Bahzell formed only fleeting impressions of Axe Hallow that night. He had a sense of spaciousness, of wide avenues whose ruler-straight broadness contrasted sharply with Belhadan's more intimate streets, and bits and pieces stood out with startling clarity-like the magnificent statuary group which loomed suddenly out of the whirling whiteness as they reached a major intersection, or the snow-covered fountains (turned off for the winter) which seemed to stretch endlessly across an immense, paved square. But the visibility was too low (and he was too frozen) for anything more. It wasn't that he didn't realize he was walking through the greatest city in the known world; he simply had too much on his mind and too much snow in his eyes to appreciate the scenery properly.
But that changed abruptly when they reached Wencit's destination.
The wizard drew rein, halting them in another square, even larger than any through which they had already passed. Twin rows of street lamps marched off through the snow, continuing the line of the avenue by which they had entered until they met with two more rows which crossed them at right angles. The wicks in the glass lanterns burned steadily, despite the wind, and still more street lamps stretched out to either hand, outlining the entire square in light. Despite that, its far side was invisible, but the building directly before them stood out like a cliff of marble, and glorious color spangled the snow as more light streamed through huge stained glass windows. Frail-looking flying buttresses arced through the night, gossamer as moth wings as the street lamps and windows turned the airborne snow about them into a mysterious, glowing fog, and Bahzell could just make out the graceful, indistinct blurs of the towers and domes looming high above him.
Shallow steps stretched the full width of the magnificent portico which fronted the building, and the columns supporting the portico's roof wore the shape of the war god's mace, with the weapon's flanged head for a capital. The lintel of the doorway which centered the facade, carved in the shape of two enormous crossed swords, was at least forty feet across, and the door below it was closed by panels of hammered steel. Even through the snow, he could make out the bas relief frescoes of warriors locked in mortal combat with demons, devils, and other creatures of the Dark which adorned those massive doors, and the majestic, stern-eyed face of Tomanak himself looked out from above it, flanked on either side by the immense stained glass windows, shaped like point-down swords, which spilled their glory into the night.
The two smaller entrances to either side of the main portal were scarcely less magnificent, and fully armed warriors in the green and gold of the Order of Tomanak stood watch before all of them. They were motionless as statues despite the night's flaying cold, and Bahzell felt something unpleasantly like panic as the colored light from the windows flowed over them and he realized Wencit had led them directly to the High Temple of Tomanak. Combat against dog brothers, demons, or god-cursed swords was one thing; facing something like this was another thing entirely.
"By the Harp!" The reverent whisper sounded unnaturally clear in a fleeting lull in the storm, and Bahzell turned to look at Brandark. It was an oath he'd heard his friend use only twice in all the time they'd known one another, and for once the urbane, aggressively sophisticated Bloody Sword looked as awestruck as Bahzell felt.
"Impressive, isn't it?" Wencit's dry tone could have sounded ironic, or as if he were mocking the hradani's stunned reaction. Instead, its simple matter of factness only underscored the fact that mortal hands had no business raising a structure with the power and presence of this one.
No one else spoke. Sir Yorhus and most of his fellows had been here before, yet they seemed as awed as Bahzell and Brandark. In a way, the hradani's reaction had made them stop and look at the Temple with fresh eyes, seeing it once more for the very first time, and it had struck them to silence. Those burnished doors and glowing windows promised warmth and comfort, yet not one of the half-frozen travelers hurried forward to claim their protection. They only sat their horses or stood there, gazing up at the temple as if they were afraid to break some magical spell.
But then, suddenly, the central doors opened. More light poured out, cascading down the broad steps like a golden carpet, and a dozen armed and armored figures strode down that carpet. The chestnut-haired man at their head was a few inches shorter than Vaijon, with a curly beard and powerful shoulders. The sword and mace on his surcoat were worked in thread of gold, he carried a plumed helmet in the crook of his left arm, and rubies and sapphires glittered like fire on the scabbard of the broadsword at his side.
There could be no question of who commanded that group of warriors, but the woman following a half-pace behind him was at least as eye-catching. Bahzell was surprised to see her, for she was the first female warrior he'd laid eyes on since entering the Empire. Among his own folk, women were routinely taught at least the rudimentary use of weapons, but that was primarily as a precaution, for hradani women were far too valuable to risk in combat. Unlike their men, they were immune to the Rage, which made them the guarantors of what stability most hradani tribes clung to, and some of the other clans regarded the Horse Stealers as heretical for training them with weapons at all. He was aware that other lands and peoples had other customs, of course. The Sothoii war maids, for example, might be considered outcasts by "proper" Sothoii, but they were widely acknowledged as the finest irregular light infantry in the world, and dwarvish women routinely fought shoulder to shoulder with the men of their clans. But most of the Races of Man reserved warfare primarily for their menfolk, if for no other considerations than physical size and strength, and he'd assumed that was the case among the Axemen.
Until now. The woman descending the steps towards him reminded him suddenly and almost overpoweringly of Zarantha of Jash^an. But that wasn't really true, he realized almost as quickly. Or was it? Zarantha and her maid Rekha were the only human women he'd had the chance to truly come to know, after all. Was that the reason for his strange sense of familiarity, or was there something more to it? Zarantha had always radiated a certain presence, a sense of assurance and self-knowledge, and this woman did the same, yet aside from that and her hair-the same midnight black as Zarantha's-there was no true physical similarity. This woman wore her hair in a warrior's braid which matched Bahzell's own, her eyes were a dark, startling blue, not brown, and she stood just under six feet in height, almost a foot taller than Zarantha. She also moved like a hunting dire cat, yet even though Bahzell had never seen her before, he couldn't shake off the eerie sensation that he knew her. It was if he had met her in some other place and time, even though he knew with absolute certainty that he never had.
The welcoming party reached the bottom of the steps, and the chestnut-bearded man strode forward, still accompanied by the woman, to where Bahzell stood frozen with more than the cold. He smiled and nodded up at Wencit, but his gray eyes never left Bahzell, and he held out his right hand.
"Welcome, Bahzell Bahnakson!" The resonant baritone, lighter than Bahzell's but deeper than most humans', carried with the clarity of a voice accustomed to the field of battle. "I am Sir Terrian, Knight-General of the Order of Tomanak , and I bid you welcome indeed in the War God's name."
Bahzell clasped the proffered arm, and Terrian grinned almost impishly.
"We were warned you were on your way, and Kaeritha and I-" he twitched his head sideways at the woman "-were concerned when the weather closed in. We were about to assemble a party to go looking for you when Wencit 'happened by' and offered to find you for us. Under the circumstances, we decided to stay home by the fire and let him amaze us afresh with his accomplishments."
"Did you now?" Bahzell returned Terrian's grin, pushed back the hood of his poncho with his free hand, and twitched his ears in amusement. He felt an instant, powerful liking for Terrian-even more than he had for Sir Charrow-and he gave the knight-general's arm another squeeze before he released his grip. "I'm thinking I'd've chosen the same, like enough," he allowed. "Besides, Wencit's quite a way with finding folk in the middle of blizzards."
"So I've heard," Terrian replied dryly. Then he shook himself and indicated the armored woman beside him. "But allow me to complete the introductions, Bahzell. This is Dame Kaeritha Seldansdaughter." The woman held out her ar m in turn, and Bahzell's eyebrows rose at the strength of her clasp. "Like yourself, Kaeritha is a Champion of Tomanak ," Terrian continued, and chuckled at the flicker of surprise Bahzell couldn't quite keep from showing. "I imagine you and she should have quite a few notes to compare," the knight-general added. "I believe her elevation to champion status was greeted with almost as much consternation as your own."
He looked up at the mounted members of the party, and his gaze located Sir Yorhus with unerring accuracy. The Belhadan knight-commander flushed, twitching his shoulders uncomfortably, but made himself meet the eyes of the commander of his Order with commendable steadiness.
Bahzell hardly noticed, for he'd suddenly realized why Kaeritha felt so familiar to him, and it wasn't any imagined resemblance to Zarantha. There was something inside her, like an echo of Tomanak , which called to a matching echo deep within Bahzell. He hadn't realized that tiny bit of the god's presence was there until he saw its twin in Kaeritha, but he recognized it now, and his eyes softened as he gazed into her face.
"Well met, sword brother," she said, and her soprano voice cut even more cleanly through the storm than Terrian's had. "He told me He'd found me a new brother I'd like."
"Did he now?" Bahzell smiled at her, and his grip on her arm tightened as he savored the accuracy of her greeting. He was her brother, and she was his sister, more surely than if they had been born of the same parents. He'd never before experienced anything like that moment of instant awareness, of complete certainty in the capacity and fidelity of another, yet there was no room at all for doubt. "Well, I wish himself had been after thinking to warn me about you, sword sister," he rumbled back, "but I've no doubt he just wasn't wishful to spoil the surprise."
"This is all very touching," Wencit interrupted, "but as Terrian says, I did go find you lot, and my backside is pretty nearly frozen to this saddle. Do you suppose we could move this conversation indoors and conduct it in front of a fire like civilized people?"
"Civilized, is it?" Terrian snorted. "And since when have you been 'civilized,' Wencit?"
"Since I started freezing in place," the wizard replied tartly, and Terrian laughed.
"I'm relieved to see something can turn your thoughts in the direction of civility! But if that's what you really want, I suppose we can accommodate you." He nodded to three of the Temple guardsmen who had followed him and Kaeritha down the steps, and the designated men stepped forward. "If you and Lord Brandark-and you, Sir Yorhus-will let these gentlemen have your horses, they'll see to stabling all your animals and getting your baggage unloaded while we continue our conversation under those more civilized conditions you wanted."
"So how may the Order serve you, Milord?" Sir Terrian asked the better part of an hour later, and Bahzell lowered his huge tankard of hot cider with a slight frown. The blizzard's unabated fury was faint through thick walls, and his feet were propped in front of a roaring fire in the large office-cum-sitting room which served as Terrian's study. The room was as well heated as anything in the Belhadan Chapter House, and the Horse Stealer's toes-and nose-had thawed considerably. He was actually beginning to believe he might enjoy having survived the storm, but Terrian's question pulled him back from the raw sensual pleasure of being warm again and required him to think.
"As to that, I'm thinking the Order's done just about all I might have been asking of it already, Sir Terrian," he rumbled after a moment. "Leaving aside the little matter of today's weather, which was none of their doing, Sir Charrow and Sir Yorhus between them have made this the least unpleasant winter march in my memory."
"I'm delighted to hear it," Terrian said, sipping from his own mug of cider. Then he gave Yorhus another of those sharp, stabbing looks. "I'm particularly pleased to hear it given some of the reports Sir Charrow has forwarded to me through the mage relays. I understand there was some, ah, difference of opinion over your status, shall we say?"
Bahzell began to reply, but Yorhus spoke before he could.
"There was, My Lord General," the knight-commander said formally. He bent his head, but that strange note, as if he found some obscure pleasure in admitting his fault, was back in his voice. "To my shame, much of the making of that difference was mine. But Lord Bahzell and Tomanak have shown me my error, and I trust to so amend my behavior that neither they nor you shall have reason to find fault with me ever again."
Terrian's eyes narrowed, and he pursed his lips, then threw Bahzell a sharp glance and raised his eyebrows. Bahzell flicked his ears to acknowledge the silent question. He was pleased Terrian had recognized the compulsiveness of Yorhus' admission, and he fully intended to discuss sending the knight-commander to Jash^an in the hope that Tothas could straighten him out. But he had no desire to begin that discussion before so many others. Common courtesy dictated that he speak with the knight-general about it in private, and so he turned his attention to Kaeritha with a grin.
"Aye, Sir Terrian. 'Differences of opinion' is one way to be putting it. And from what you were saying earlier, I've the impression Dame Kaeritha could tell us about a few 'differences of opinion' of her own."
"Indeed I could… if I were inclined to bring up old misunderstandings. Which, of course, no true knight would ever do," Kaeritha replied in a devilishly demure tone.
Bahzell chuckled, and she smiled back at him. In the better light of the office, Bahzell could see the pale line of a scar, thin but obviously the legacy of a deep wound, which ran down her oval face from the top of her right cheek to the side of her throat. Another ran from her forehead back and up across her hairline, and a streak of startling white traced its course further back into her hair. Despite its scars, hers was a face well suited to the smile it wore, but then her expression grew more sober.
"Unlike some of the other chivalric orders, ours has always been open to women," she said seriously. "That's caused some problems in places like the Empire of the Spear, where the very notion of a woman choosing to train at arms is anathema, but Tomanak was rather firm about it when he ordained the Order's existence."
She paused, and Bahzell nodded, once again reminded of Zarantha. It was fortunate Duke Jash^an had chosen to give his heir, daughter or no, the sort of training which would have horrified his peers. Without it, she would have possessed neither the dagger which had helped keep her alive the night she and Bahzell met nor the skill to use it, nor would she have known how to use Tothas' bow against the dog brothers in the Laughing God Inn. But Kaeritha was right: the mere notion of a woman warrior, much less a belted knight, would strike most Spearmen nobles as an abomination.
"Despite Tomanak's decree, however, relatively few women actually join us," Kaeritha continued. "I'd be surprised if more than one or two percent of our members have been women." She glanced at Terrian, as if for confirmation, and the knight-general flicked one hand.
"I haven't checked the numbers, but I'd imagine you're right. In fact, you're probably overestimating the numbers," he said, and looked at Bahzell. "It's not because we discourage women from taking our vows, you understand-though I suspect some of our brethren do so unofficially. Relatively few women ever express a desire to take up the sword, and we have our own share of men who think none of them should. But the main reason the numbers are so low is that most of the women who do seek admission to one of the militant orders turn to either the Sisterhood of Lillinara or to the Axes of Isvaria."
He cocked an eyebrow at Kaeritha almost challengingly, and she shrugged.
"True enough. In fact, my first thought was for the Sisterhood. I suppose it's only natural for a woman to feel drawn to the service of a goddess, and both the Sisterhood and the Axes are at least as good in the field as our Order is, now aren't they?"
She held Terrian's eyes with a bland challenge of her own, and he laughed.
"If they aren't, I'm certainly not brave enough to say so!"
"That's because the Order chooses its knights-general for wisdom as well as skill, Milord," Kaeritha said, and grinned as he chuckled. But then she turned back to Bahzell, and her smile faded.
"As I say, I was strongly drawn to the Sisterhood in the beginning. I come from Moretz peasant stock, Bahzell, and my life had been… unpleasant." Her blue eyes went even darker, but her voice was calm. "My father was an Esganian, actually, but he had a way with horses, and he was a drover for a Hildarth merchant for many years. I don't remember him well. I think he was a good man, but he was killed by brigands when I was three or four, and my mother-" She paused, then twitched her head. "My mother had left her own village when she married him. She had no family near the one we lived in when he died, and she… did whatever a 'foreign' woman with three children and no man had to do to survive. I loved her, and I never stopped loving her, but it was hard for a child to understand the decisions she had to make. There are things I thought-things I actually said to her-which I would give all I may ever own to take back. I can't, of course. All I can do is honor her memory and seek to protect others like her."
She took another long sip of cider, gazing into the fire, and Bahzell heard Yorhus stir restlessly behind him. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw the anger in the knight-commander's face. Not at Kaeritha, but at her mother's fate. He must have realized where Kaeritha's tale was headed as well as Bahzell had, and outrage flickered in his expression. But Kaeritha seemed unaware of it, and her eyes remained fixed on the dancing flames when she spoke once more.
"I was thirteen when my mother died. My younger sister had already died of some wasting disease-I'm not certain which one; I was too young to know at the time-and my brother had been drafted for military service when our local baron decided to raise troops for a fishing expedition in the Ferenmoss civil war. I was alone, but I was tall for my age and prettier than most, and some of the local men decided I was old enough to… take my mother's place. I disagreed, and when one of them tried to force me-" her right hand rose to trace the scar on her cheek, and Bahzell heard the sharp, sibilant hiss of Yorhus' indrawn breath "-I took away his dagger and killed him with it." She looked up from the fire to meet Bahzell's eyes. "I'm afraid I didn't let him die very easily, either."
"And a good thing," Bahzell rumbled. Among most hradani, rape was the one crime which not even the Rage could excuse. That held true-publicly, at least-even in Navahk, where Prince Churnazh ruled through terror and brutality. The fact that Churnazh and at least three of his four sons were rapists was well known, although few dared say so openly. Yet it had been the public knowledge that Bahzell had beaten Crown Prince Harnak almost to death for raping a servant girl which had truly driven Harnak into pursuing him across the width of a continent. Not even the Navahkans would have followed Harnak while those rumors persisted, and the only way to silence them had been to kill Bahzell and his victim. Unfortunately for his plans, both of them were still alive and he wasn't, and Bahzell doubted that even Harnak's father regretted his death very deeply, considering the embarrassment he'd become.
But Bahzell had come to realize that rape was much more common among the other Races of Man. It disturbed him deeply, for it was a crime he simply could not understand and for which he had the utmost contempt, but he knew it happened… and he had no sympathy at all for anyone who committed it.
Kaeritha looked a bit startled by the firmness of his approval. She gazed at him for a moment, and then the corner of her mouth quirked.
"If the local magistrates had shared your view, I'd probably still be living in Moretz," she said wryly. "As it happened, I doubted they'd see things my way, so I fled. I won't bore you with the details, but eventually I wound up in Morfintan down in South March. I was two-thirds starved and filthy, my cheek was badly infected, and the City Guard snapped me up for vagrancy. I'd had no experience of Axeman justice, and I was scared to death when they marched me into the courtroom. The only magistrates I'd ever met had been my natural enemies-I certainly wasn't prepared for one who took one look at me, then sent the bailiff out to fetch his wife so he could hand me over to her to 'wash her and feed her up so I can't count her ribs anymore, for Orr's sake!' "
The grim darkness in her eyes faded, replaced by happier memories.
"That was how I met Seldan Justinson and his wife, Marja," she said, the warmth of her eyes leaking over into her voice, as well. "They took me in as casually as if I were a stray puppy, and I'm not the only stray they saved. I may not have any idea where to find any of my blood relatives-assuming I have any-but I've got six brothers and eight sisters, most of 'em still living in Morfintan, and four of them still living with Seldan and Marja. He's Mayor now, and he and Marja are the parents who saved my life… and my soul." She met Bahzell's eyes fully, and her smile was gentle. "They taught me love again, you see," she said simply, and the Horse Stealer nodded.
Silence hovered for a long moment, and then Kaeritha inhaled deeply.
"Well, Seldan and Marja washed me, fed me, called in a healing mage for my face, sent me off to school each day-kicking and fighting every inch of the way-and generally set about civilizing me. They even got me to stop complaining about the silliness of a peasant girl learning to read by enlisting the aid of Mistress Sherath, the mage who served as the school's headmistress. She recognized something in me and decided I needed some specialized training. She was a mishuk herself, but I was clearly unsuited to a weaponless technique, so she enlisted Dame Chaerwyn from the Morfintan chapter of the Order of Tomanak . I'd never dreamed that anyone would offer me that sort of training-it's illegal to teach a peasant the use of edged weapons in Moretz-and it was as if someone had offered me all the gold in Norfressa. I didn't think a great deal about why I was learning weapons craft. All I thought about then was that if I learned to fight, I'd never have to whore as my mother had… and that anyone, man or woman, who ever tried to force me to do something against my will would find a foot of steel in his or her belly."
She paused, her eyes momentarily dark and grim once more, then wrinkled her nose and raised one hand, palm uppermost, as if tossing something away from her.
"Whatever my motive for learning might have been, I soon realized I had a natural aptitude. My progress pleased Dame Chaerwyn, though she was always ready to cut me down to size when I got too impressed with myself, but she and Mistress Sherath were firm. If I wanted to continue my weapons lessons, then I had to spend at least an equal amount of time with my other studies, which is how I came to lose the wretched Moretz accent I'd brought to Morfintan with me.
"I don't think Mistress Sherath picked Dame Chaerwyn because she felt I was destined for the Order. It was just that she was the best weapons master in Morfintan who also happened to be a woman, and Mistress Sherath wasn't about to put me into a training salle with a man with a weapon in my hand. I don't blame her, either. There was still a lot of hate in me, and I think-no, I know-that bothered Dame Chaerwyn. But she taught me self-discipline along with weapons' skill, and by the time I was nineteen, she was prepared to sponsor me to the Order.
"I almost refused. She was the only woman in the Morfintan chapter, and she'd already told me how few women there were in the Order as a whole. I also knew she still had problems with some of the order's other members, despite the fact that she'd been the Morfintan chapter's senior weapons master for almost ten years. Besides, the Sisterhood of Lillinara seemed more suited to my needs."
She smiled once more, and this time the flash of white teeth was like an icy wind that sent a chill through Bahzell's bones. He saw the remembered bleakness in her dark eyes, still and blue as deep ocean water in that moment, and he understood. Lillinara was the patron of all women-the laughing maiden, the loving mother… and the avenger.
"But then I realized something," Kaeritha said softly. "Something Seldan and Marja and Mistress Sherath and Dame Chaerwyn had been trying to teach me for almost six years." She leaned back in her chair and looked not at Bahzell, but at Sir Yorhus.
"Vengeance is a poison," she said in that same soft voice, "and vengeance was what I wanted from the Sisterhood. I wanted the Silver Lady to accept my sword so that I could use that sword on the men who'd turned my mother into a whore and tried to do the same to me, and it didn't matter at all that those men were all back in Moretz. Any man who transgressed in any way against any woman would have done for me, because I didn't want justice. I wanted an excuse."
Yorhus twitched, and then his eyes fell, as if unable to bear her gaze. She continued to look at him for several moments, then shrugged and turned back to Bahzell.
"I realized that even if the Sisterhood had been willing to accept my oath-and I'm not at all sure they would have-I would have given it for the wrong reasons. Yet I also knew that what had happened to my father, my mother, my sister and my brother-and to me-would happen to others, again and again. That it would go right on happening until someone made it stop, and that was what should truly be important to me: making it stop whenever and wherever I could. Not avenging myself on men who hadn't had a thing to do with what happened to me, whatever they might have done to someone else, but keeping those same things from happening to others and in administering justice, not vengeance, when they did. And when I realized that-" she shrugged "-there was only one place to take my sword."
"I'm thinking Dame Chaerwyn must have been pleased by that," Bahzell said after a moment.
"Oh, indeed she was!" Sir Terrian said before Kaeritha could reply. Blue eyes glinted at him dangerously, but he only shook his head with a smile. "But I don't think she was quite prepared for what she got. You see, no sooner had Kerry completed the required vigil over her arms and been knighted than Tomanak Himself appeared and promoted her directly from knight-probationer to champion."
"It wasn't quite that simple," Kaeritha said tartly.
"No? Well, it came close enough," Terrian returned, unabashed by her tone, "and I have Chaerwyn's dispatch describing the entire affair in my files if you'd care to see it, Kerry, so don't think you can intimidate me into changing my story."
"You're absolutely hopeless, Terrian. Do you know that?" Kaeritha demanded.
"It's been said," the knight-general replied comfortably, and Bahzell laughed.
"Aye, and with reason, I'm sure," he observed, setting his empty cider tankard aside, and smiled at Kaeritha.
"It's grateful I am for the tale, sword sister, and honored you'd tell it to me," he told her, "but I'm also a mite curious about something else. From what Sir Charrow was telling me, there's but eighteen champions in all Norfressa." He cocked his ears questioningly, and Kaeritha nodded in confirmation. "Well, in that case, I can't help wondering why it is that two of us are after sitting in front of the self-same fire drinking cider while Wencit of Rum just 'happens' to be in the same room at the same time. No doubt it's naught but the suspicious barbarian in me, but I've the oddest notion there's a reason for it."
"Well, of course there is," Kaeritha agreed cheerfully. "You and Brandark and Vaijon are on your way home to Hurgrum, and Wencit has business of his own in the area, so he thought he might just travel along with you."
"Oh, he did, did he?" Bahzell gave the wild wizard a withering look, but Wencit only smiled benignly. "And yourself?" the hradani said, returning to Kaeritha.
"Well, I have a little job of my own to see to," she told him.
"Amongst hradani?" Bahzell couldn't keep the doubt out of his tone, but she only laughed and shook her head. "Well, if not with my folk, then with who? There's naught where we're bound but hradani and Soth-"
He stopped, staring at her in sudden speculation, and she gave him a sunny smile. She had to be joking, he thought. If Spearmen were hostile to the notion of woman warriors, the Sothoii were infinitely worse. Despite all the honor they officially showed the war maids, most Sothoii-men and women alike-privately considered them beyond the pale. They weren't truly "women" at all, for every one of them had renounced the ties of blood and family in order to become war maids, and that acutely unnatural act could never have been committed by any properly reared woman. The fact that the windriders regarded the war maids as invaluable allies and their only true peers meant little against that sort of bone-deep prejudice, and a female knight of Tomanak would be only marginally more welcome than a Horse Stealer invasion. Not to mention the fact that Bahzell's father might be less than thrilled by the notion of having one of his son's companions wander off to hobnob with the Horse Stealers' most implacabale foes.
But as he looked into Dame Kaeritha Seldansdaughter's eyes, he knew she was completely serious. One might almost have said dead serious, he reflected, and shuddered at the thought.