Great Hall in the Palace at Tios, as was usual for an Autumn afternoon
with the court in residence, was crowded with hangers-on, and gay with
the brightest colors and the latest fashions. K'Ateros, too old
to be tantalized by semi-nudity and too preoccupied to be diverted by
stupidity, brushed through greetings from both sexes on his way to the
appointments' desk in the far corner of the Hall.
'Be with you.' He stood high enough
now to dispense with formality, even standing under the statues of the
Grace that dominated the Hall.
'And the Power and the Grace be with you, my
Lord,' said the young Fleet Lieutenant at the desk, rising
deferentially. 'I will inform his Highness. The Tetrarch has
not yet arrived.'
grunted and walked to a window niche. Below him, Tios stretched
from the base of the low hills to the sea. Only the tallest
buildings in the old town still caught the light of the setting sun,
while the luminous ribbons of the travelways pulsed slowly as they
wound intricate patterns through the twilight below. To the
north, a staging tender fell gently from the yellow sky, to settle with
a flurry of spinning rainbows into the evening mist already thick on
the delta. Tios was not the largest city in the Empire, nor the
richest, but to K'Ateros it had a meaning that transcended statistics
of wealth or population.
He had come here
as a young man to represent his agricultural world at the Assembly,
awkward, unsure of himself, and very conscious of his provincial
accent. He smiled a little, reminiscently. That, at least,
he had kept over the years. For the rest, Tios had swallowed him
up. He knew it and loved it from the dockside taverns to the
upper travelways, from the alien ghettos on the delta to the noble
estates sprawled over the hills. Tios was to him a very potent
symbol of the power and tradition, accumulated during a dynasty of
twenty generations, that now ruled over nine planets in six systems.
'Grace with you, my lord.'
faintly mocking voice interrupted his reverie and he turned.
'And with you, Lady,' he responded,
bowing, purely from habit, a calculated fraction short of the
prescribed depth. He had been a courtier for a long time.
As he straightened he nodded curtly to the two splendid young men
'My compliments, Lady, a very striking ensemble.'
The Lady Lin Te
Haris glanced back. 'Do you really think so, Ateros? I had thought,
perhaps, a little overstated?'
'I had thought, Lady, that was your intention,'
he said dryly.
She was dressed
in what appeared at first glance to be a demure robe of black,
sheenless fur. Only her face, hands and feet were bare, the robe ending
at heavily jeweled borders. But when she turned, it could be seen
that the close-clinging material was formed of many distinct panels,
whose edges at rest joined indistinguishably, but which the slightest
movement separated to reveal, in momentary and challenging glimpses, a
very white, very young body. Her companions, in deliberate contrast,
were clothed with loosely hanging panels of bizarre shapes and
contrasting colors, which repulsed each other so that any movement set
them fluttering apart in an ever changing kaleidoscope.
K'Ateros had too
close an acquaintance with the intrigues of the Priesthood to be a
conventionally religious man. Nevertheless he found, somewhat to
his own surprise, that this deliberate, and admittedly effective,
portrayal of one of the Church's most sacred images - the Three in
Grace - left him uneasy. He came, after all, from the Commonfolk,
and childhood indoctrination is not easily discarded. It was
rare, nowadays, for young people to make a Three, though it was
encouraged in the elite Scoutship Corps of the Fleet. Even so,
there was a vast distinction between that romantic tradition and this
near parody; nor was it merely youthful dare-devilry.
Of the two men,
Ka Sant was of the Blood, and the chosen Heir of a High House
traditionally aligned with the Church. He was, as K'Ateros knew,
both intelligent and ambitious. While a liaison with the Lady Lin
had obvious attractions for a young man, it had even more obvious
dangers. It was more than unlikely that Ka Sant's heart had so
overruled his head as to risk, by this masquerade with an
Heir-Designate, the displeasure of both Church and Palace. It
was, thought K'Ateros, glancing at the hard, competent face,
unbelievable. In any event, he had the reputation of preferring
his own sex. Indeed, K'Ateros remembered seeing him with other
such slim, handsome boys as this one now standing a little behind him.
'It would appear that you do not approve of
the old customs, Lord Ateros,' said Ka Sant. 'I had
thought that on Lama Raya and Olympa, at least, the Commonfolk were
still properly schooled by their Houses, and you are from Lama Raya,
are you not?'
His tone was as
insolent as his words, and there was a stifled gasp from the boy in the
background. The Lady Lin's thick brows drew together in surprise,
and she turned quickly towards him, but before she could speak,
K'Ateros answered, his tone level, and directed as much to her as to Ka
'An affectation of the court I can tolerate,
and if it amuses the Lady, why even approve. But the old customs,
I think, mean more to you, and to the Tetrarch, than a contrived and
probably unsatisfactory sexual trio, however fancily dressed.'
The Lady Lin
flushed to the roots of her sleek black hair, but stopped Ka Sant with
a gesture as he moved forward angrily. 'Enough, Sant'A,'
she said, 'leave me to speak to Lord Ateros.' 'In private,'
she added and waved him impatiently away as he would have
protested. He shrugged and flung an arm around Ka Lar's shoulders
as they went off, saying something in a low voice that provoked the
youth's shrill laughter.
'At your service, Lady.' There was a
contemptuous twist to his mouth that brought the flush again to her
'That was unworthy, and I am very angry with
Ka Sant. Nevertheless, you had no right to speak of me as you
did. You have known me since I was a child, do you think this
pretense amuses me, me the First Lady of the First High House? Do
you think I have never read the books, that I do not know how it truly
was with a Three in the old days, how it can be again, Ateros?'
She had dropped
all her affectations, and for a moment he saw the long-dead Empress,
when she and he were both young. It softened his eyes as he
replied 'I am sorry, A'Lin.'
absorption she did not notice the affectionate diminutive. 'I have
no real influence, except here in the Court. These sheep will
follow my lead, if the fashion be daring enough. And the
provincial Houses follow the fashions of the Court, eventually.
We all know that the Empire has reached a point of crisis. Who
knows what feather will overbalance the scales. If we are to keep
our Faith and our Empire we must return to the old ways that won
them. Do you understand K'Ateros? What I can do I must,
however trivial or - ' her voice stumbled '- or unworthy it may
seem.' She moved closer, and put her glittering hand on his
arm. 'Do you understand?'
thinking furiously and on two levels of his mind. He loved A'Lin
and her brother, not only as children of the Empress, but for their own
sake. During the years of exile they had grown up under his care,
almost as his own children. That Tal'A and A'Lin were now
Heirs-Designate, and had few memories of those days, was of little
importance to him. It was an intelligence report from his private
agents in the Fleet, with which the Heir was serving, that had brought
him by courier service from the borders, at a most inconvenient
time. Obviously A'Lin did not know of her brother's activities;
K'Ateros hoped, and had taken precautions to ensure, that only he and
his own agents did. It was equally obvious that she was being
used, but to what end was not clear. He began to fit plans for
her safety into those he had already made for her brother. Deeper
in his mind, he was already examining another possibility, and a choice
he might be called upon to make. That he knew and accepted how he would
choose appalled him.
'Lady,' he spoke with care, 'I do
understand. If I thought that your way, the Tetrarch's way, would
keep the Empire safe, I would follow it at all costs. Indeed,
there may be no alternative. But believe this, Lady. We may
return to the old ways, the old days will never come back. That Empire
is finished.' He hesitated, watching her under his bushy
white brows. 'I am waiting for audience with the
Emperor. I think it probable that a full Throne Council will be
called very soon, and since your brother is with the Interdiction
Fleet, you may attend as Heir Designate, although you are not yet of
age. Your metaphor of a feather on the scales was more apt than
you knew: what the Emperor decides at this Council, as I think, may
decide the fate not only of the Empire, but perhaps of our race.
It is right that you should know why.' He hesitated again. 'Your
brother does not trust me, Lady, do you?'
She looked at
him gravely. 'For myself, for my own person, yes. For the Empire, I
think yes also. But I am not sure that your Empire is the same as
chuckled. 'I will only ask you to trust yourself to me, not
your Empire. Can you arrange to be alone tonight - or does that
present a difficulty?'
She turned on
him with blazing eyes, but he was smiling, and at last she smiled too,
though reluctantly. 'I will be alone. I needed Ka Sant
for this, not for bed, and I would not have been sorry if I could have
done without him for this.'
'That is as well' said K'Ateros
reflectively, 'I am afraid that a fatal accident may shortly bring a
new Heir to Maran-Sa.' His expression was not pleasant.
'No, Lady, not on your account. But I have not remained a power in
the Empire for all these years by permitting anyone, however high he
stands, to insult me without feeling an itch between his shoulder
blades. Yes, Lieutenant?' He was looking past her.
'The Emperor will see you now, my Lord. Lady.'
He bowed correctly, but his eyes widened involuntarily as she turned,
and the full impact of her costume struck him. Ka Sant and Ka
Lars had moved back and were standing behind her in the shadow of the
statues of the Grace as if posed deliberately.
shock and disapproval were so evident that the Lady Lin threw back her
head and laughed aloud. 'I am not surprised that K'Ateros
disapproves of me, but you too, Avenda? And you an officer in my
Avenda looked at
K'Ateros for help but he was grinning. 'Well,
Lieutenant?' He shook his head. 'And you an officer in her
own regiment, too!'
The young man
took a deep breath, wishing, not for the first time since his recent
Palace appointment, that he were back with the Fleet, and said,
stuttering only a little, 'It is not for the son of a small House to
disapprove of you, Lady, and indeed if you were not niece to the
Emperor, your beauty would still school my tongue.' He was
rather proud of that; he felt that the Lord Ateros himself could not
have done better on the spur of the moment.
The Lady Lin was
still amused, but Ka Sant, who had moved close enough to hear, was
obviously not. He spoke with a side glance at Ateros. 'It
would appear that some of our provincials have learned discretion, if
Avenda was stung
into speaking without thought. 'Why yes, my House is of
Olympa, my Lord. In the Provinces old customs linger, so why
should I disapprove? Our children still play a game like yours,
though not in such pretty clothes.'
Ka Sant's face
darkened as he took a step forward, and the Lieutenant's hand dropped
instinctively to the hilt of his dress sword, but K'Ateros stepped
between them and bowed over the Lady Lin's hand. 'We must not
keep the lieutenant longer from his duties, nor must I keep the Emperor
waiting. Lady. My Lords.'
He did not speak
again until they were near the appointments desk, but still beyond the
hearing of the two Marine guards behind it. 'I should have
remembered you were from Olympa.' He spoke musingly. 'Nevertheless,
you are a very rash young man.'
'I am sorry, my Lord.' T'Avenda was
only too conscious of his rashness and its possible consequences.
'Only, well, I was one of a Three; you know how the Corps uses us
beyond the Borders. The - other two - I had to watch them die on
a piddling world the Empire doesn't want and I'll never see
again. That mockery - ' His teeth ground audibly.
'When I remember how it really was with us - it turns my stomach.'
considered his woebegone face and laughed abruptly. 'No matter,'
he said, 'In any event I wouldn't give a pin for your chances
of living till morning.' He spoke with relish. 'The
Lord Sant might even condescend to cut your throat himself, pretty
clothes and all.' Still laughing, he swung away to the great
bronze doors that led to the Emperor's private rooms.
As you are One
We are one
Who were three
Yet became one
Now she is dead
The Three is broken
A scarlet thread
For the lost one
Shall be the token
A knotted thread
That once was broken
From The Book of Ritual
T'Avenda hit the
plate gasping, and the icy needles of water stopped with an indrawn
gurgle, as a hot, spice-scented breeze stirred the curly brown hair on
his head and his short, military beard. He waited moodily until
he was almost dry before squeezing out of the toilet cubicle, and
taking the three paces that brought him to the opposite wall of the
Palace apartment. He had soon discovered that, for the allotment
of accommodation, an honorary Lieutenant of the Guard ranked on the
same level as the confectionery sub-chef, and far below the Assistants
to the Deputy Keeper of the Records - one of whom had, incidentally,
given a cold reception to the very reasonable excuse he had concocted
for breaking their appointment that evening.
At first she had
switched on the viewscreen for him, despite being at a very early stage
of dressing, or a late one of undressing. T'Avenda's groan, as he
pulled clothes out of drawers with unnecessary violence, was as much
regret for the comfortable bed that he had seen behind her, as for the
expanse of pretty flesh, which had both disappeared abruptly from the
screen when the reason for his call had finally dawned upon her.
Why K'Ateros should have picked on him to escort the Lady Lin secretly
from the Palace he could not fathom. The Grace knew he had enough
trouble after that bout with Ka Sant, the arrogant -.
nostrils pinched. If the two of them were naked at the water's
edge, with short sword and dagger - but Ka Sant was of the blood and
would not lower himself to offer a ritual challenge to the son of a
small provincial House. Avenda was a reasonable young man, and he
knew he could not expect it. On the other hand, he would never
contemplate anything so unworthy as accepting help to kill an enemy,
and he had a shrewd suspicion that while Ka Sant might very well cut
his throat himself, he would be held pinioned like the Beast on the
Altar while it was done. When he came to think of it, he did not
trust K'Ateros either, and if he had any sense he would have gone
straight to the Guard Commander, and reported the whole incident.
He would have, too, no matter how high the Lord Ateros stood, if the
Lady Lin had not been involved. She was Heir-Designate and
Commander of his Regiment, after all, however nominal that appointment
might be. She was also very young and very lovely.
shrugged. Anyway he was committed now. He opened another
drawer and looked distastefully at the mini-pistol K'Ateros had told
him would be left in his room. The penalty for carrying
projectile weapons outside the coastal defense zones was a quick death,
with no excuses and no exceptions. He balanced it gingerly in his
hand, shrugged again, slipped it back into its holster and strapped it
over his shoulder. He pulled on a loose over-blouse, checked to
see that the gun was hidden, and belted around his waist the wide
silver-chased belt, with sword and dagger in their plain rokorskin
scabbards, which was the inheritance of his House and the badge of his
He turned to
leave, then hesitated and went over to the niche in the only
uncluttered wall in the room, with the stylized representation of the
Grace in low relief, and under Them the stepped Altar and the
Cup. On the step immediately below the Cup he had set on the
left, as was customary, the amulet with the emblem of his House, and on
the right his amulet of rank, with the Emperor's seal. Between
was a small translucent sphere, and lying around it a twisted loop of
scarlet cord, broken and knotted again in two places.
Avenda bent and
touched the sphere with the tips of his fingers. Gradually the
solidogram brightened to show three young people in the olive-green
uniform of the Scoutship Corps. With T'Avenda was a tall,
gangling boy with hair and beard a flaming red, and between them a dark
girl with dimples. In the background the needle nose of a
scoutship pierced the whipped tendrils of cloud streaked across a very
dark, purple sky. Avenda looked for a long moment, then touched
the sphere again. As it darkened, he lifted the Cup with both
hands and kissed the rim, silently repeating the Ritual of Separation
as he had done on the ship eight months before, watching helplessly
while the other two died, screaming, outside. Then he set the Cup
back and went out of the room.
quarters of the Emperor and the Heirs-Designate were in the most
ancient part of the Palace; what had been the stronghold of Haros and
the House of the first Emperor, Haris bin Mata. It stood on a
sheer rock bluff protruding from the gently sloped hill on which the
rest of the Palace was built. Now most of the prehistoric caves
and tunnels had been blocked, and the only access was by lift shafts in
the heart of the bluff. Avenda had been there only once before,
when he took oath for his Palace secondment, but it made him
uncomfortable. Too much history, and too much legend, clung like
a cold mist to the rough, black stone walls still left uncovered in
many of the halls and corridors.
indoctrination of the lesser nobility was more subtle than that which
pervaded the whole life, from birth to death, of the Commonfolk, it was
in its way equally effective. Avenda had been shown the small
bleak room in the watchtower, where the Fisherman had written the Books
and where the first Emperor's only son had died with his Three fighting
to protect him. Although he had never seen a Sea-Beast unless drugged
and helpless on the Altar - even on Tios, where occasional raids still
kept the coastal defenses alert, comparatively few people had - yet
standing on the threshold of that room, the hairs on the nape of his
neck lifted, as a smell he almost remembered caught at the back of his
He had no
difficulty at the liftshafts, though the Lieutenant on duty in the
ante-room lifted his eyebrows slightly when he saw him, and lifted them
even higher when he found his name on the permitted list. As he
called the inner guardroom, he watched Avenda consideringly, if a
little abstractedly, while he ran rapidly through the ladies-in-waiting
in residence in the Old Palace, crossing off on his mental roster those
too old or not sufficiently attractive or already otherwise
occupied. His eyes crossed slightly with the effort of
concentration as he discovered he had eliminated all the reasonable
candidates, but just then another thought diverted him. He had
casually waved Avenda on to the inner guardroom, but now cleared his
throat loudly, and when Avenda turned, said 'Oh, just for the
record, 'Venda, how long do you expect to be with her?'
'With who? What record? You'll know how long
I'm going to be in when I come out, you little computer stuffer.'
climbed up into his hair. 'Whew, you're in a fine romantic
mood. No, wait a minute, 'Venda.' He hastily swung his
boots from the scarred desk top with a vague idea that he would look
more sincere with his feet on the floor. 'I'm off duty in half
an hour, and I thought I might be able to do you a favor.'
His chubby face was ingenuous. 'If you're not able to be back
in time to have supper with TeLana, I'd be glad to help you out.'
He smiled hopefully.
detailed with uninhibited frankness the reasons for his lack of success
with Te Lana in particular and women in general, and was turning away
from a deflated Lieutenant when a thought struck him. Speaking
casually he inquired, 'By the way, will the Lord Sant be in the Old
his head quickly. 'No.' He added in explanation of
this unusual efficiency, 'I looked while I was checking for
you. His name isn't on the list.'
The Palace was,
of course, a hot-bed of gossip, and T'Avenda was not too surprised that
T'Araki already knew of his brush with Ka Sant, though it would have
been a breach of etiquette for him to refer to it directly. He
was more concerned by another possibility that had only just occurred
to him. While a short time spent in the Old Palace in the early
evening could have many explanations, and would arouse no comment, a
full evening or a night spent there would eventually become common
knowledge, and start in many minds the same speculation that had
obviously preoccupied 'Raki just now. Since there were a limited
number of women in residence, it was at least within the bounds of
possibility that all but the Lady Lin could be eliminated and that
would be a rare tidbit for the Court, already humming over her daring
appearance that afternoon.
sexual mores of the nobility had long ago relaxed from their original
rigidity, with at least the forbearance of the Church, the virginity of
a female Heir-Designate was still a hallowed custom. No doubt,
like most of the old ways, it was nowadays more honored in the breach
than in the observance. However, while a suspected affair with Ka
Sant would be tittered over but condoned, since he was of the blood and
in any event a possible candidate as father of the next
Heirs-Designate, one with someone of Avenda's rank would be a scandal
that the Lady would be lucky to survive - the man most certainly would
By the time he
reached the dimly lit gallery above the Common Hall, used only when a
rare Throne Council was in session, T'Avenda was racking his brains for
a possible solution. He was too absorbed to notice, when the Lady
Lin stepped from behind one of the huge deeply carved gallery pillars,
that she was furious.
'Lady.' He bowed
perfunctorily. 'We must find some excuse for my being
here. We dare not risk the chance of gossip connecting us.
I have been thinking - ' What he saw in her face made him
'Thinking! You have been thinking?
I have been waiting here for an hour while you have been thinking.'
She was in a thoroughly bad temper and delighted to have someone
available to act as whipping boy. The gallery was cold and
draughty and, although she would not admit it to herself, she had begun
to notice the deepness of the shadows. She was also beginning to
have second thoughts on the advisability of what had seemed earlier an
'Do you think K'Ateros is a fool? Do you
think I am a fool, T'Avenda?' She did not wait for an answer,
which was just as well, since Avenda was certainly not fool enough to
add fuel to the blaze in her eyes. 'You are spending the night
with Tirla Te Manus. You will deny it of course, but no-one will
be surprised if she cannot resist boasting of such a notable conquest
as the handsome young hero who brought his ship back alone from To'Hari
stiffened and he stood straighter. 'Yes, Lady,' he said
The Lady Lin,
who had just recalled the circumstances that had brought him back
alone, was immediately contrite, her temper forgotten. 'Oh,
I'm sorry, 'Venda, forgive me. Truly I had forgotten that your
Three was broken there.' Impulsively she held out her
hands. 'Forgive me please. And for this afternoon.
To you that must have seemed a mockery also, but it was not, 'Venda,
not in my heart. If only I could do as your girl did.'
Her eyes were very bright. 'I would be happy to die as she did.'
'No!' The word was torn from Avenda, who
was remembering how Tisa had looked when the noises stopped. 'Oh,
Grace, no, not as she did.' Unconsciously he had taken her
hands, his grasp tightened until she winced, and realizing what he had
done, he stepped back. 'We had better go, Lady. I do not know
how long it will take to reach the tavern, and we are already late.'
They did not
speak again until they came to a massive metal door blocking the end of
the short corridor leading from the base of the old lift shaft, when
the Lady Lin moved in front of Avenda, and put the tips of the fingers
of her left hand into four holes in the stone wall beside the
door. It slid open, revealing a small square room with another
door on the opposite wall.
A'Lin was going
in when T'Avenda stopped her. 'Lady, are you sure this isn't
guarded or monitored? It doesn't seem reasonable that there
should be an open way from the coast to the heart of the palace.'
She gestured him
into the disused guardroom impatiently as the door began to close
automatically. 'There are three doors between here and the
exit in the old keep, with locks sensitized to my fingers, my
brother's, my uncle's and the Guard Commander's. If anyone else
should try it, the Guard would be swarming here like Rokors over a
bitch in heat. The guardroom at the keep is monitored from the
Lower Delta Command Post, but apparently K'Ateros has influence there
as well as in the Palace.' Altogether too much influence, she
thought. 'The screens will stay blank this watch.'
She was looking
over the wall as she talked. 'Here it is.' She
fingered another lock and the door slid open revealing the tunnel
entrance and three small old-fashioned cars waiting at the end of the
monorail track. They had passed the last tunnel door before A'
Lin said abruptly 'Did you love her very much?' Their
isolation in the dark car, with the dimly lit tunnel walls hugging
close around it, was coupled with her guilty consciousness both of
having been unnecessarily rude to someone of lower station, and worse,
of treating lightly, although she had not intended it, an episode
worthy to be included in the Books she revered.
would not have dreamt of raising the subject. Like quarrels among
the nobility that might lead to a ritual challenge, a Three was not
only an ancient social custom, however rarely practiced in modern
times, but had strong religious associations, and could not be
discussed without embarrassment. A'Lin had no inhibitions about
sex. That she was still a virgin was due not only to her romantic
adherence to the traditions of the old Empire, but to her lack of
interest in any of the nobility of sufficiently high station to make
them eligible. Ka Sant attracted her physically but she disliked
and distrusted him, and only the authority of the Tetrarch had
persuaded her to that afternoon's masquerade.
situation had affected Avenda also. He replied quite naturally, 'I
loved them both very much.' It was the first time he found
himself able to speak of it to anyone, and the words came out in a
rush. 'Tisa was my cousin, we grew up together in
Averna. I remember on my seventeenth birthday we were hunting,
and I killed a Tarka Besar.' He laughed a little. 'Seven
meters trunk to tip, and my first. She was nearly as proud as I
was. She even helped me take the mating fur, though she hated
that part of the hunting. I remember how cold the mountain stream
was, and the fire we built in the twilight. We were very
happy. We talked about the Corps, planning how we would stay
together and all the great things we would do together.'
'We met Thorken in training. He was older than us, but he was
not noble, so that when he chose to bear arms it took longer for him to
be accepted, though he was promoted very quickly for a commoner.
I liked him, but I think he and Tisa fell in love as soon as they met.'
His voice was a little apologetic as he added 'In the Corps we don't
bother very much about rank outside it.'
in a low voice, 'It is the free choice of every one of the Folk,
whether to bear arms and their responsibilities, or to accept the
protection of the armsbearer and accord him the honor which is his due.'
'Yes,' said Avenda, 'I remember Thorken
quoting that once, when he was snubbed by the fat wife of a little
country noble. He wasn't angry' he hastened to add. 'He
laughed about it. I was angry, though, so was Tisa. Anyway,
I asked for a transfer into cruisers when I realized how things were
between them, but when she found out about it, Tisa brought Thorken to
our room. She had been crying, her eyes were still red.'
'It was Thorken's idea that we should make a
Three. You see, to Tisa and me then, a Three meant only a legend
out of the Books, or standing with two other bored children behind the
Altar at one of the rituals of the House. Thorken was really
interested in such things, and he knew an awful lot about them that
isn't in any of the Books.' He looked for the first
time at A'Lin who was listening intently. 'Do you remember
visiting the base at Tia Tala? Thorken was on the guard of honor,
and he said afterwards that you looked exactly like the daughter of the
'I have the same name, but - no, go on, 'Venda.'
'Well, it took a little time for me to get
used to the idea; you see, I had already reconciled myself to losing
them. But once it was suggested, Tisa simply took it for granted
that that was the way it was going to be. Thorken and I were shy
of each other for a while, though, at least until we made the Vow at
the Altar, then it was all right.'
interrupted by the hiss of air brakes as the car came to a stop, but
the Lady Lin made no move to get out. 'How long did you have
before -?' She had not meant to ask that but the story had
'Almost two years, and most of it on our own
ship. Then, on To Hari Four, the earth tremor came as we were
unshipping the Spinner, and I woke up with both legs broken and a
cracked skull.' He squeezed his fingers deeply into his
thighs. 'The lift jets had been damaged and Thorken was
outside working on them. Tisa was strapping me into the control
seat so that I could check them as they worked. Just then,
whatever it was, it hit Thorken. He shouted to Tisa not to come
out, then he couldn't talk any more. Tisa was standing behind me,
watching him in the viewer. She didn't say anything, but I felt
her bend over and kiss me. Then she went straight out the lock to