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Sisters Of Sarronnyn:
Sisters Of Westwind

Written by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Illustrated by Kevin Wasden




The Roof of the World was still frozen in winter gray, and the sun had not yet cleared the peaks to the east or shone on Freyja when I caught sight of Fiera coming up the old stone steps from the entrance to Tower Black.

I moved to intercept her. "What were you doing, Guard Fiera?"

"I was coming to the main hall, Guard Captain." Fiera did not look directly at me, but past me, a trick many Westwind guards had tried over the years. Even my own sister, especially my own sister, could not fool me.

"Using the east passage?"

Fiera flushed. "Yes, Guard Captain."

"Assignations before breakfast, yet? When did you sneak out of the barracks?"

She straightened, as she always did when she decided to flaunt something or when she knew she'd been caught. "He kissed me, Guard Captain. Creslin did."

Oh, Fiera, do not lie to me. I did not voice the words. "I seriously doubt that the esteemed son of the Marshall would have even known you were in the east passage. It is seldom traveled before dawn in winter. If anyone kissed anyone, you kissed him. What was he doing? Why were you following him?"

Fiera's eyes dropped. "He was just there. By himself. He was walking the passage."

"You're a fool! If the Marshall ever finds out, you'll be posted to High Ice for the rest of the winter this year, and for all of next year with no relief. That would be after you were given to the most needy of the consorts until you were with child. You'd never see the child after you bore her, and you'd spend your shortened life on remote duty, perhaps even on the winter road crews."

This time, my words reached her. She swallowed. "I meant no harm. He's always looked at me. I just . . . wanted him to know before he leaves for Sarronnyn."

"He knows now. If I see you anywhere near him, if I hear a whisper . . ."

"Yes, Guard Captain . . . please . . .Shierra."

"What was he doing near Tower Black?" I asked again.

"I do not know, Guard Captain. He was wearing field dress, without a winter parka. He looked like any other guard." Fiera's eyes met mine fully for the first time.

We both knew that young Creslin, for all his abilities with a blade, was anything but another guard. He was the only male ever trained with the Guards, and yet his masculine skills had not been neglected. He could play the guitar better than any minstrel, and I'd heard his voice when he sang. It seemed that he could call a soft breeze in the heat of summer, and more than a few of those who had guarded his door had come away with tears in their eyes. Fiera had been one of them, unhappily. He'd even called an ice storm once. Only once, after he had discovered he'd been promised to the Sub-Tyrant of Sarronnyn.

Shortly, after more words with Fiera, I walked down the steps to the door of the ancient tower to check on what might have happened.

I always thought that tales of love were romantic nothings meant for men, not for the guards—or guard captains of Westwind—although I worried about my younger sister, and her actions in the east passage showed that I was right to worry. Fiera was close to ten years younger than I. We had not been close as children. I've always felt that sisters were either inseparable or distant. We were distant. Much as I tried to bridge that distance, much as I tried to offer kindness and advice, Fiera rejected both. When I attempted kindness, she said, "I know you're trying to be nice, but I'm not you. I have to do things my own way." She said much the same thing when I first offered advice. After a time, I only offered simple courtesy, as one would to any other Westwind guard, and no advice at all.

To my relief, the Tower Black door was locked, as it always was and should have been. There might have been boot prints in the frost, but even as a guard captain, I was not about to report what I could not prove, not when it might lead to revealing Fiera's indiscretion. Besides, what difference could it have made? Fiera had not made a fatal error, and young Creslin would be leaving Westwind forever, within days, to become the consort of the Sub-Tyrant of Sarronnyn.



Four mornings later, Guard Commander Aemris summoned the ten Westwind Guard Captains to the duty room below the great hall. She said nothing at all for a time. Her eyes traveled from one face to another.

"Some of you may have heard the news," Aemris finally said. "Lord Creslin skied off the side of the mountain into a snowstorm. The detachment was unable to find him. The Marshall has declared mourning."

"How . . . ?"

"The weather . . ."
"He wasn't supplied . . ."

"There are some skis and supplies missing from Tower Black. He must have taken them. Do any of you know anything about that?"

I almost froze in place when Aemris dropped those words, but I quickly asked, "How could he?"

The Guard Commander turned to me. "He does have some magely abilities. He coated the walls of the South Tower with ice the night after his consorting was announced. The ice is still there. None of the duty guards saw him near Tower Black recently, but he could have taken the gear weeks ago. Or he could have used some sort of magely concealment and made his way there."

Not a single guard captain spoke.

Aemris shook her head. "Men. They expect to be pampered. Even when they're not, and you do everything for them, what does it get you? He's probably frozen solid in the highlands, and we'll find his body in the spring or summer."

I tried not to move my face, but just nod.

"You don't think so, Guard Captain?"

Everyone was looking at me.

"I've seen him with a blade and on skis and in the field trials, ser. He's very good, but he doesn't know it. That will make him cautious."

"For the sake of the Marshall and the Marshalle, I hope so. For the sake of the rest of us . . ." Aemris said no more.

I understood her concerns, but for Fiera's sake, I could only hope Creslin would survive and find some sort of happiness. Despite all the fancies of men and all the tales of the minstrels, most stories of lost or unrequited love end when lovers or would-be lovers are parted. In the real world, they never find each other again, and that was probably for the best, because time changes us all.



For weeks after Creslin vanished, Fiera was silent. She threw herself into arms practice, so much so that, one morning, as ice flakes drifted across the courtyard under a gray sky, I had to caution her, if quietly.

"Getting yourself impaled on a practice blade won't bring him back."

"They're blunted," she snapped back

"That just means the entry wound is jagged and worse."

"You should talk, sister dearest. I've seen you watch him as well."

"I have. I admit it. But only because I admired him, young as he was. I had no illusions."

"You don't understand. You never will. Don't talk to me."

"Very well." I didn't mention Creslin again, even indirectly.



Slightly more than a year passed. The sun began to climb higher in the sky that spring, foreshadowing the short and glorious summer on the Roof of the World. The ice began to melt, if but slightly at midday, and the healer in black appeared at the gates of Westwind. Since she was a woman, she was admitted.

Word spread through the Guard like a forest fire in early fall. Creslin was alive. He had somehow found the Sub-Tyrant of Sarronnyn, or she had found him, and the Duke of Montgren had married them and named them as co-regents of Recluce. I'd never heard anything much about Recluce, save that it was a large and mostly deserted isle across the Gulf of Candar to the east of Lydiar.

Fiera avoided me, and that was as well, for what could I have said to her? Creslin was alive, but wed to another, as had been fated from his birth. No male heir to the Marshall could ever remain in Westwind, and none ever had.

That night after inspecting the duty guards, I settled onto my pallet in the private corner alcove I merited as a guard captain without a consort.

I awoke in a tower. It was Tower Black, and the walls rose up around me. I looked up, but the stones extended farther than I could make out. The stone steps led upward, and I began to climb them. Yet they never ended, and at each landing, the doorway to the outside had been blocked by a stone statue of an unsmiling Creslin in the garb of a Westwind Guard. Behind the statue, the archway had been filled in with small black stones and deep gray mortar. I kept climbing, past landing after landing with the same statue of Creslin. The walls rose into a gray mist above me. Blood began to seep from my boots. I refused to say anything. I kept climbing. Surely, there had to be a way out of the tower. There had to be . . .

"Shierra, wake up." Dalyra shook me. "Wake up," she hissed. "You'll rouse everyone with that moaning and muttering. They'll ask what you were dreaming. Guard captains don't need that."

"I'm awake." I could tell I was still sleepy. My words came out mumbled.

"Good," whispered Dalyra. "Now go back to sleep." She padded back to her pallet in the adjoining alcove.

I lay there in the darkness under the thick woolen blankets of a single guard captain. I'd never wanted a consort. Not in Westwind, and it wasn't likely I'd ever be anywhere else. Even if I left Westwind, where would I ever find one strong enough to stand up to me? The only man I'd seen with that strength was Creslin, and he'd been little more than a youth when he'd escaped Westwind, and far too young and far too above me. Unlike Fiera, I knew what was possible.

Yet what had the dream meant? The Tower Black of my dream hadn't been the tower I knew. Tower Black was the oldest part of Westwind. Its smooth stones had been cut and fitted precisely by the ancient smith-mage Nylan under the geas of Ryba the Great before he had spellsung the traitor Arylyn to free him and fled with her to the world below the Roof of the World. The great hall, the Guard quarters, the stables, the craft buildings, all of them were far larger than Tower Black. Yet none of them conveyed the solidity of the far smaller Tower Black that they dwarfed.

I finally drifted back into sleep, but it was an uneasy slumber at best.

The next morning, Aemris mustered all the Guards, and even the handfuls of consorts, and the guard captains, in the main courtyard of Westwind. She stood in the gusty spring wind and snowfall, the large fat flakes swirling lazily from the sky. Beside her stood the healer.

"The Marshall of Westwind has learned that Lord Creslin made his own way to the Sub-Tyrant of Sarronnyn," the Guard Commander began. "They were wed in Montgren, and, as a token of his esteem, the Duke named them co-regents of Recluce. They are expanding the town of Land's End there on Recluce, and the Marshall will permit some from Westwind to join them in Recluce. The healer will explain."

Aemris delivered her speech without great enthusiasm. Even so, everyone was listening as the healer stepped forward.

"My name is Lydya. I am a healer, and I bring news of Creslin. He crossed much of Candar by himself and unaided. For a time he was imprisoned by the white wizards of Fairhaven, but he escaped and made his way to Montgren. He and Megaera are co-regents of Recluce. They are building a new land, and there is opportunity for all. The land is much warmer and much drier than Westwind, but there are mountains and the sea." She smiled crookedly. "The mountains are rugged, but much lower and not nearly so cold. For better or worse, neither men nor women rule, but both can prosper, or suffer, according to ability . . ."

Somehow that did not surprise me, not from a youth who had crossed much of Candar alone. What puzzled me was that he had married the woman he had left the Westhorns to avoid being consorted to. That suggested that Megaera was far more than he or anyone had expected.

After the healer finished speaking, Aemris added a few words. "Any of you who are interested in accompanying the healer to Recluce remain here. That includes consorts."

Perhaps forty guards out of three hundred remained in the courtyard. I was the only guard captain.

Aemris motioned for me to come forward first.

"You, Shierra?" asked the Guard Commander. "You have the makings of an arms-master or even Guard Commander in years to come."

How could I explain the dream? That, somehow, an image of Creslin kept me walled within Westwind? I could only trust the dream. "Someone must bring his heritage to him," I finally said.

Aemris looked to Lydya. The healer nodded.

"She's the most senior guard who wishes to go," Aemris said. "She should be guard captain of the detachment."

"That she will be." The healer smiled, but I felt the sadness behind the expression.

In the end, Aemris and Lydya settled on twenty-five guards and ten consorts with five children—all boys under five.

For the two days until we rode out, Fiera avoided me even more pointedly than before, walking away when she could, giving only formal responses when she could not. She could have volunteered, but she had not. Instead, she had asked to accompany a trade delegation to Sarronnyn. She hadn't told me. I'd discovered that from others—as I had so many things.



The ride to Armat took almost four eightdays. We rode through the Westhorns to Middle Vale and then down into Suthya by the road to the north of the River Arma. Until we reached Suthya, in most places, the snow beside the roads was at least waist-deep, and twice we had to help the road crews clear away new-fallen snow. In Armat, we had to wait another eightday for the ship Lydya had engaged with the letter of credit from the Marshall.

While we waited, she continued to purchase goods in one fashion or another. When the Pride of Armat ported, I was surprised to discover it was one of the largest vessels in the harbor, with three tall masts. The ship was heavy-laden indeed by the time her master lifted sail and we departed from Armat three days later. Lydya and I talked frequently, but it was mostly about the cargo, about the guards and their consorts, and about how we would need to use all the wood-working and stone-working tools to build our own shelter on Recluce. That bothered me little. All Guards knew something about building and maintaining structures. Westwind could not have endured over the centuries without those skills. I tended to be better with stone. Perhaps I lacked the delicate touch needed for woodwork.

After more than an eightday of hugging the northern coasts of Candar, the ship had finally left the eastern-most part of Lydiar behind, swallowed by the sea. For the first two days, we'd been followed by another vessel, until Lydya had suggested to the captain that he fly the banner of Westwind I had brought. About halfway across the Gulf of Candar, the war schooner eased away on a different course.

Lydya and I stood just aft of the bowsprit, at the port railing.

"Do you know what to expect in Recluce, Shierra?"

"No, except that it will likely be hot and dry and strange. We'll have to build almost everything from nothing, and there's a garrison of savage men we'll have to deal with."

Lydya laughed. "They'll have to deal with you. None of them are a match for your least trained Guards. That's one of the reasons why Creslin needs you, and why the Marshall permitted some of you to come."

"But she drove him out, didn't she?"

"Did she?"

The question made me uneasy, especially asked by a healer. "Why did you come to Westwind?"

"To ask the Marshall for what might be called Creslin's dowry. For obvious reasons, he cannot ask, and he would not even if he were physically where he could."

For that, I also admired him. "How did you come to know him?"

"I was a healer in the White road camp where they imprisoned him. After he escaped, Klerris and I followed him, not to Montgren, but to Tyrhavven. That is where he and Megaera took the Duke's schooner that brought them to Recluce. Klerris accompanied them, and I traveled to Westwind."

"Is he really a mage?"

"Yes. He may become one of the greatest ever. That is if he and Megaera survive each other."

"Healer . . . what is the Sub-Tyrant like?" I did not wish to ask the question, but I had to know, especially after Lydya's last words.

"She has hair like red mahogany, eyes as green and deep as the summer seas south of Naclos, fair skin, and freckles. She is also a white witch, with a kind heart, and a temper to match the most violent thunderstorms of summer."

"Is she . . ."

"She is as beautiful and as deadly as a fine dagger, Shierra. That is what makes her a match for Creslin, or him for her."

What could I say to that, except more pleasantries about the sea, the weather, and the cargo we carried?



Another day passed. On the morning of the following day, a rocky headland appeared. I could see no buildings at all. There was no smoke from fires. As the ship neared land, and some of the sails were furled, I could finally make out a breakwater on the east side of the inlet between the rocky cliffs. At first, I wasn't certain, because it wasn't much more than a long pile of stones. There was a single short pier, with a black stone building behind it, and a scattering of other buildings, one of them clearly half-built. A dusty road wound up a low rise to a keep built out of grayish black stones. On one end was a section that looked to have been added recently.

The captain had a boat lowered, with a heavy rope—a hawser, I thought—attached to the sternpost. The men in the boat rowed to the pier and fastened it to one of the posts, and then the crew used the capstan to winch the ship in toward the pier. As we got nearer to the shore, I could see that very little grew anywhere, just bushes.

"Lydya . . . it doesn't look like we'll have much use for that wood-working equipment. All I see are a few bushes."

The healer laughed. "Those are trees, or what passes for them."

Trees? They were barely taller than I. I swallowed and turned back to look at the handful of people waiting on the pier. One of them was Creslin. I could tell that from his silver hair, lit by the sunlight. Beside him on one side was a black mage. On the other was a tall red-haired woman. That had to be Megaera.

Once the ship was tied past to the pier, the captain scrambled onto the pier, bowing to Creslin and Megaera. I just watched for a moment.

"Shierra . . . you're the Guard captain," said Lydya quietly. "Report to the regents."

I was senior, and I would have stepped forward sooner, except . . .

There was no excuse. I vaulted over the railing and stood waiting behind the captain. Once he stepped back, I moved forward.

"Guard Captain Shierra, Regent Creslin, Regent Megaera," I began, inclining my head in respect to them.

"Did you have any trouble with the wizards?" Creslin asked.

"No, ser. But then, we insisted that the captain fly our banner. One war schooner did follow us. It left halfway across the Gulf." I couldn't help smiling, but felt nervous all the same as I gestured to the middle mast that where the Westwind banner drooped limply.

"You seem to have a full group." Creslin smiled, but he didn't seem to recognize me. Then, why should he have? Fiera had been the one who had kissed him.

"Two and a half squads, actually."

Creslin pointed westward toward the keep. "There are your quarters, rough as they are. We'll discuss other needs once you look things over. We might as well get whatever you brought off-loaded."

"Some carts would help, ser. The healer—" I didn't wish to use her first name, and what else could I call her to a regent?—"was apparently quite persuasive . . ." I went on to explain everything in the cargo holds.

"Now, that is true wizardry." Creslin laughed.

The sound was so infectious, almost joyful, that I ended up laughing with him. Then, I was so embarrassed that I turned immediately to the Guards. "Let's offload!"

I forced myself to concentrate on the details of getting the Guards and consorts and the children off the ship, and then making sure with the ship's boatswain that the holds would be unloaded in the order on the bill of lading that I did not even sense Megaera's approach.

"Guard Captain?" Her voice carried, despite its softness.

I tried not to jump and turned. "Regent Megaera."

"Once you're ready, I'll escort you up to the keep." She smiled, almost humorously. "They'll have to walk. We're a bit short on mounts. It's not that far, though."

"We have enough mounts for the Guards, and some spares." I paused. "But they'll have to be walked themselves after all the time on ship."

It took until early afternoon before we had even begun to transfer cargo and to walk the horses up to the crude stables behind the keep. Once I had duties assigned to the Guards, I stayed at the keep, trying to keep track of goods and especially weapons. The wall stones of the outbuildings being used as tables were so loosely set that the stalls would have filled with ice on a single winter day at Westwind. The storerooms on the lower levels of the keep were better, but musty.

I blotted my forehead with my sleeve as I stood outside the stable in the sun, checking the contents of each cart, and directing the Guards.

After the cart I had checked was unloaded and Eliera began to lead the old mare back down to the pier, Megaera appeared and walked toward me

"Guard captain . . . I have a question for you."

"Yes, Regent?" What could a white witch want of me?

"Recluce is a hard place, and it is likely to get harder before it gets easier. Could you instruct me in the use of blades?"

"Regent . . ." What could I say? Westwind Guards began training almost as soon as they could walk, and Megaera was nearly as old as I was, I suspected. Beautiful as she was, she was certainly older than Creslin.

She lifted her arms and let the tunic sleeves fall back, revealing heavy white scars around both wrists. "I can deal with pain and discomfort, Guard Captain. What I cannot abide is my own inability to defend myself with a blade."

But . . . she was a white mage.

"Magery has its limits." She looked directly at me. "Please . . . will you help me?"

How could I say no when she had begged me? Or as close to begging as a Sub-Tyrant could come.



I was studying the practice yard early the next morning. The sun had barely cleared the low cliffs to the east, and the air was cool, for Recluce, but dusty. I wondered if I'd ever escape the dust. Already, I missed the smell of the firs and the pines, and the clean crispness of the air of Westwind. The barracks were stone-walled, sturdy, and rough. From what I could tell, so were the Montgren guards.

I heard boots and turned.

"You're Guard Captain Shierra. Hyel, at your service." As eastern men sometimes were, he was tall, almost half a head taller than I was, but lanky with brown hair. His hands were broad, with long fingers. Megaera had pointed him out the day before and told me that he was in charge of the Montgren troopers, such as they were, but with all the fuss and bother of unloading and squeezing everyone in, we had not meet.

"I'm pleased to meet you." I wasn't certain that I was, but his approach had been polite enough.

"Are you as good as Regent Creslin with the blade?"

How could I answer that question? There was no good answer. I forced a smile. "Why don't we spar, and you can make up your own mind?"

Hyel stiffened. I didn't see why. "I only made a friendly suggestion, Hyel. That was because I don't have an answer to your question. I never sparred against Creslin." That was shading things, because Heldra had, and at the end, just before Creslin had ridden off, even she had been hard pressed. I certainly would have been.

"With wands?"

"That might be best." Best for both of us. If he were a master blade, I didn't want to find out with cold steel, and if he weren't, I didn't want to have to slice him up to prove a point.

"I'll be back in a moment."

Why had Hyel immediately sought me out, and before most others were around?

In moments, he re-appeared with two white oak wands that seemed scarcely used. He offered me my choice. I took the one that felt more balanced. Neither was that good.

"Shall we begin?" Hyel turned and walked into the courtyard. He turned and waited. Once I neared, he lifted the white oak wand, slightly too high. I was less comfortable with the single blade, but the shorter twin wooden practice blades were still buried in the storeroom where they'd been quickly unloaded.

His feet were about right, but he was leaning forward too far.

It took just three passes before I disarmed him.

He just shrugged and stood there, laughing,

I lowered the wand, uncertain of what to say. "Are you . . ."

"I'm fine, Shierra. Might I call you that?"

"You may."

He shook his head. "I always thought that what they said about Westwind was just . . . well, that folks believed what they wanted. Then, when Creslin slaughtered Zarlen in about two quick moves, well . . . I just thought that was him."

"No. He could have been as good as a Westwind arms-master . . . he might even have been when he left, but there are many Guards as good as I am." That was true enough. There were at least ten others. But Creslin . . . slaughtering someone? I'd known he was determined, but somehow, I'd never imagined him that way..

"It wasn't like that," Hyel said quickly. "Creslin and Megaera came here almost by themselves. On the Duke's small schooner with no guards and no troopers. Zarlen thought he could kill Creslin and have his way with her. Creslin saw what he had in mind and asked him to spar. Creslin disarmed him real quick, and Zarlen went crazy. He attacked Creslin with his own steel. Creslin had to kill him." Hyel laughed ruefully. "Made his point."

That made more sense . . . but to see that a man wanted his wife . . . and to kill him like that? The Marshall would have acted that quickly, and Creslin was her son. I'd never thought of it that way. I lowered the wooden wand until the blunted point touched the stones.

"Can you teach me?" Hyel asked.

I could. Should I? "If you're willing to work," I answered, still distracted by what Hyel had told me.

"Early in the morning?" A sheepish look crossed his face.

"Early in the morning. Every morning."

I'd been in Recluce only two days, and I'd already committed to teaching Megaera the basics of the blade and to improving the skills of the Montgren garrison commander.



With the Regent Megaera, I had to start farther back, with an exercise program of sorts. I gave her stones of the proper weight to lift and hold and exercises to loosen and limber her shoulders. After an eightday, she found me re-mortaring the stones in what would be the armory.

"Regent." I laid aside the trowel that I'd recovered from the recesses of the keep and stood.

"When can we start with blades?"

I didn't answer her, but turned and walked to the wall where I'd laid aside my harness. I unsheathed one of the blades and extended it, hilt first. "Take it, if you would, Regent."

After a moment of hesitation, she did.

"Hold it out, extended. Keep holding it." That wasn't totally fair, because no blademaster works with her weapon fully extended or with the arm straight, except for a thrust. But it's a good indication of arm strength.

Her arm and wrist began to tremble before long. She fought the weakness, but finally had to lower the blade.

"When your arms are strong enough to hold that position longer," I answered.

Her lips tightened.

"If we start before you're ready, you'll learn bad technique because you won't have the strength you'll have later, and strength and technique won't match."

Abruptly, she laughed. "Strength and technique won't match. That's almost what Klerris said about black magery."

I nodded slightly. I knew nothing about magery, but it seemed that strength and technique should match in any application.

"Did you ever see Creslin work magery?"

How was I to answer that?

"Did you?" Megaera's voice was hard.

I thought I saw whitish flames at the tips of her fingers.

"Only once. I wasn't certain it was magery. He called a storm and flung the winds against the south tower until it was coated with ice."

"Why did he do that?"

"I could not say, Regent."

Megaera smiled. I didn't like that kind of calculating smile. "When did he perform this . . . weather magery?"

I could have lied, but she would have known. "After his betrothal to you was announced. He left the Great Hall as soon as he could."

"Oh . . . best-betrothed . . . if only . . ."

While her words were less than murmured, I might as well not have been there.

Abruptly, she looked at me. "I would appreciate it if you would say nothing of this."

"I will not, Regent Megaera."

"Next eightday, we will begin with blades."

Then she was gone.



Several days later, I took one of the mounts and rode up the winding road to the Black Holding. Several of the Guards had been detailed to help Creslin build the quarters for him and Megaera. I knew he'd never shirked work, but it was still strange to think of the Marshall's son and the Regent of Recluce working stone. I'd overheard remarks about his skill as a mason, and I wanted to see that, as well as check on the guards working there.

When I reached the structure, still incomplete under its slate roof, I reined up and dismounted, and tied the horse to the single post. The stones of the front wall and the archway were of various sizes, but all edges were smoothed and dressed, and fitted into an almost seamless pattern that required little or no mortar. Had Creslin done that? I couldn't have dressed the stones that smoothly, especially not with the tools we had, and I was the best of the Guard stoneworkers on Recluce.

Hulyan appeared immediately. She was carrying a bucket. "Guard Captain, ser, we didn't expect you."

"What are you doing?"

"It's my round to carry water to the Regent. He's cutting and dressing stone down in back, ser."

"Where are the others?"

"They're finding and carrying rough stones to the Regent. That's so he doesn't have to spend time looking."

"You can lead me there, but don't announce me.'

"Yes, Guard Captain."

We walked quietly around the north side of the building and to the edge of the terrace. There I stopped and watched.

Below the partly built terrace, Creslin stood amid piles of black stones. His silver hair was plastered against his skull with sweat, yet it still shimmered in the sun. He adjusted the irregular black stone on the larger chunk of rock, then positioned the chisel and struck with the hammer. Precise and powerful as the blow was, the stone shouldn't have split, but it did. One side was as smooth as if it had been dressed. I watched as he readjusted the stone and repeated the process.

Before long he had a precisely dressed black stone block. He only took a single deep breath, wiped his forehead with the back of his forearm, and then started on the next irregular chunk of heavy stone. In some fashion, he was mixing magery and stonecraft, and the results were superb. At that moment, I did not want to look at another piece of stone. Ever.

After a moment, I realized that Creslin must have known that as well. Was that why he worked alone?

I watched as he cut and then dressed one stone after another. I could not have lifted the hammer so strongly and precisely. Not for stone after stone. No stone-cutter I had ever seen or known could have.

Slowly, I moved forward, just watching, trying to sense what he was doing.

Despite the brilliant sunlight, there was a darkness around him, but it wasn't any kind of darkness or shadow that I had ever seen. It was more like something felt, the sense of how a blade should be held, or a saddle adjusted to a skittish mount. I kept watching, trying to feel what he did, rather than see.

For a moment, I could feel the stone before Creslin, knowing where the faults lay, and where chisel should be placed . . .

"Guard Captain Shierra!" he finally called, as if he had just seen me.

"Yes, ser. I was just checking on the guards."

"They've been most helpful. We couldn't have done half what's here without them." He paused. "But if you need them at the keep . . ."

"No, ser. Not yet anyway. Thank you, ser." My voice sounded steady to me. It didn't feel steady. I turned and hurried back to my mount, before Creslin could ask me anything more.

I untied the gelding and mounted, turning him back toward the keep in the harbor valley.

Thoughts swirled through my head as I rode down the dusty road.

Was that order-magery? The understanding of the forces beneath and within everything?

What I had seen wasn't what anyone would have called mage-craft. There were no winds or storms created. No one had been healed, and no keep had been suddenly created. Yet those stones could not have been cut and dressed so precisely in any other fashion. What I had also seen was a man who was driving himself far harder than anyone I had known. His body was muscle, and only muscle, and he was almost as slender as a girl guard before she became a woman.

I had thought I'd known something about Creslin. Now I was far from certain that I knew anything at all.

Back at the keep, I couldn't help but think about the way in which Creslin had turned irregular chunks of rock into cut and dressed black building stones. Could I do that? How could I not try?

I settled myself in the stoneyard on the hillside above the keep, with hammer and chisel and the pile of large chunks of broken dark gray stone. I set an irregular hunk on the granite-like boulder that served as a cutting table and looked at it. It remained a gray stone.

I closed my eyes and tried to recapture the feeling I'd sensed around Creslin. It had been deliberate, calm, a feeling of everything in its place.

Nothing happened.

Knowing that nothing was that simple, I hadn't expected instant understanding or mastery. While still trying to hold that feeling of simplicity and order, I picked up the chisel and the hammer. After placing the chisel where it felt best—close to where it needed to be to dress the edge of the stone, I took a long and deliberate stroke.

A fragment of the stone chipped away. It was larger than most that I had been chiseling away. That could have been chance. Without hurrying, I placed the chisel again, concentrating without forcing the feeling. Another large fragment split away.

Slowly, deliberately, I worked on the stone.

After a few more blows, I had a clean face to the stone, cleaner and smoother than I'd ever managed before, but the face was angled slightly, compared to the other, rougher faces.

I kept at it. At times, I had a hard time recapturing that deliberate, calm feeling, but I could tell the difference in the results.

Learning how to harness that feeling, and to use it effectively in cutting and dressing stone was going to take some time. I just hoped it didn't take too long. We needed dressed stones for far too many structures that had yet to be built. Creslin had also asked that some of the stone be used to finish the inn near the pier, especially the public room. That was to give the guards and troopers some place where they could gather and get a drink. I had my doubts about how that would work, for all of Hyel's efforts, and those of Creslin.



Exactly one eightday after she had last asked me, Megaera appeared in the keep courtyard, early in the morning, right after I had finished my daily session with Hyel.

"We're running out of time, Guard Captain," she said firmly. "Whether I'm strong enough or not, we need to begin."

"You've made a good start with the physical conditioning. But whether you can master a lifetime of training in a season or two is another question." That wasn't even a question. I doubted that she could, but she could learn to use a shortsword to defend herself against what passed for eastern bladework. In case of raiders or invaders, or even assassins, that could save her life just by allowing her to hold someone at bay long enough for help to reach her.
"There's no other choice."

The way she said the words, it seemed as though she was not even thinking of raiders.

"Creslin's not that hard, is he?" I couldn't believe I'd said that to the Regent, and I quickly added, "My sister felt he was a good man at heart."

Megaera laughed, half-humorously, half-bitterly. "It's not that at all. Against him, I need no defenses. Besides, from what I've seen, I'm not sure that I'd ever prevail by force of arms."

Her words lifted a burden from me. But why was she so insistent that she needed to learn the blade? She was a white witch who could throw chaos-fire. I'd even seen it flaring around her once or twice.

Megaera lifted the white-oak wand. "Where do we begin?"

"At the beginning, with the way you hold the blade." I stepped forward and repositioned her fingers. "You must have firm control, and yet not grip it so tightly that it wearies your muscles." I positioned her feet in the basic stance. "And the way in which you stand will affect those muscles as well."

"Like this?"

I nodded and picked up my own wand. "You may regret this, lady."

"The time for regrets has come and gone, Shierra. There is only time to do what must be done."

"Higher on the blade tip . . ." I cautioned.

For the first few passes, breaking through her guard was almost laughably easy. Unlike many of the junior guards when they first began, once she had a wand in her hand, Megaera had no interest in anything but learning how to best use it.

Her eyes never left me, and I could almost feel that she was trying to absorb everything I said. Her concentration, like Creslin's, was frightening.

What was between the two regents, so much that they each drove themselves beyond reason, beyond exhaustion?



The following morning, Hyel was waiting for me.

"You're early," I said.

"I wanted to make sure I got my time with you before the Regent Megaera appeared." He laughed easily.

"You don't need that much more work." He really didn't. He learned quickly. His basic technique had never been that poor, but no one had ever drilled him in the need for perfection. I wondered if the Westwind Guards had developed that insistence on absolute mastery of weapons and tactics because the women were both the warriors and the child bearers and every woman lost meant children who would not be born.

"I'll need to keep sparring with you to improve and hold what you've taught me."

True as his words might be, I had the feeling that Hyel was not telling me everything. "And?"

He gave me the sheepish grin. "Who else can I talk to? You're the only one who commands fighting forces. The regents are above me, and . . ."

I could understand that. I did enjoy talking to him. Still . . . "If we're going to spar before the Regent gets here . . ."

"You're right." With a nod, he picked up his wand.

We worked hard, and I had to admit that he'd gotten enough better that I had to be on guard all the time. He even got a touch on me, not enough to give me more than a slight bruise, but he hadn't been able to do that before.

When we set down the wands, I inclined my head. "You're pressing me now." I even had to blot my forehead.

"Good!" Hyel was soaked, but he was smiling broadly—for a moment.

"What's the matter?"

"Is everyone from the West like you and the Regents?"

"What do you mean?"

"You never stop. From dawn to dusk, you, Creslin, and the Regent Megaera push yourselves. Anyone else would drop. Some of my men have, just trying to keep up with Creslin on his tours of the fields and the springs. He cuts stone, looks and finds springs, runs up and down mountains—"

"Compared to Westwind," I interjected, "they're just hills."

"They're mountains to the rest of us." He grinned before continuing. "You and the Regent Megaera are just as bad. You give me and her blade lessons, drill your own guards, cut and dress stones, check supplies and weapons . . . I've even seen you at the grindstone sharpening blades."

"A Guard Captain has to be able to do all that. That's what the position requires."

"Stone-cutting, too?"

"Not always stone-cutting or masonry, but all guards have to have at least apprentice level skills in a craft."

"No wonder Westwind has lasted so many ages." He shook his head. "That explains you and Creslin. What about the Regent Megaera?"

I shrugged. "She's more driven than Creslin, and I don't know why."

Hyel cleared his throat abruptly. "Ah . . ."

I turned. Megaera had entered the courtyard carrying a practice wand.

"Until later, Guard Captain." Hyel inclined his head, and then stepped away, offering a deeper nod of respect to Megaera.

"Can we begin, Shierra?" Megaera asked.

"Yes, Regent."

I turned and lifted my wand.

Megaera had practiced . . . or she had absorbed totally what I had taught her the day before. Once more, she concentrated totally on every aspect of what I showed her. At the end of the practice session, she inclined her head and thanked me, then left hurriedly. I couldn't help but think about what Hyel had said.

Her intensity made Creslin look calm, and I knew he was scarcely that.

After washing up a bit, I was back working on cutting stones. I couldn't match the pace that I'd seen in Creslin, but with each day I felt that I was getting more skilled. That was strange, because I'd felt no such improvement over the years before. I couldn't exactly explain what was different, except that the work went more quickly when I could hold onto the sense of calm and order.

I'd cut and dressed several larger stones when I sensed more than saw Lydya approach. She radiated a calmness that didn't interfere with my concentration. Her presence should have, but it didn't. She said nothing, and I kept working.

Finally, she stepped forward, almost to my elbow. "You're good at cutting and shaping the rough stone."

"I've been working at it."

"You're using some basic order skills, you know?"

"I watched Creslin for a time. I just thought I'd try to do what he was doing. It looked . . . more effective."

"Just like that?" Lydya raised her eyebrows.

"No, not exactly. I already knew something about masonry and stone-cutting. But there was a certain feel to what he was doing . . ." How else could I explain it?

The healer laughed, softly, but humorously. "There is indeed a feel to the use of order. If you continue to work on developing that feel to your stone-work, you may become a master mason." The humorous tone was replaced with one more somber. "In time, it will impair your ability to use a blade."

"But . . . Creslin . . ."

Lydya just nodded. "Order has its price, and there are no exceptions."





Megaera made solid improvements. By the end of the second eightday of practice, she was sparring at the same level as the most junior guards. At times, she made terrible mistakes. That was because she had so little experience. Each of those mistakes resulted in severe bruises, and she was fortunate not to have broken her wrist once. Even so, she continued to improve. After our sessions, I began to match her against the guards. That was as much to show her that she had improved as for the practice itself.

After one session, she forced herself not to limp, despite a slash-blow to her calf that would have tried the will of most of the guards. She did sit down on the stone bench beside me.

"That was quite a blow you took."

"I should have sensed it coming." She shook her head.

I couldn't help noticing that the circles under her eyes were darker. "You can't learn everything all at once."

"You sound like . . ." She stopped, then went on. "Do you have a sister, Shierra?"

"A younger sister. She's probably a squad leader now."

"How do you get along?"

Should I have answered? How could I not, when she could tell my very thoughts?

"I love her, but she has kept her distance from me."

Megaera laughed. It wasn't a pleasant sound.

"Do you have a sister?"

"You know I have a sister. She's the Tyrant."

She was right, but I hadn't known quite what to say. "Is she a mage, too?"

"No. Not many Tyrants have been mages, not since Saryn anyway. She is just the Tyrant. Were you ever close to your sister?"

"I tried to be. But she never wanted to hear what I had to say. She said she had to make her own decisions and mistakes."

Megaera looked away. After a moment, she rose. "Thank you. I'll see you tomorrow." Then she turned and left.

Had my comment offended her, by suggesting her sister had only meant the best for her? Did she react that way to everything, taking even harmless statements as criticisms or as slights?

Megaera said little to me for the next three mornings, only what was necessary to respond to my instructions. She avoided me totally in matters involving the upgrading of the quarters and the keep, or even the duty rosters for the guards. Creslin and Hyel discussed the duty rosters for the Montgren troopers, and Hyel and I worked out the rotations between us.

On the fourth morning, before we began, Megaera looked at me, then lowered the practice wand. "Shierra . . . you meant the best."

"I did not realize that matters were so between you and your sister." I wasn't about to apologize when I had done nothing wrong, but I could say that I meant no harm.

"You could not have known. No one here could have. Even Creslin did not know until I told him. Sisters can be so cruel."

Could they? Had I been that cruel?

Even as we sparred, Megaera's words crept through my thoughts.



Late one afternoon, Hyel found me in the stoneyard. "We need to get down to the public room."

"Now? We need more stones . . ."

"You know how the troopers and guards don't talk to each other?"

"We talk to each other."

"Our guards don't talk to each other. Even when they're drinking they sit on opposite sides of the room."

I'd seen that. "It will change."

Hyel shook his head. "I told Regent Creslin about it. He's going to do something, This evening. He didn't say what. I think you should be there."

"Frig! I don't need this." But I picked up my tools and my harness. "I'll meet you there. I need to wash up." At least, I needed to get stone dust out of my eyes and nose and hair

I did hurry, but by the time I got to the half-finished inn and public room, the sun was low over the western hills that everyone else called mountains. The windows were without glass or shutters, and someone had propped wooden slats over several of the openings to cut the draft.

Hyel was right. The Westwind guards had taken the tables on the south side, and the Montgren troopers those on the north side. I should have paid more attention, but between keeping things going and the stonework, and the training sessions, I'd had little time and less inclination for the going to the public room.

I eased onto one end of the bench on the leftmost table. "What is there to drink?"

"Some fermented green stuff," replied Fylena, "and something they call beer."

"Doesn't anyone ever talk to the Montgren guards?"

"Why? All they want is to get in our trousers."

"Without even bathing," added someone else.

"There's the regent."

I looked up. Megaera had taken a place at the adjoining table, and beside her was the healer. Across the room, Klerris the mage was sitting beside Hyel.

Creslin walked into the public room and glanced around. He carried his guitar as he made his way to Hyel and spoke. Hyel hurried off and returned with a stool. After a moment, Creslin dragged the stool into the open space and then recovered his guitar.

He settled onto the stool and fingered the strings of the guitar. He smiled, but it was clear he was uneasy. After another strumming chord, he spoke. "I don't know too many songs that don't favor one group or another. So enjoy the ones you like and ignore the ones you don't." Then he began to sing.

Up on the mountain

where the men dare not go

the angels set guards there

in the ice and the snow . . .

I'd forgotten how beautifully he sang. It was as though every note hung like liquid silver in the air. When he finished the first song, no one spoke, but Megaera slipped away from the other table and sat beside me.

Creslin then sang "White was the Color of My Love."

"Has he always sung this well?" murmured Megaera.

"His father was supposed to have been a minstrel, but no one knows for sure."

Creslin launched into two humorous songs, and both the guards and the troopers laughed. When he halted, he stretched his fingers, then coughed, looking around as if for something to drink. Megaera left me for a moment, carrying her cup to him.

Instead of thanking her, he asked, "Are you all right?"

"Fine, thank you. I thought you might need this." After he drank she took the cup and rejoined me. For the first time, I saw that she was deathly white, and she held her hands to keep them from trembling.

Creslin sang several more songs, and then coaxed one of Hyel's troopers into singing one of their songs.

Finally, he brought the guitar to Darcyl. I hadn't even known that she played. Creslin turned, looking for a place to sit. Megaera rose, taking my arm and guiding me with her. We ended up at the one vacant table. I did manage to gesture for Hyel to join us, and Megaera beckoned as well.

"I didn't know you could sing." Megaera's words were almost an accusation.

"I never had a chance until now, and you never seemed to be interested," Creslin replied, his voice either distant or tired, perhaps both. His eyes were on Darcyl and the guitar.

No one spoke. Finally, I had to. "Fiera said that the hall guards used to sneak up to his door when he practiced."

For the first time I'd ever seen, Creslin looked surprised. "Fiera? Is she your—"

"My youngest sister." I don't know why I said it that way, since she was also my only sister. "She talked a lot about you, probably too much." I wished I hadn't said that, either, almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth, but I hadn't expected to find myself sitting at a table with just the two regents and Hyel.

"How is she?"

I sensed Megaera bristling, but all I could do was answer. "She went with the detachment to Sarronnyn. She'll be rotated back later in the year sometime. It could be that she's already back at Westwind."

"Where did the guitar come from?" Hyel was doing his best to keep the conversation light.

"It was mine," Creslin replied. "I left it behind. Lydya—the healer—brought it. My sister Llyse thought I might like to have it."

"You've never played in public?" I was trying to do . . . something . . . to disarm Megaera's hostility.

"No. I was scared to do it, but sometimes music helps. The second song, the white-as-a-dove one, probably saved me from the White Wizards."

"You didn't exactly sound scared." Megaera's voice was like winter ice in Westwind.

"That wouldn't have helped much," Creslin said slowly. "Besides no one born in Westwind shows fear. Not if they can help it."

Megaera looked at me, as if she wanted me to refute what he'd said.

"Feeling afraid is acceptable, but letting it affect your actions is not. That's one of the reasons the guards are often more effective than men. Men too often conceal their fear in brashness or in unwise attacks. The guards are trained to recognize their fears and set them aside. Regent Creslin was trained as a guard until he left Westwind."

Hyel raised his eyebrows, then took a long pull from his mug.

For several songs by Darcyl, we just sat there and listened.

Then Creslin rose. He offered an awkward smile. "I'm going to get some sleep."

At the adjoining table, both Klerris and Lydya stiffened.

"I do hope you'll play again for us," Hyel said. "That really was a treat, and just about everyone liked it."

Everyone but Megaera, I felt, and I was afraid I understood why. I was also afraid I'd just made matters worse without meaning to.

Creslin recovered his guitar and looked at Megaera.

"I do hope you'll play again," I said quickly.

Megaera's eyes fixed on Creslin. "I need to talk to you."


"When you get to the holding will be fine. I won't be long."

Her words told me that matters were anything but fine.

Concern flooded Creslin's face.

"Stop it. Please . . ." Megaera spoke softly, but firmly.

Before Creslin could move, Klerris stepped up to Megaera. "A moment, lady?"

"Can it wait until tomorrow?"

"I think not."

As if they had planned it, the two mages separated Creslin and Megaera, Klerris leading her in one direction and Lydya guiding him in another.

"What was that all about?" asked Hyel. "I thought things were going better between the troopers and the guards."

"Between my guards and your troopers, yes."

Hyel's eyes went to Megaera's back as she and Klerris left the public room. "He was singing to her, and she didn't hear it. Was that it?" asked Hyel.

I shook my head. "He was singing to us, all of us, and she needs him to sing for her."

"She's not that selfish."

He didn't understand. "I didn't say she was. It's different." I tried not to snap at him.

"How's he supposed to know that?"

I didn't have an answer, but I knew it was so, and even Fiera would have understood that.



After the night that Creslin sang to all the guards and troopers at the public room, two things happened. The first was that Creslin and Megaera begin to call Klerris and Lydya, and Hyel and me, together to meet almost daily about matters affecting Recluce. Creslin laughed about it, calling us the unofficial high council of Recluce. Usually, I didn't say too much, Neither did Hyel.

Mostly, I watched, especially Creslin and Megaera. Sometimes, I couldn't help but overhear what they said afterwards as they left the hall.

" . . . don't . . ."

"I'm sorry," Creslin apologized. "I still can't believe your cousin wants to tax us . . ."

"He doesn't. It has to be Helisse . . . not any better than sister dear . . ."

Creslin said nothing.

"Sisters of Sarronnyn . . . except she never thought of us . . . just of her, of what she thought was best for Sarronnyn . . ."

"Don't we have to think of what's best for Recluce?"

"It's not the same!" After a moment, Megaera continued, her voice softer. "I'm sorry, best-betrothed. You try to ask people. You don't always listen, but you care enough to ask . . ."

Their voices faded away, and I stood there, thinking about how they had spoken to each other and what they had said—and not said.

The second thing was that, not every night, but more and more frequently, Megaera began to sleep in the keep. Then it was every night.

I didn't even pretend to understand all the reasons why she preferred to share my small room at the keep rather than stay in the Black Holding where she had a fine large room to herself. I also understood why she'd married Creslin. What real choice had she had? I could have understood why she'd never slept with him, except for one thing. It was clear to every person on the isle that he loved her, that he would have taken a blade or a storm for her. Yet she ignored that, and she also ignored the fact that she cared for him. That was what I found so hard to understand. But a guard captain doesn't ask such things of a regent, even one who shares her chamber.

Finally, one night, in the darkness, she just sat on the edge of her pallet and looked at the wall.

"It's not my affair," I began, although it was because anything that the regents did affected all of us on Recluce, "but could you . . ." I didn't quite know what to say.

Megaera did not speak for a time, and I waited.

"It isn't your affair, Shierra. It's between Creslin and me." She paused, then went on. "We're tied together by magery. It's an evil thing. I know everything he feels. Everything. When he looks at me . . . or when he feels I've done something I shouldn't . . . or when . . ." She shook her head.

"Does he know what you feel?"

"He's beginning to know that. The . . . mage-ties were done at different times. I had no choice . . . mine to him was done even before we were betrothed. He didn't even know. That . . . it was my sister's doing. My own sister, and she said that it was for my own good. My own good. Creslin . . . he chose to tie himself to me. He didn't even ask. He just had it done." She turned. "How would you feel, to have every feeling you experienced felt by a man you never knew before you were married?"

I was confused. "Didn't you say that you know everything he feels?"

"Every last feeling! Every time he looks at me and wants me! Every time he feels hurt, like a whipped puppy, because I don't think what he did was wonderful . . . Do you know what that's like? How would you feel if you knew every feeling Hyel had for you, and he knew how you felt?" She snorted. "You've at least worked with Hyel. When I started feeling what Creslin felt, we'd met once at a dinner, and we'd exchanged less than a handful of words. Sister dear and his mighty mother the Marshall decided we should be wed, and that was that."

The idea of having every feeling known? I shuddered. I liked Hyel, and we had gotten to know each other somewhat. The idea that a complete stranger might know all my feelings . . . no wonder Megaera looked exhausted. No wonder she was edgy. Yet . . . I had to wonder about Creslin.

"What about Regent Creslin?" I asked softly.

She shook her head.

Once more, I waited.

"He does what he feels is right, but . . . he doesn't always think about how it affects others. At times, he tries to listen, but then . . . it's as though something happened, and he's back doing the same things." Megaera's voice died away. Abruptly, she stretched out on the pallet. "Good night, Shierra."

Everything Megaera had said rang true, and yet I felt that there was more there. Was that because I had watched Creslin grow up? Because I wanted to believe he was doing the best he knew how? I had watched him both in Westwind and since I had come to Recluce, and I could see how he tried to balance matters, and how he drove himself. But was I seeing what I wanted to see? Was what Megaera saw more accurate?

How could I know?

I lay on my pallet, thinking about Fiera. I'd only wanted the best for her. I'd never even thought of doing anything like the Tyrant had. I wished I could have told her that. But when I left, she hadn't let me. She'd gone off to Sarronnyn, as if to say that she could go where she wanted without telling me.



The warning trumpet sounded while I was just about to begin finishing the stonework reinforcing around the second supply storehouse. I was halfway across the courtyard when Gylara called to me.

"Guard Captain! Ships! At least two warships entering the harbor. They're flying the standard of Hamor . . ."

Hamor? Why were the Hamorians attacking?
". . . Regent Megaera has ordered all squads to the pier! She's left with first squad!"

I should have been the one to issue that order. But then, I shouldn't have properly been doing stonework, except no one else in the detachment had been trained in it, except Doryana, and two stone-masons weren't nearly enough with all that needed to be repaired and built. I was already buckling on my harness and sprinting for the courtyard.

"Second squad! Form up! Pass the word."

Hyel rushed into the courtyard just as we were heading out. I'd hoped we could catch up with first squad. I didn't like the thought of Megaera leading them into battle.

"Get your men! We've got invaders!" I didn't wait to see what he did, because second squad was already moving. The harbor was close enough that advancing on foot was faster than saddling up. Besides, there wouldn't be enough room to maneuver in the confined area, and we'd lose mounts we had too few of anyway.

Second squad followed me in good order. I didn't bother to count the ships filling the harbor or the boats that were heading shoreward. Counting didn't solve anything when you were attacked and had no place to retreat. The first boat reached the pier before first squad did.

First squad tore into the attackers, but another set of boats was headed toward the foot of the pier. If they landed there, they could trap first squad between two Hamorian forces.

"Second squad! To the boats!"

We managed to reach the rocky shore just as the first Hamorians scrambled from the water. The leading warrior charged me with his oversized iron bar. I just stepped inside and cut his calf all the way to the bone and his neck with the other blade.

After that, it was slash and protect.

Then fire—white wizard-fire—flared from somewhere.




I took advantage of that to cut another Hamorian throat and disable two more. So did my guards.

More wizard fire flared across the sky.

Then the winds began to howl, and the skies blackened. Instantly, or so it seemed. Lightnings flashed out of the clouds. I hoped they were hitting the Hamorian ships, but we weren't looking that way, and the Hamorians who were died under our blades.

"Waterspouts! Frigging waterspouts!"

I didn't look for those, either. "Second squad, toward the water!"

The Hamorians began to panic.

Before long we held the shore to the east of the pier, and the only Hamorians nearby were wounded or stumbling eastward.

"Second squad! Reform on me!"

Only then did I study the harbor. The water was filled with high and choppy waves, and debris was everywhere. Three ships were enshrouded in flames. A fourth was beached hard on the shingle to the east. I didn't see anyone alive on it, but there were bodies tangled in twisted and torn rigging and ropes.

Then, I turned to the pier. The guards of first squad had been split by the ferocity of the initial attack and by the numbers, but they had reformed into smaller groups. They were standing. I didn't see any Hamorians. I also didn't see Creslin or Megaera.

"Second squad! Hold! Dispatch anyone who doesn't surrender!"

I scrambled over and around bodies to get to the pier. Half the way toward the seaward end, I found them. Megaera lay on the blood-smeared stones of the pier, gashes in her leathers. Creslin lay beside her, an arrow through his right shoulder. One hand still held a blade. The other was thrown out, as if to protect Megaera. Both were breathing.

Creslin was more slightly built than I recalled, so wiry that he was almost gaunt. He looked like a youth, almost childlike, helpless. Despite the blood on her leathers and face, Megaera looked young, too, without the anger that sometimes seemed to fuel every movement she made. For the briefest moment, I looked from the two, looking young and bloody, and somehow innocent, to the carnage around them. There were scores of mangled bodies, and burning and sunken ships. Ashes rained across the pier, along with the smoke from the burning schooner that had begun to sink.

Hyel hurried toward me, followed by four litter bearers, two of his men and two guards.

"They're alive, but . . . they'll need the healers," I told him. "We'll need to round up the survivors. Some of them are swimming ashore." I glanced around. "Most of your men are on the west side of the pier. You take that area. The Guards will take the east."

Hyel nodded. "We'll do it. The lookouts say that there aren't any more ships near."

That was some help.

Once we finally captured all the surviving Hamorians and had them under guard, I headed back to the keep.

I trudged up the steps, only to have one of the Montgren troopers approach and bow.

"Guard Captain, the mage and Captain Hyel are waiting for you in the hall."

"Thank you." I wiped the second shortsword clean and sheathed it.

Even before I stepped into the hall, Klerris moved forward. Hyel followed.

"How are they?"

"Lydya is working with them. They'll live." Klerris glanced at me and then Hyel. "You two are in charge for now."

I looked back at the mage. "Us?"

"Who else? Lydya and I will be busy trying to patch up bodies and spirits. You two get to take care of everything else."

It was pitch dark before I felt like I could stop, and I'd made a last trip down to the pier and back because I'd posted guards on the grounded Hamorian vessel. I didn't want the ship looted. There was potentially too much on her that we could use.

"It's hard to believe, isn't it?" Hyel was sitting on the topmost step leading into the keep. "Sit down. You could use a moment to catch your breath."

"Just for a bit." I did sit down, but on the other side of the wide step, where I could lean back against the stone of the walls. "What's hard to believe?"

"People. You get two young leaders, and they start trying to make a better place for people who don't have much hope or anywhere to go, and everyone wants to stop them."

I didn't find that hard to believe. I'd already seen enough of that as a Westwind guard.

"You don't agree?" He raised his eyebrows.

I laughed. The sound came out bitter. "I do agree, but I don't find it hard to believe. People are like that."

He gestured to the north, his arm taking in the small harbor and the last embers of the grounded and burning sloop. "And all this? That's not hard to believe?"

"It's real, Hyel."

"How could two people—even if they are wizards—create such . . ."

"Chaos?" I laughed again. "Creslin's a mage, and she's a white witch. They both have to prove their worth. To the world and to each other." Proving it to each other might be the hardest part, I thought. "We all have to prove things." I stood. "I need to check on the wounded and see what changes we'll need in the duty rosters."

Hyel grinned crookedly, uneasily, as he rose from the step. "What do you have to prove, Shierra?"

"Tell me what you have to prove, Hyel, and then I'll tell you." I started to turn.

His long-fingered hand touched my shoulder. Gently.


His eyes met mine. "I have to prove . . . that I was sent here wrongfully. I have to prove that I'm not a coward or a bully."

"What if you were sent here rightfully, but you're not the same man that you once were?"

His lips quirked. "You ask questions no one else does."

"I did not mean to say—"

"You didn't, Shierra. I always learn something when I'm with you." He smiled. "You'd better check those rosters."

I could have avoided Hyel's question. He wouldn't have pressed me again. He'd answered my question and not demanded my answer. After a moment, I managed a smile. "I have to prove that I didn't make a mistake in choosing to come here. I have to prove that I've escaped an image."

"The image of a Westwind Guard?"


He nodded, but didn't press. This time, I wasn't ready to say more. "Until tomorrow, Hyel."

"Good night, Shierra."



Over the next three eightdays, something changed between Creslin and Megaera. I didn't know what, or how, but after they recovered, they both slept at the Black Holding, and occasionally they held hands. They still bickered, but most of the bitterness had vanished.

Our meetings didn't have the edginess that they had once had. Not that there weren't problems and more problems.

A second tax notice came from the Duke of Montgren, and there was no pay chest, either, although the Duke had promised them for a year.

"What about the cargo?" I asked, looking around the table in the keep hall.

"It's paid for," snapped Creslin.

"Did you have to pay, since the ship is the Duke's?" I didn't understand why that was necessary, since Creslin and Megaera were his regents.

"The captain's acting as a consignment agent. If he doesn't get paid now, when would we get another shipment of goods? Would anyone else trade with us?" He went on, pointing out how few wanted to trade with such an out of the way place.

"So they're gouging the darkness out of us?" asked Hyel.

"That's why we need to refit the Hamorian ships for our own trading."

"We can't afford to refit one ship, let alone others," observed Megaera.

"We can't afford not to," snapped Creslin.

Then after a few more words, he stood and strode out. Megaera rose. "He's worried."

After the others left, Hyel looked to me. "He's acting like we're idiots."

"Sometimes we are," I pointed out. "He's paid for most everything we have personally, and he doesn't have much left."

"What about Megaera's sister, the Tyrant? At least, the Marshall sent you and equipment and supplies. The Tyrant hasn't sent anything. Neither has the Duke."

Why hadn't the Tyrant sent anything? Sarronnyn was rich enough to spare a shipload of supplies now and again. Did Megaera's sister hate her that much? Or did she regard her as a threat? How could Recluce ever threaten Sarronnyn?



Whether it was the result of Creslin calling the storms against the Hamorians or something else, I didn't know, and no one said, but the weather changed. Day after day, the clouds rolled in from the northwest, and the rains lashed Recluce. Fields began to wash out, and we kept having to repair our few roads. No one had ever thought about so much rain on a desert isle, and most of the roofs leaked. After nearly three eightdays, the worst passed, but we still got more rain than the isle had gotten before.

Megaera, once she had fully recovered from her injuries, and once we did not have to deal with rain falling in sheets, continued her sparring and working with me on improving her blade skills. One morning she did not bring her practice blade. Instead, she sat on one of the benches in the courtyard and motioned for me to sit beside her. Her face was somber.

"Shierra . . . something has happened . . ."

What? It couldn't have been Creslin, or Megaera would have been far more distraught. It couldn't have been Hyel, because I'd seen him a few moments before, and enjoyed his smile.

"Creslin . . . he sensed something last night. Something has happened at Westwind. He doesn't know what it is, but . . . it's likely that the Marshall and Marshalle are dead."

"Dead? What about . . . all the others?"

Her fingers rested on my wrist, lightly. "We don't know. We don't have any way of knowing, but we thought you should know what we know. You're the senior Westwind guard here. Creslin and I . . . we thought that perhaps you could tell the guards that you've had word of hard times at Westwind, and that the Marshall and Marshalle have been hurt, but that you don't know more than that."

I found myself nodding, even as I wondered about Fiera. Had she been hurt? Or killed? Would I ever know, with Westwind thousands of kays away?

"I'm sorry, Shierra." Megaera's voice was soft. "I know you have a sister . . ."

For some reason, hearing that, I had to swallow, and I found myself thinking of Megaera as much as Fiera. How could her sister have been so cruel to her?

After Megaera departed, I did gather the squads, and I told them something similar to what she had suggested.

But the eightdays passed, and we heard nothing.

I kept wondering about Fiera. Was she all right? Would I ever hear? Would I ever know?

Then, one morning at the keep, as Hyel and I waited for the regents, Creslin burst through the door. "There's a coaster porting." He hurried past us and down the steps to the hill road that led to the pier.

Hyel looked at me. Then we both followed.

"That's a Westwind banner below the ensign," I told Hyel. "That's why he's upset."


I didn't try to explain, not while trying to catch up with Creslin. "We're going to have more guards." Would Fiera be there? If she weren't, could someone tell me about her?

"More—?" Hyel groaned as he hurried beside me.

"Don't groan so loudly."

We finally caught up with Creslin as the coaster eased up to the pier and cast out lines.

"Do you want to explain?" asked Hyel.

Creslin pointed to the Westwind guards ranked on the deck.

"I still—" Hyel didn't understand.

"I hope they aren't all that's left," I said. Please let Fiera be there . . . or alive and well somewhere.

"The Marshall's dead. Llyse is dead, and Ryessa has been moving troops eastward into the Westhorns," Creslin said.

I hadn't heard about the Sarronnese troops. I wondered how he knew, but perhaps the mages or the trading captains had told him.

"If Westwind still existed, there wouldn't be three squads coming to Recluce." His words were hard.

Once the coaster was secured to the pier, the gangway came down, and a blond guard—a squad leader—stepped down and onto the pier.

My heart almost stopped. Fiera! But I had to take her report as she stepped past Hyel and Creslin and stopped before me.

"Squad Leader Fiera reporting."


"Three full squads. Also ten walking wounded, five permanently disabled, and twenty consorts and children. Three deaths since embarkation in Rulyarth. We also bring some supplies, weapons, and tools . . . and what is left of the Westwind treasury."

Hard as it was, I replied. "Report accepted, Squad Leader." I turned. "May I present you to Regent Creslin? Squad Leader Fiera."

Creslin did not speak for a moment. He and Fiera locked eyes. The last time they had met, she had kissed him, and now everything was different.

Then he nodded solemnly. "Honor bright, Squad Leader. You have paid a great price, and great is the honor you bestow upon us through your presence. Few have paid a higher price than you . . ." When he finished, his eyes were bright, although his voice was firm.

So were Fiera's, but her voice was hard. "Will you accept the presentation of your heritage, Your Grace? For you are all that remains of the glory and power of Westwind."

"I can do no less, and I will accept it in the spirit in which it is offered." Creslin looked directly into her eyes and lowered his voice. "But never would I have wished this. Even long ago, I wished otherwise." He tightened his lips.

Even I felt the agony within him.

"We know that, Your Grace." Fiera swallowed, and the tears oozed from the corners of her eyes. "By your leave, Regent?"

"The keep is yours, Squad Leader, as is all that we have. We are in your debt, as am I, in the angels', and in the Legend's."

"And we in yours, Regent." Fiera's voice was hard as granite or black stone, but the tears still flowed.

"Form up!" I ordered, as much to spare Fiera as for anything. "On the pier."

"What was all that about?" Hyel asked Creslin.

Whatever Creslin said, it would not explain half of what had happened, nor should it.

Carts had already begun to arrive. They had to have been sent by Megaera, and at that moment my heart went out to both my sister and to Megaera, for both suffered, and would suffer, and neither was at fault. Nor was Creslin.

With all the need to accommodate the unexpected additional guards, consorts, and children, I could not find a time when Fiera was alone until well past sunset.

I watched as she slipped out the front entrance of the keep and began to walk down the road. I did not know what she had in mind, but I had to reach her.

Following her, I did not speak until we were well away.

"Fiera . . . ?"

She did not respond.

I caught up with her. "I wanted to talk to you, but not . . . not with everyone around."

She stopped in the middle of the rutted road, under a cloudy and starless sky.

"Why?" She asked. "Why did it have to happen this way?"

"You gave him his future. You gave him what will save us all," I told her, and I knew it was true. I also knew that, at that moment, it didn't matter to her.

She said nothing.

"Fiera . . . ?"

"What?" The single word was almost snapped. "I suppose you have some great suggestion. Or some reason why everything will be wonderful."

"No. I don't. I don't have any answers. For you or for me. Or for us." I rushed on. "I know I didn't do everything right, and I know what I did must have hurt you. I didn't mean it that way. I only wanted to help . . ." I swallowed. "I love you, and you are my sister, and you always will be."

We both cried, and held each other.

There were other words, but they were ours and for us alone.



Late that night, I sat on the front steps of the keep. Fiera was sleeping, if fitfully, and Megaera and Creslin doubtless had their problems, and I . . . I had my sister . . . if I could keep her, if I could avoid interfering too much.
"Are you all right?" Hyel stood in the doorway of the keep.

"I'm fine."

He just looked at me with those deep gray eyes, then sat down beside me. For a long time, he said nothing. Finally, he reached out and took my hand. Gently.

Love is as much about wisdom as lust and longing. Fiera had loved Creslin, not wisely, but well, and out of that love, she had brought him the tools to build a kingdom. He would never forget, for he was not the kind who could or would, but he loved Megaera. So he would offer all the honors and respect he could to Fiera, but they would not be love.

Megaera had loved her sister, also not wisely, but well, while I had loved my sister wisely, carefully, I had not shown that that love, nor had the Tyrant, I thought. Unlike the Tyrant, who would never show any love to her sister, I'd been given the chance to let Fiera know what I felt, and I, for once, had been brave enough to take it.

As for the future, I could only hope that, in time, Fiera would find someone who matched her, as Creslin and Megaera had found each other, as Hyel and I might.

* * *

L. E. Modesitt, Jr. Is the author of many books and stories.


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