fighters could have the place to themselves. Dinner had been held back so that it would reach the tables hot and fresh as they came out of the bathhouse—and it wouldn't be the usual bread and stew, but something a little fancier. Roast meat or chicken, usually, a choice of side-dishes, and something in the way of a sweet. There would be a little ex­tra beer—not enough to cause problems, but a glass or two more than usual for everyone. Some of the household musi­cians would come down after dinner, and there would be some lively music and dancing, and if beds had two occupants or none in them tonight instead of one, no one would be taken to task. Tomorrow would be a quarter-holiday, work and drill to start a bit later in the morning than usual so that the men could sleep in a bit. All in all, the men would feel themselves well re­warded for their hard work today.

And we need to begin planning the next holiday by tomorrow at the latest, Kyrtian reminded himself. He didn't like to make the intervals between holidays too long; he didn't want the house-and field-servants to start feeling aggrieved at the special treatment the fighters received.

The carriage slowed and came to a stop; in the dusty gold light that was swiftly fading, a servant in emerald-green tunic and trews opened the door, and Kyrtian got out, followed by Gel and Lynder. Round, blue-white lights hanging in clusters of four from bronze posts already blazed on either side of the white stone staircase that led to the front portals of the manor. More green-liveried servants took possession of the armor and arms as Kyrtian looked about. Gel saluted and stalked off to­wards the barracks in that tireless, ageless stride that Kyrtian

could never imitate, with the final rays of the setting sun illumi­nating him like some god-touched hero of human history.

Kyrtian ran up the alabaster steps of the manor with Lynder close behind, deep shadows now giving way to blue dusk. At the top of the stairs, double doors of cast bronze would have swung open at the merest touch of his magic, but he ignored them entirely, intending to take the inconspicuous doorkeeper's entry at the side. The green-clad doorkeeper had expected just that, and was holding open the smaller portal for him, bowing slightly as he passed through.

"Beker!" Kyrtian greeted him. "Is your wife better?"

The human's long face brightened at the question. "Oh, much better, Lord Kyrtian! We cannot thank you enough—"

"You'll thank me by not letting things get to such a pass before you say something," Kyrtian replied, with just enough of a stern tone to his voice that the doorkeeper would know he was serious. "Don't keep going back to the 'pothecary; when the simple cure doesn't work, go to Lord Selazian. That's why I keep him as a re­tainer, Beker; make the lazy lout work for his living!"

"Yes. Lord Kyrtian," the doorkeeper whispered, bowing fur­ther. "I will, my lord."

"Carry on, Beker," Kyrtian replied, and moved on, leaving the doorkeeper to shut things up behind him.

"Lynder, remind Lord Tenebrinth to have a talk with the apothecary, will you?" Kyrtian said in a quiet aside as they strode down the middle of the entrance hall. A thick, pale-grey carpet beneath their feet muffled all sound of footfalls, and al­though the alabaster ceiling and grey-veined marble walls were not imposing, Kyrtian thought they had a great deal of dignity about them. "I can't have my people getting sick and relying on that—that herb-shaman for everything! I wouldn't have had him at all, if you humans hadn't insisted on him."

"Lord Kyrtian—it is frightening for some of us to ask a Lord for anything, much less ask him to treat us for our ailments," Lynder replied with hesitation. "You forget sometimes that al­though many of us have been born and raised in your service, many more come from outside the boundary of your estate, and things are very different in the greater world."

"Well, that's why I want you to remind Lord Tenebrinth to talk to the apothecary. I suspect the man might be encouraging those fears, and if that's true, I want it stopped." Kyrtian frowned. "Ancestors! The last thing we need is to get a plague started because a man who thinks rattling bones and brewing teas can cure everything won't give up trying till his patients are dead!"

"With your permission, Lord Kyrtian, I'll ask Sergeant Gel to have a word with him first." Kyrtian saw out of the corner of his eye that Lynder was smiling a little. "The Sergeant can be very persuasive."

Kyrtian nodded, as they turned down a side corridor to the family-quarters. "I trust your judgment, Lynder. But do feel free to bring Tenebrinth in on it; he is my Seneschal, after all."

Lynder moved ahead to smoothly open a door on the right-hand side of the corridor before Kyrtian could touch it himself. "Yes, Lord Kyrtian," he replied, and as Kyrtian stepped through the door into his private quarters, he was engulfed by servants.

In other households, they would have been called "slaves," and it was true that Kyrtian was their titular owner—but if any one of them wanted to leave, he would have only to pe­tition the Elvenlord and permission would be instantly granted. Somehow, some way, Kyrtian would find a way to smuggle the human out to the territories held by the Wizards or the free humans. Not that anyone would ever ask for that permission—the world open to free humans was hostile and uncomfortable, and entirely too dangerous to be much of a temptation.

As had been the case with Kyrtian's father and grandfather, Kyrtian and his mother were respected, admired, even beloved, not only by the humans of the estate, but by the few Elven re­tainers who called them their liege-lords. There were three who were of the most importance; the aforementioned Tenebrinth whose position as Seneschal predated Kyrtian's birth, Selazian the Physician who had been studying the diseases of humans as well as Elves for literally centuries—and Lord Pelenal, Kyrt-