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She sounded a little upset. He slept on his back, one long muscular arm over his face shielding his eyes from the morning light. His breathing was easier, but even sleeping he looked drawn, tired, a slight catch remaining in each breath. Still, it was amazing he was alive at all. I wondered if it was scandalous of me to be so curious about him. Probably it was. I saw him in the hallway the day before the coronation.

He inclined his head more courteously than he probably should have, since I was only a serving girl. As ill as he had been so recently, and probably still felt, his strides were long and easy and he moved with a taut grace most men could only envy. Not handsome, certainly, but his deeds more than made up for that. Kemen Sendoa. We had received instructions to treat him as the most honored guest ever to grace the palace. It was hardly surprising.

The poison that had almost killed him was meant for the prince, but Sendoa had taken the blade instead. True or not, it only added to his air of mystery. His teeth stood out very white against his dark skin. I thought he should smile more often; it softened his serious, intense look.

He looked tired. When I refilled his wine glass, I let my sleeve brush his shoulder slightly. He smiled and nodded his thanks, not really paying attention. My mother would have been scandalized, of course. I just wanted to see his green eyes again. But never having seen a Dari at all before, I thought they were fascinating. Eerie, but fascinating nonetheless.

In the next weeks, I saw him sometimes in the mornings, in the grey dawn when only a few of the servants were awake. I passed him in the hallways and saw him in the courtyard where he exercised. The first time I stopped and stared, my mouth open in awe. The kicks and flips, the pure and perfect energy, were breathtaking. It was beautiful in a wild and furious way, the same way a running horse or a thunderstorm is beautiful.

He finished a set of moves and rested a moment, leaning over to put his hands on his knees. He must have seen me out of the corner of his eye, for he suddenly straightened, his eyes on me. After that I was careful to watch him, the few times I did, from the windows. Though later I felt more for him, I can honestly say that then it was still purely curiosity, and I was terribly embarrassed to imagine that he might have thought I felt more.

After the coronation, we fell back into something resembling the routine of the palace. Things were changing a lot then. I was lucky not to lose my position too during that time, but Noriso knew I had nowhere to go and no family to help me. I was grateful to him for it. To tell the truth, I should have been married by then. My mother had arranged it; I was to be married at the age of seventeen to a small fabric merchant in Stonehaven.

A month before the wedding, he came to me and begged leave to break the engagement. But what is the use of being married to a man who pines for someone else? Instead, he was happy and she was happy and I was quietly disappointed but far from heartbroken. It was better for me too, at least as long as I kept my job. But the months and then years wore on and I had no other suitors. Vidar and Taisto had shaken that up, but it quickly settled down again.

There were no particularly good prospects in the few new people Noriso hired, though there were some who might become friends. They want our bodies and we want their protection and really, deep inside, I think what we all want most is friendship and understanding. But how do you find that amid the awkwardness and the halting words? Not long before the king Hakan Ithel was crowned, I met a man in the market. His name was Riulono, and he was a footman in the house of Lord Kalyano. I saw him again when Lord Kalyano attended a banquet at the palace. He smiled at me, and I smiled at him.

I, mousey little Riona, pleased a man! He noticed me, and I appreciated it more than even I had expected. He sent a letter of intent, properly worded and polite. Riulono made me laugh, and he was dashingly handsome. I was twenty six, after all, and hardly the most eligible woman in Stonehaven.

I was used to being invisible. He scattered compliments around with careless generosity. Once I met him in the market for the afternoon on my off day. He smiled and kissed me on the cheek, told me I was beautiful. He smelled of ale, soap, horse sweat, and leather, masculine smells that made my breath come a little short.

He bought me grilled tomatoes and peppers on a skewer for lunch, and sticky rice with sweet beans afterward, and took me on a tour all around the most exciting part of the market, the jewelry stands. The jewels glittered with brilliant color in the sunlight. That girl was a harlot. Probably not. It frustrated me that I had no advice to give her — aside from the obvious, of course. I wished I could say the same. I wished for a girlfriend closer to my own age I could talk to, and I did have a few, but they were all married or betrothed.

I laughed when Sinta and Tanith teased me about Riulono, but the truth is I wished desperately for a husband, to feel loved, needed, protected. Not long after the coronation, the young king Hakan Ithel sent Sendoa to speak to the Rikutan king. The whispers ran about the palace like fire. The Rikutan king had specifically requested Sendoa, because his brother, an army officer, had spoken so highly of him. His official title became Ambassador and General Kemen Sendoa.

The day after the coronation, I wandered about the palace almost in a daze. I saw a few servants. I shook my head, bemused and pleased by her friendly courtesy. Finally I found myself in the kitchen, a great room with several open fireplaces, three ovens, dozens of strings of dried vegetables hanging all about my head, and so much other food that I was nearly overwhelmed by the smells.

I had to duck my head quite far to see under the strings of onions and peppers, and I would have turned around but a cheerful voice rang out in greeting. I bent down to find the source of the voice and finally made my way through the confusion to a man kneading some kind of dough at a table, with a woman and a younger girl behind him scurrying about, taking things in and out of the ovens. A young boy was chopping peppers close by.

His eyes widened when he saw me more clearly, but he smiled very kindly. He had a generous round face with deep lines from smiling and white hair that ringed his head already. He began talking almost immediately. I thank you for your care of the prince. The king Hakan Ithel is a good boy, a good man now I suppose, and we were so worried for him. You have our gratitude, more than I can say. Here, Luko, bring me that meat pie. The boy brought a steaming pie and Joran cut out a large slice, then quickly arranged some cheese and fruit on the side of the plate.

Eat while you rest. He bobbed his head in quick apology. Take it as thanks from us. We love him too. I shrugged and ate with a will. The man talked all the while, though I hardly carried my end of the conversation. When I finished the pie, he pushed another plate in front of me, this time of tangy vegetables.

Then another plate of pie, this one a fruit pie with cream and honey on top. Then pastries and fresh berries. Finally I forced myself to stop. The boy took away my dirty plates to wash with eyes wide with awe. I nodded. The kitchen was warm and pleasant, but in a few minutes more, I bid them farewell, with many thanks for the excellent food. I found Hakan in the courtyard behind the castle. I leaned on the fence to watch the horses in the small corral outside the stable while I waited for him to finish. The sun was warm on my shoulders and the late spring breeze carried the scent of horses, flowers, and thick rich grass.

I felt absolutely happy, more at peace with the world than I had been in years. There was a foal nursing from a fat healthy mare in the far corner of the corral, and one of the barncats jumped onto the fence not far from me. I held very still. Though I have a way with horses and dogs, cats are sometimes afraid of me. The cat balanced on the top rail of the fence and walked toward me with perfect confidence. She, a mother still nursing, rubbed against me, the tip of her tail tickling my nose. Her fur was warm and dusty, black and brown mixed haphazardly. Her little white paws were the size of my fingertips.

He looked out at the corral as he spoke. How can a prince, or a king, court a commoner? Most women would be only too eager. He shook his head, as I had expected. But how can I know whether a woman cares for me or for my crown?

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I raised my eyebrows but did not answer him. Of all things I was unqualified for, advice on women was probably foremost. Hakan would have been better served to go ask a stableboy. Hakan was busy with the work of ruling, and the palace soon took on a very different feel. Taisto had dismissed great numbers of servants, and Hakan enlisted the aid of the palace administrator to rehire the appropriate number. Hakan would have preferred to arrest them for poisoning Vidar, but we were unable to find proof so long after the deed.

They were pale, hungry, and badly needed washing, but after a hot bath, a new set of clothes, and a week of rest and rich food, they were as eager to serve as ever. He was a man of thin and wiry build, smaller than most soldiers. His golden hair was liberally sprinkled with silvery grey, but his sparkling gaze and quick smile made him seem younger than he probably was. I knew immediately he was in deadly earnest in his promise to die for his men, though I might have suspected another man of bravado or posturing.

He seemed to look on every man even five years his junior as a son to be protected and guided. When I met him, I bowed low before him because he deserved that honor. He returned the bow with more respect than was strictly proper, for he was my senior both in age and rank. He changed the way the taxes were collected; he said that the old way was rife with corruption. Hakan said the new way would be better. Eventually the greater trade would appease the nobility because they would be able to buy more luxurious silks and dates, nuts and expensive porcelain from Ophrano and Rikuto at better prices.

I hoped he was right; antagonizing the nobility at the start of a reign is a risky thing. He had grand plans to start a series of schools for common children throughout the country. The classes would be similar to those taught at the beginning of our education in the army, but instead of military tactics and strategy he wanted the children to study agriculture and trade.

He was also very interested in developing strategies that would take better advantage of the crossbow, for it gave archers different capabilities than the longbow or the shorter bow of the suvari archers. The day before I left, Hakan asked me to meet with him in his working office. We spoke about what he wanted from Rikuto and what he was willing to give. He had a good idea of what Tafari might demand most firmly and where he would be more flexible. Finally he leaned forward, his voice very quiet. He has some experience in diplomacy and can give you guidance.

You hold my authority, but I believe he can help you. It was unavoidable, I could see that clearly enough. Yet still it stung, and my jaw was tight with shame when the man was brought in to meet me. Farin Driniamo was perhaps two or three years younger than I was, a bit soft in his middle already.

He had smooth pudgy hands and a round face, but his eyes were shrewd and brightly intelligent. He would serve as my chief assistant, but I was also assigned five couriers, several younger scribes to serve under Driniamo, and an escort of fifty suvari. Though Hakan gave me a carriage in keeping with my official authority, I preferred to ride. The rocking of the carriage made my stomach turn, and it made me uneasy to not see the road ahead of me.

Besides, the summer was far too glorious to traverse with windows shuttered. Driniamo was not a particularly good rider, but he took pains to speak to me and suffered from saddle sores in his attempt to remain by my side. I suppose it was a form of honor, for I was the authority of the group, and if I rode, then it was unfitting for him to remain in the carriage. He liked to talk and I found him tedious at times, but he was a pleasant companion for the most part. With many apologies for his presumption, he offered sound advice about Rikutan court etiquette and negotiation techniques.

How to demand more than is possible, so when you compromise you gain more than you might have expected. The priorities that the old king Hakan Emyr had held and what was likely to have changed for Tafari since Driniamo had last been to the Rikutan court. It was odd to discuss such things with him. At times, I was impressed by his perception and shrewdness, at times almost disgusted by the inherent duplicity of diplomacy, and at times profoundly grateful that Erdem was served so well.

Most often, I felt unequal to the task. Diplomacy was far from my humble experience. For his part, Driniamo gave no indication that he thought less of me for my inability to read. I was more grateful for that than he probably realized. Our travel to the border took nearly two weeks, for the carriage did not make the trip with the speed that suvari alone would have. We had no trouble. Tafari had already told them to expect a diplomatic envoy sometime, and they gave us an honor escort to the capital. That part of the journey took another week.

The Rikutan countryside provided ample interest while we rode. The weather on that side of the mountains is much hotter and drier, and that year it had been especially difficult. I saw few farmers, but those I saw looked thin and weary. When I asked one of the Rikutan officers how the people in the country fared, he scowled and said that in some of the outlying areas, the roads had become nearly impassible for common folk, because Tarvil bandits and raiders had become so numerous. The crown had spent so much money on buying food from Erdem it could no longer support an army sufficient to protect the populace.

Of course, many of the bandits were Rikutans driven to desperation by failing crops and failing markets, unable to travel and trade as they had before. Once we reached Enkotan, we were escorted directly to the palace. We were received with all due courtesy and respect. The Erdemen suvari were escorted to their quarters, which I later heard were quite adequate, though not luxurious. He was a sober man, simply dressed given his rank, with light brown hair, pale blue eyes, and a careful, thoughtful air about him.

He asked whether I would prefer to rest before seeing the king. I declined, though I did take his offer of a chance for a quick wash to make myself presentable.

A Cold Wind: Erdemen Honor, Volume 2 (Unabridged)

The palace was beautiful and ancient, built within a hundred years of our own in Stonehaven, and I would have enjoyed the chance to examine it more closely, for Rikutan design is much different than Erdemen design. However, Niramsokai himself escorted me immediately to a guest room of deep red and gold. I washed quickly and opened the door to find Niramsokai still waiting for me.

Riulono came to see me again. He has no soul. Be careful. He winked at her and then laughed easily when she rolled her eyes. I have something to show you. I showed him to a table in the kitchen and sat across from him. Joran was there, and he made me feel safe. I wish I could describe what I felt. Hope, anticipation, quite a bit of fear. I opened the box tentatively.

Inside the box was a fine golden necklace, several thin chains linked together. They glittered in the sunlight streaming through the window. It was only twelve golden eagles. Tyche's Flight. Richard Parry. Frostborn: The World Gate Frostborn 9. Summoner of Storms.

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A Cold Wind (Erdemen Honor, #2) by C.J. Brightley

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