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James P. Mallory ([personal profile] merlinscribe) wrote2014-07-07 02:52 pm

Crown of Vengeance Outtakes: Annobeunna's Tale

The original manuscript of CROWN OF VENGEANCE ran over 1600 pages. Tor demanded a considerable number of cuts, so less than half the original manuscript was included in the published edition. Most of the excisions were in the nature of single paragraphs and even single sentences, but in some cases, entire chapters were removed.

Here's one of those outtakes. Annobeunna of Keindostibaent had good reason to declare for the High King, when the High king came....





Annobeunna's Tale


The Alliance followed Vieliessar into Keindostibaent, where War Prince Annobeunna Keindostibaent was at war with Vithantaelael Consort-Prince. Annobeunna and most of her army joined Vieliessar, and in her absence, the Alliance proclaimed Vithantaelael War Prince of Keindostibaent.

--Crown of Vengeance, p521


East of the Mystrals one needed no Loremaster to reckon the age of a House, only a knowledge of geography. Jaeglenhend was first among the Thirty, spawning Onegring upon its northern border through greed and misfortune barely a century after its founding. Keindostibaent had set the stones of its Great Keep to the east of both even as Jaeglenhend was wracked with civil war. The rest of the Thirty followed as the centuries passed—Less Houses all, for no one would leave the west if they had freedom to choose otherwise. By luck and guile Sarmiorion rose to High House rank, becoming powerful enough to challenge Caerthalien or Aramenthiali, wise enough not to try.

In the Uradabhur it came to be said a House might have one master or two but never none, for no matter which of the High Houses claimed one of the Thirty in clientage, Sarmiorion was closer—and ever-hungry. The Uradabhur was vast and lush, and many of the domains had only unclaimed wilderness upon their border—but one couldn't tithe with wilderness. And so each War Season the Houses of the Uradabhur fought to wrest from one another in battle—or gain in ransom—grain or cattle or Landbonds enough to make up for the tithes they must pay twice over.

Only once in the centuries since the Hundred Houses began to spread eastward had Sarmiorion's greed recoiled upon her, for her neighbors had been willing to renounce their alliances with the High Houses of the West and name Sarmiorion as their patron when she asked it, thinking it better to have one master than two. War had followed, a swift scouring that had caused Jaeglenhend—for a time—to think it might rise up where Sarmiorion was brought low. But Jaeglenhend's most implacable foe was its cousin-House of Onegring; in the end, Sarmiorion gave up the dozen Less Houses she'd claimed, Jaeglenhend swore anew to Vondaimieriel, and uneasy peace reigned once more.

Annobeunna Keindostibaent was a student of history.

Keindostibaent was one of the client domains Sarmiorion had retained in the aftermath of that ancient war: High House Sarmiorion held the two domains to her west and the three to her east in clientage as of ancient right. The five domains tithed in Landbonds, not in grain or cattle or horses, for Sarmiorion claimed all the eastern Uradabhur all the way to the Medharthas in the north. To cultivate so much land was the undertaking of centuries upon centuries, and Sarmiorion's princes ever risked repeating Jaeglenhend's disaster, should one of her vassal lords or client princes grow too strong and seize that which she'd claimed for herself. It was for this reason Sarmiorion had granted a tract of its greedily-hoarded land to one of the Free Companies. None of the Hundred would stand idly by if a mercenary tried to claim lands and rank, nor were the Lords Komen bound by the Codes of War in dealing with bandits and outlaws. But in payment for its lands, Glasswall Free Company was both a check upon the ambitions of Sarmiorion's great lords, and a meisne no other High House could rebuke Sarmiorion for possessing, for Glasswall's warriors would fight for anyone who would pay.

Annobeunna had grown to adulthood knowing all these things. Last child of War Prince Geraelion and Ladyholder Maramarth and thus Heir-Princess to Keindostibaent, she'd married into the Sarmiorion nobility, for her father had married into Keindostibaent, sending a sister to marry into Sarmiorion, and so in this generation Keindostibaent must look to Sarmiorion for a spouse, and by doing so would need to give up no other hostage. Lord Vithantael was cousin to Sarmiorion's present War Prince; Annobeunna didn't love him, but she didn't dislike him particularly, either. She counted herself fortunate that he was accomplished in battle and didn't bring an overlarge household with him when he came to wed her.

When Lord Geraelion went to ride the night wind, Annobeunna became War Prince and took fealty of her brothers and sisters, her aunts and uncles, her cousins, and the rest of her new vassal lords without incident. She expected her life to go much as her father's had, and his father's before him, and his mother's before him, all the way back to the fall of Celephriandullias-Tildorangelor: springs spent on Progress, summers spent at war, Harvest Court in autumn, and winters spent hunting. The Beastlings rarely troubled them, and Keindostibaent (as the saying went) had only one masters, not two. Annobeunna counted herself and her people fortunate.

The first hint anything in her world was to change came the spring Dathoreth Chief Lightborn brought her Hamphuliadiel Astromancer's warning that Vieliessar of Farcarinon had escaped the Sanctuary of the Star. The Breaking of Farcarinon had been one of the last battles Annobeunna had fought in before her father's death; she'd known Lady Nataranweiya had escaped the siege laid against Farcarinon Great Keep, but she'd assumed she'd died soon after the death of her Bondmate and thought nothing more of it. Nor did she now, for Keindostibaent was far from the Sanctuary, and that autumn brought the Uradabhur a plague of outlaws, driven out of the Wild Lands that had once been Farcarinon, and the next half year was spent scouring them from her lands. She'd almost forgotten Hamphuliadiel Astromancer's message entirely when Dathoreth Lightbrother brought her the news that Vieliessar had made herself War Prince of Oronviel—while its former War Prince still lived.

For the first time in her life Annobeunna had cause to be grateful for Sarmiorion's heavy hand, for once Consort-Prince Vithantael heard the news about Oronviel, he spoke incessantly of riding West to do battle with Vieliessar—and for Keindostibaent to attack Oronviel would bring Sarmiorion into conflict with Caerthalien, a thing Annobeunna knew Ferorthaniel Sarmiornion wouldn't risk. If Vithantael hadn't been of a Sarmiorion bloodline she would have set him aside—or better yet, arranged for his convenient death in battle—but she didn't wish to give up any of her children as hostages. Heir-Prince Selasorin would make a fine ruler for Keindostibaent—and if he died, his sister Celeroviel would do as well—but a War Prince who hadn't been tempered by many seasons of warfare couldn't rule well, and both Selasorin and Celeroviel were young yet. To make them what they must be, Annobeunna must have years of peace between herself and Sarmiorion. And so after that, Annobeunna paid close attention to news from the West.

When the news came to Keindostibaent at Midwinter that Lord Vieliessar had announced she would make herself High King, Annobeunna wasn't surprised, but neither did she believe it was possible. Oronviel was a tiny domain, client to Caerthalien; War Prince Bolecthindial would surely move against her as soon as the snows melted. But spring followed winter, Caerthalien's attempt to bring its unruly client to heel ended in disaster, and Oronviel went to war with domains that were not Caerthalien.

In Keindostibaent, there was unrest where there had never been unrest before, for Vieliessar promised freedom and protection to any who would swear allegiance to her, and somehow the commons here in the Uradabhur knew of it. If Nilkaran didn't punish his commonfolk so severely, Keindostibaent's losses would have been greater, but many of those who would run (she suspected) were not willing to dare Jaeglenhend's mercy.

That spring Annobeunna set her komen to ride her western border to aid any of Nilkaran's Landbonds who would cross to the east, for Sarmiorion had set a tithe higher than any before, and Annobeunna must find some way to pay it without starving her own farms of labor. In the west, House after House pledged its fealty to Vieliessar, until Annobeunna's Loremaster was in tears, not knowing whether to style her "Vieliessar Lightsister" or "Vieliessar Farcarinon" or even "Vieliessar Oronviel", since none of those namings was accurate any longer.

Keindostibaent didn't ride to war that summer—much to Consort-Prince Vithantael's disgust—for Ferorthaniel Sarmiorion went west with as many komen as if he rode on spring progress. That year the west was a battleground on which all the Houses of the West fought as the east looked on, and where madness piled upon miracle. The Covenant shattered. The commons taking the field against komen. War Princes giving up their sovereignty to pledge to Vieliessar High King. Annobeunna followed the campaigns eagerly, tasking half the Lightborn of her court to Farspeak their brethren elsewhere for news. And as she did, she found herself wondering: would an overlord who promised justice be worse than one who took what it would by force and ancient right?

She hadn't thought herself a vassal until that summer. She knew her own vassals thought her to possess power and autonomy in equal measure—and both were vast, for as War Prince she need answer to no one within her borders to seize any possession of theirs, including their lives. And in the eyes of the commonfolk, the power of a War Prince was vaster still. She'd known this before she'd laid hands on the hilt of her first practice sword, for it was the custom of the Thirty to send their Sanctuary Candidates across the Uradabhur as soon as they were Called, for even from Vondaimieriel the way to the Sanctuary was long, and the opening-time of the Dragon's Gate might vary by as much as two moonturns. And rather than subject the gaggle of frightened children to Nilkaran's grudging charity it had been her father's custom to host them at Keindostibaent until his Lightborn could say with certainty the passes would be clear within the moonturn. The Candidates were cowed and timid things, but they spoke openly among themselves, and so she knew herself a wondrous thing in their eyes. They didn't envy her—for one envies only where one might hope to possess—but the tales they told one another were enough to make her see her life as one of luxury, power, and freedom. The proscriptions she came to know in later years lay but lightly over that first impression. Just as the commonfolk couldn't imagine lives that would make them masters of a great stone castel, so she couldn't imagine one that would allow her to rule her domain without tithing to Sarmiorion or keeping watch against Jaeglenhend and Onegring and Volredhern. But when news came to Keindostibaent that Vieliessar High King met with the High Houses in parley truce, Annobeunna realized how heavy the yoke of her tacit vassalage lay. She didn't know what she'd hoped for from Vieliessar's rebellion, but seeing it end made her sad and fretful.

It was only when Vieliessar escaped the Meadows of Aralhathumindrion and came eastward at the head of fifteen of the Houses of the West that Annobeunna was willing to name to herself the cause of her unrest.

She, too, wished the freedom Oronviel, Ullilion, Ivrithir, Mangiralas, and a dozen others possessed.

It was a wish she held silent within her heart, for Vithantael was Sarmiorion's creature, and the High Houses were united against Vieliessar High King as they were on no other matter. And Vieliessar High King might yet fail. To get the meisne of a single High House through the Dragon's Gate was no easy matter, and the army she led was ten times larger—more, for she'd left no one behind in all her lands to face the vengeance of her enemies. Annobeunna hadn't yet decided what she would do should Vieliessar High King reach Jaeglenhend and continue east. But she sent Selasorin, Celeroviel, and the rest of her children to the Border Towers in the west and the south. And she waited for news.

The news that came was a broth of contradictions. Vieliessar High King was in Jaeglenhend with all her folk. Vieliessar High King had won her battles there.

Vieliessar High King had vanished.

Vithantael swore the High Houses had gained victory at last, and it was true—so Chief Lightborn Dathoreth told her—that they claimed it. Annobeunna made quiet preparations, and waited. Henamacheu Swordsmaster wasn't surprised to be told to spy on the High House army. It was a truth that didn't need telling that the High Houses were more beloved the more distant they were, but it was Rade Moon, and that meant the High Houses would be in the Uradabhur until Spring thaw.

Less than a fortnight later Henamacheu's spies sent word that Nilkaran Jaeglenhend was dead and Vieliessar High King's army had fought the glory of the High House komen to a stand. Annobeunna knew Jaeglenhend's only surviving princes were children, but Henamacheu said nothing of a regency, or of giving Jaeglenhend to Onegring, and by this silence Annobeunna knew that Jaeglenhend was to go as Farcarinon had gone, and so she sent for Vithantael and told him Keindostibaent would pledge fealty to Vieliessar High King the moment her army crossed their border, for she knew already that the Twelve meant to swallow up the lands of those western Houses which followed Vieliessar High King, and now it seemed they would use any excuse to supplant the ruling houses of the Thirty as well.

Vithantael swore to her it was the dearest wish of his heart to join with the High King, and Annobeunna said she would ride to Frostwind Watchtower to bring the news to Heir-Prince Selasorin herself. Vithantael gave her the kiss of peace and said he rejoiced to know that all their children might stand together to welcome the High King into Keindostibaent—and he barred Keindostibaent Great Keep against her before she'd ridden three leagues from its gates. It would do him little good, as she'd stripped it of stores and weapons as she waited to discover whether she would take her domain into rebellion or not, and when Vithantael gave orders to bring the horses and cattle in from winter pasturage, he'd discover she'd ordered them driven south the same morning she rode out.

Annobeunna had ridden to war every season almost since she'd learned to ride. She took refuge in the most heavily-fortified of her manor houses and sent riders to summon her levies. As soon as Vithantael discovered he couldn't outwait her in comfort and security, he sent forth messengers as well, naming her traitor and outcast and summoning his levies—her levies!—to rally to him and seek her death. Even though Vithantael was only Consort-Prince, and from Sarmiorion as well, many of her nobles supported him, for he promised rich gifts to all who did. It was disappointing, but much what she'd expected.

Of her children, Selasorin, Celeroviel, Adandion, Hitheden, and Sangochon supported her. Andereth and Falardhion—her firstborn—chose Vithantael and Sarmiorion. Soon all the komen of Keindostibaent had rallied to her standard or to Vithantael's, and there was nothing left to do but fight. Woods Moon was no moonturn in which to wage a war, but Annobeunna found herself with an ally she'd never expected to find, one whose aid made the difference between swift defeat and possible victory.

Her people.

When she took the field proclaiming Keindostibaent would rise for the High King, her commons sought her standard as if they were her levy knights, bringing weapons they shouldn't have had, supplies she hadn't known she would need, and most precious of all, information. They brought news of how many komen Vithantael had with him, of where his army lay, and even what his plans were. She distrusted the last—for how could commonfolk know what befell within the pavilion of a Consort-Prince?—until the word they brought was proved good time after time. She quickly discovered that the commonfolk were everywhere, as disregarded as rocks or trees, and saw everything.

Vorcamion Swordsmaster had replaced Henamacheu (whom Annobeunna had been forced to slay); Vorcamion said the commons supported her out of the belief she would grant them the same privileges Vieliessar had promised them. Annobeunna knew what Vieliessar had said—everyone in the Fortunate Lands knew what she'd said—but she had no notion of how it was to be accomplished. For the chance of her own freedom she would trust it could be. And so she told Vorcamion his servants should say to the commonfolk it was so. Without their aid, she would have been quickly lost, for the battles she and Vithantael fought more resembled a series of border raids than the battles of a proper war. She'd hoped to take Vithantael's head before the High King's army crossed her border, and so present Lord Vieliessar with a domain both loyal and at peace, but it wasn't possible. Tailles and grand-tailles clashed, one side or the other burned a manor house or a farmhold to deny it to the other, and the war went on. When Vorcamion reported to her that Vieliessar had crossed her border, Annobeunna surrendered to the inevitable. She broke off the fighting and rode west.

#


Annobeunna led the advance guard of her army to the crest of the rise past which the High King's army would come. The day was grey and cold, the sharp raw wind spitting hard tiny flakes of ice. It stung the eyes and numbed the skin, collecting in the lee of rocks and trees like drifts of white dust. It would probably melt by tomorrow; Gloredhiel Lightsister, whose Keystone Gift was Weather, said she could Sense no storm coming. But it made the horses restless and skittish, and reminded Annobeunna yet again of why winter was such a wretched season for war.

She slitted her eyes against the driving wind and stroked her destrier's neck. She'd chosen this place to greet them because here she and her people could both see and be seen; she knew the High King's army—and how strange it was to hear those words within her own mind!—was preceded and flanked by scouts. Once those scouts had conveyed the news of her presence here to Lord Vieliessar, it was inevitable a sortie party would come to discover who they were and what they intended—and to escort Annobeunna to Lord Vieliessar.

"How long do we have to wait?" Selasorin Heir-Prince asked. "We should just ride down to meet them."

"A good way to find ourselves slain before we can cry parley," Rorameida Warlord said. Today she acted as Annobeunna's standard-bearer. The traditional greenneedle boughs were affixed to the crosspiece of the standard, but both Rorameida Warlord and Vorcamion Swordsmaster had agreed Lord Vieliessar was unlikely to respect the request for a parley truce, since the High Houses had broken one before.

Selasorin set his jaw stubbornly. Annobeunna loved her youngest son, but he had all the impatience of youth and its willingness to make alliances out of loyalty instead of calculation of advantage. She'd exploited that very inexperience to make him complicit in the loss of his birthright—for whether Vieliessar became High King or not, Selasorin would never be War Prince of Keindostibaent.

"We'll wait here for them to come to us," she said firmly. "Then they'll control the field of engagement, and take comfort from that knowledge." And Henamacheu told me—before I was forced to slay him—that Lord Vieliessar uses foresters in battle, and an arrow from a forester's bow can slay stag or boar—or destrier. A knight without a destrier is only half a warrior.

In the distance, the first outriders appeared, moving at a trot. Their mounts looked unkempt and dull-coated, but it was only the shaggy coat of animals that must weather the winter winds in open country; the beasts themselves were the finest the Plains of Naralkhimar could breed. The scouts rode in wide-spaced pairs; as soon as the first outriders spotted Annobeunna and her handful of komen, one of them turned back the way he'd come, urging his mount from a trot to a gallop.

The rest of the scouts rode on.

It was another half-mark before the vanguard of the army came into sight. Annobeunna wasn't certain what she'd expected to see, but what she saw was sheep. Sheep, goats, and what she recognized as the remount herd any army travelled with, though to her utter bafflement it led the army instead of following it. Herders and ostlers rode beside the herds to keep them from straying, and she could hear the faint sharp barks of flockguards as they ran along beside their charges. The livestock was followed by uncounted thousands of footsore farmers trudging determinedly eastward, many leading mules on whose backs sat children and even babies. The column of carts, wagons, and even pack-animals behind those afoot was so vast it eclipsed whatever might follow, even though the column of march stretched more than two miles side to side.

This is what the whole population of fifteen domains looks like, Annobeunna said to herself. What the High King had accomplished hadn't been real to her until this moment. Surely anyone who can do this much should gain the Unicorn Throne as by right. "They'll freeze once the snow comes!" she exclaimed unthinkingly.

"And what would that matter to you?" Dathoreth Lightbrother asked boldly. The underlying message in his voice was plain: you who were born a prince have no care for your people for that reason alone.

She turned toward him in shock, automatically raising her hand to stop Heir-Prince Selasorin's reflexive clutch at his swordhilt. She wondered whether this was rebellion—or betrayal. Dathoreth had been Chief Lightborn of Keindostibaent since before she'd been born, and a moment before she would have said it was unthinkable to question his loyalty. But the Lightborn all come from the commonfolk. The craftworkers, the Farmholders—even the Landbonds. Did he show his true face now with the knowledge he could flee for safety to the High King's army?

Dathoreth met her eyes calmly, and if she didn't expect to see fear in the eyes of one of the Lightborn, the lack of deference was a surprise. It seemed as though her entire world was unmade in that moment, nor could she say what form it would have when it was remade again.

"I have never asked you of your life before you went to the Sanctuary," she said slowly, still watching him.

"I was born to border steaders," Dathoreth answered, his face and voice telling her nothing of his thoughts. "When I returned from the Sanctuary, your father sent them a yoke of oxen and an iron-bladed plow, and forgave them their tithes for twice the years I had served at the Sanctuary. But I never saw them again."

"A generous gift," Selasorin announced belligerently. "And you would have had little in common with them upon your return anyway."

Dathoreth ignored Selasorin as if he hadn't spoken. "You haven't answered my question, Lord Annobeunna," he said.

It took her a moment to remember what it had been. "I suppose it doesn't matter to me," she said, frowning.

"You are honest, at least," Dathoreth said grudgingly. "That's something."

"You would do well to school your tongue, Lightborn," Vorcamion Swordsmaster said. "You speak to a prince of the Hundred Houses."

"Do I?" Dathoreth asked, looking at her.

"You speak to me," Annobeunna answered. "Lord Vorcamion, what is my dominion worth when I have set Keindostibaent against the Twelve and come to give my allegiance to one who has said she will erase both High House and Low? If you aren't ready to follow this path, leave me now. I promise you safe passage."

"Where you lead, I follow, my lord," Vorcamion said stiffly. "But—"

"But none of us knows what it will be to serve a High King once more," she said, interrupting him. "I would be easier in my mind if I knew where her army itself rides," she added, half to herself.

"They follow the baggage train, my lord," Dathoreth said, pointing.

She stood in her stirrups and gazed in the direction he pointed, but all she could see was the seemingly-endless mass of wagons. The thought of an army proportionate to everything she'd already seen was unnerving. She couldn't imagine it clashing with a second army as large—though she knew the tally of the High House komen as well as she knew the numbers of her own meisnes, and if the two armies were not near to equally matched, one or the other would have already claimed the victory.

She shivered, and told herself it was the wind.

"The sortie party comes," Rorameida Warlord announced. "Four tailles."

"What device?" Annobeunna asked automatically, for every great lord rode beneath a banner their meisne could rally to on the field.

"None I recognize, my lord," Rorameida answered, sounding surprised, and when Annobeunna looked again, she saw it was true. The riders wore green, and upon their tabards some argent blazon she could not descry.

"Then let us ride down to greet them so we may make ourselves known to Lord Vieliessar," Annobeunna said, settling herself in her saddle again.

"And make known Keindostibaent's desire to support the High King's cause," Dathoreth said. "Doubtless Lord Vieliessar will be relieved she need not fear to be attacked and slain," he added mockingly.

#


Annobeunna thought she had no presentiments about what Lord Vieliessar and her army would be like, but she realized she must have had, for over the course of the day, each unexplored imagining was ruthlessly annihilated. The only thing that didn't come as a surprise was the High King's age, for Annobeunna knew almost to the hour when Vieliessar had been born.

Her first overturned notion, when Lord Gatriadde and his party conveyed her to where Lord Vieliessar was, was that when she announced she'd come to give Keindostibaent into the High King's hand, Lord Vieliessar would ride aside with her, and they would wait until a pavilion could be set, and Annobeunna would summon her nobles as Lord Vieliessar would summon hers, and she would kneel upon a carpet before Lord Vieliessar and there speak the words she'd never thought to speak again once she'd sworn fealty to her father on the day he granted her sword and spurs.

Instead, she rode with Lord Gatriadde and his taille past the long column of carts and wagons, past the ranks of komen in their bright armor—and many who weren't komen, but who carried themselves as warriors, even though they had the cropped hair of Lightborn or commonfolk. They rode for miles, for Lord Vieliessar rode in the fantail of her great army, surrounded by princes and great lords. Some she recognized—Thoromarth Oronviel (as he had once been), Kalides Brabamant, Brethrod Ciredeval—even Rithdeliel of Farcarinon—for she'd met them on the field when War Prince Geraelion Keindostibaent had still reigned. Others were wonders in themselves—a woman who wore the heavy silver bracers of a mercenary and covered half her face with silver; a man who wore the green robe of a Lightborn cropped to the knee and rode a destrier with the grace and skill of a komen. And when Annobeunna came before Lord Vieliessar herself and announced she'd come to surrender House Keindostibaent and renounce her claim to the Unicorn Throne, there didn't follow the stillness and ritual she'd anticipated. Instead her pledged oath was given from horseback, and barely had she drawn breath after the last phrase when her new lord's court began to ask questions about what she brought with her and what more she could provide.

"All I possess is yours," she told Lord Vieliessar in confusion. "Once Lord Vithantael has been executed, those who chose to follow him will flee to Sarmiorion."

"We do not tarry, Lord Annobeunna," Rithdeliel Warlord said, gesturing behind him as if that were some explanation. "The Alliance is barely a day's march behind us. Summon your servants here."

"And have them say to all the Landbond of Keindostibaent their time of servitude is ended, for the High King comes to free them," Dathoreth Lightbrother added.

"Oh, by all means," Annobeunna said tartly. "Perhaps you wish me to ride on that errand myself?"

"I need you here," Lord Vieliessar said absently, seeming not to hear the sarcasm in Annobeunna's tone. "You say Vithantael's in rebellion? Who follows him?"

"Prince Falardhion and Princess Andereth, and perhaps a third of the lords komen," Annobeunna answered. "There were more at the beginning, but when Vithantael didn't gain the easy victory he sought, many of his followers retreated to their estates. I have seven great-tailles with me—you may think it few, but I trust in their loyalty."

Before she had needed to speak the tally of her followers aloud, she'd thought it a great number, for Keindostibaent's meisne numbered only twenty great-tailles in total, and that only if one reckoned every maiden knight and the greatmothers and greatfathers who hadn't ridden to war in the reigns of the last three Astromancers. But that had been before she saw the High King's great army.

"A delightful thing, trust," the woman in the silver mask said.

"What of the Lightborn?" the young warrior in Lightborn green asked.

Here was another thing in which the imaginings in Annobeunna's mind didn't match with what her eyes beheld, for she'd imagined Lord Vieliessar would rule as Lord Ferorthaniel or Lord Nilkaran or even her own father had ruled. But Lord Vieliessar seemed content to watch as her court spoke for her, and if there were any regulation governing who might speak and who must hold silent, Annobeunna couldn't discern it. She was about to answer that she didn't possess as many Lightborn as she would wish, for there'd been no good pretext she could use to summon up the Lightborn held by her vassals as if it were War Season, but Dathoreth spoke first.

"I sent word of Keindostibaent's rising as soon as I knew. The young have returned to their homes and families, the rest weren't eager to ride to war for either the War Prince or her Consort, and so hid themselves as best they might. I don't know if they'll ride to war for the High King, Iardalaith Lightbrother. But they'll come. Tonight I will Farspeak them—"

Had he spoken those words before she'd given her oath to the High King, Annobeunna would have banished Dathoreth from her court without thought or remorse. Now all she could do was vow silently he would have no further haven among those of Keindostibaent.

"Tell them they must come here, for we can neither seek them out or tarry for them." Iardalaith glanced behind him as Lord Rithdeliel had, as if the pursuing army might at any moment rush forward and leap upon them. "We cannot delay."

It was one of the strangest experiences of Annobeunna's life to have this conversation not merely on horseback, but in the press of so many who could hear, as if they didn't speak of matters for the ears of great lords alone. Perhaps it was that strangeness that loosened her own tongue. "But where do you go in such haste?" she asked. Beyond Keindostibaent's border to the east lay Sarmiorion, beyond Sarmiorion, Niothramangh, Heledianviarn, Pathrang, Riafarn, and half a dozen more before House Utheleres, whose border marked the far end of the Uradabhur and whose lands held the western gateway to the Nantirworiel Pass. And it was already too late in the year to cross the Bazrahils.

"You should have asked that before you swore," the silver-masked woman commented, and one of the men riding beside her—he too wore the silver bracers of a mercenary—laughed.

"Dine with me this evening," Lord Vieliessar said. "We have much to discuss."

At least the refusal to answer was familiar.

#


If she hadn't already devoted nearly a moonturn to making war in the bitter weather of Woods Moon, Annobeunna would have spent a truly miserable day, for the wind was bitter, and the komen, held to the pace of farmfolk and oxen, moved at a slow walk. She was accorded the honor of riding upon Lord Vieliessar's tuathal side, and there were flasks of brazier-heated tea and cider to warm her, but the High King seemed to see little need for light conversation. At last one of the scouts rode back to say the army of Keindostibaent approached. When that word came, Annobeunna was excused her attendance upon the High King to reassure her komen that all was well.

Of course she wasn't permitted to ride off by herself. Selasorin took her place at the High King's side, and a komen she didn't know—his armor scratched and scarred, and most of his body muffled in heavy furs—detached himself from Lord Vieliessar's mounted court to accompany her. For a moment she wondered if he might be one of the commoner-knights she'd heard tell of, for his hair was so short he could only clip it at the base of his neck with a flat buckle, but his mount was a blooded destrier, and the sword he carried was a Name Sword, a blade of price.

"Forgive me if we have met," she said to the stranger. "But I do not know you."

"Oh," he said easily, "it's my business not to be known. I think we must have met, for Keindostibaent joined Sarmiorion on a particular battlefield I well recall, and I think you weren't yet War Prince. I am Gunedwaen of Farcarinon, Swordsmaster to Serenthon Farcarinon...and to his daughter, whatever she wills to be named."

Annobeunna inclined her head in acknowledgement, for Lord Gunedwaen had earned great fame in his years of service to Lord Serenthon.

"She isn't what you expected," Lord Gunedwaen continued, his dark eyes regarding her assessingly.

"How should I have known what to expect?" Annobeunna answered harshly.

"Yet you chose to give Keindostibaent into her hand," Gunedwaen observed, as if he did not ask a question.

"In the springtide, a domain is much troubled by bandits, as I am certain you recall well, Lord Gunedwaen," Annobeunna said. "For they have starved all through the winter and now wish to fatten, and in the spring the sheep are driven to pasture, and the young lords are restless, and so eager to ride far from their own hearths. And for that reason, when the prince of a domain goes upon Spring Progress, a great meisne of knights goes also, for it's no trespass against the Codes of War to slay outlaws where they are found. How else is a prince to protect her people? And yet, how terrible a curse it is to be preyed upon, decade after decade, by a nest of robbers against whom one daren't raise one's sword, who take what they will as of right? It seemed good to me to live in some other way, if that might be."

She could see the bright banners of Keindostibaent in the distance as her army rode to join her. She spurred her destrier to the gallop before Gunedwaen could reply.

#


It was neither a quick nor a simple matter to find places for her meisne in the High King's great army. Each element of one army must be matched to its counterpart in the other: the sheep and cattle and horses to the herds, the Lightborn among the Lightborn (nor had she any mind to forgive Dathoreth for withholding their aid from her by secret plots, for those conspiracies had left her with barely enough of them with her to Heal her injured in the aftermath of battle), the baggage train settled with the other baggage wagons (and she rendered up a silent prayer to Aradhwain Bride of Battles that her servants wouldn't seek quarrels among the servants of the High King). She'd known the size of the High King's army by report and she'd seen it today, but until her army began to join with its vast assemblage, its hugeness wasn't truly real to her. The only thing in her army without a counterpart in the High King's was the ranks of mounted ostlers leading haltered destriers, for Lord Gunedwaen said the High King's army had lost many of their destriers in their battles in Jaeglenhend.

"That is a grievous loss indeed," she said. "You may certainly have all the beasts Lord Vithantael has stolen from me, and with my good wishes. Those here are already in the High King's gift."

As she rode up and down the column, Lord Gunedwaen and Rorameida Swordsmaster at her side, Annobeunna saw the approach of Landbonds pulling wheeled carts, men and women riding scrawny ill-bred horses, even Lightborn mounted or afoot. All were walking toward the army to join it. She'd seen sign of this as she'd watched from the rise, but then she'd assumed they were returning from some task, rather than arriving to join the High King's force. Now Annobeunna thought otherwise, and even so, she saw no sign any of them was turned away or even questioned. It was as if all the words that might have been said between vassal and lord had been said long before, and were no longer needed.

For the first time in years she thought of Perhael's Song. Geraelion Keindostibaent and Ladyholder Maramarth had thought it was too sad a song for a festival day, but Annobeunna had always loved it for reasons she couldn't explain. She'd asked for it at every festival until Engrung Storysinger died and Dreying Storysinger said she didn't know it.

"For the road is long and the world is wide / The wind is cold and the way is dark / When again shall I see her, Celephriandullias-Tildorangelor, beloved who has turned her face from me?"

She'd always wondered what her ancient ancestors had thought and felt as they rode into an unknown world and left behind all they knew. Now it seemed she would find out.

#


The end of the day's march came with a strange abruptness. It was only when Annobeunna saw the ranks of komen before her narrow and re-form that she realized the wagons ahead of them were gone. Then most of the komen spurred their mounts forward, and as they wheeled left and right, she could see the bones of the High King's encampment already laid out. Annobeunna thought a great marvel would unfold itself before her eyes this night; she couldn't imagine the vastness of such a gathering.

"Rithdeliel...?" Lord Vieliessar said, speaking her first words in many candlemarks.

"I know not," Lord Rithdeliel answered, as if a true question had been asked.

"But they'll know at the horselines," the silver-masked woman said—Eletehradan, a former mercenary. "Come, Keindostibaent. We shall discover where your pavilions are set."

It was relief to give her destrier into the hands of the Keindostibaent ostler who had tended Eingall since the day he was foaled, and quiet comfort to stand in encampment streets and see at least some of Keindostibaent's pavilions set as they had been ever since she could remember. It was satisfaction to send Drochondeur, Master of her Household, to say to Dathoreth Lightbrother's servant he must find some other place to set his master's pavilion, for he was no longer welcome in her presence. And it was pleasure beyond naming to enter her own pavilion, to be greeted by her own servants and to have her Arming Page assist her in removing her armor as wine was warmed for her to drink and camp robes were presented for her approval by her Mistress of Chambers. She recalled she was to dine with the High King this night, and so ordered her gown and jewels brought instead. She didn't have the finery she might have commanded at Keindostibaent Great Keep—that loss was bitter—but she would do her best to show her new liege-lord proper respect.

"Here you are, my lord," Mistress Drianneredil said, hurrying back into the pavilion followed by several servants carrying chests. "It was fortunate indeed you sent me for them when you did. There isn't a household servant in the whole of the army save yours—and Landbonds think nothing breaks," she finished with an irritated huff.

Annobeunna beckoned her over. Drianneredil gestured to the servants with her to carry the chests into the sleeping area, and tugged at the arm of the last so he would set the chest near Annobeunna's feet. Annobeunna pressed her palm into the silver oval on the chest's lid and heard it click as the spell unlocked. Dathoreth had set the locking spells on all her chests, she remembered—well, she would give another of her Lightborn his post and have the spells redone.

"No servants? Where are they?" she asked, as Drianneredil lifted out the first jewel case for her consideration. Keindostibaent's colors were sable and blue, so most of her jewels were blue as well. The High King's colors were green and silver; she wondered what she owned that was green.

"They are dead, my lady," Drianneredil said, managing to sound both shocked and unsurprised. "Lord Vieliessar's wagons were taken in a battle not long since, and all who weren't on the field were taken with them. The High House lords slew many."

"That's against the Codes of War!" Annobeunna exclaimed.

"Oh but no one follows the Codes of War now, Mother. Not the Twelve—and certainly not the High King." Princess Sangochon stepped through the doorway of the pavilion, still wearing her armor.

"Don't hover," Annobeunna said irritably. "Adanbern, see to Princess Sangochon's armor—I don't suppose you know where your Arming Page is?" she added.

"I don't even know where my pavilion is," Sangochon said. "Or when—if!—it will manage to appear. Perhaps we're all expected to sleep in the mud."

"Don't be ridiculous, darling, the ground froze solid sennights ago," Annobeunna said automatically. "Oh yes, yes, those, fine," she said to Drianneredil, waving the case of blue-green gems away. Pirozaduta—called the "sky stone"—were the closest thing to green she suspected she had among her jewels, and Drianneredil would dawdle all night over dressing her if Annobeunna allowed it. "Where are your brothers?" she added, and Sangochon shrugged sweepingly.

"The Alliance slew the households of all who ride with the High King," Master Drochondeur said. "All," he repeated with a strange emphasis, and Annobeunna turned her head to look at him. Mistress Drianneredil had moved behind her to begin the task of undoing her elaborate war braid; she clucked her tongue, knowing it was beneath Annobeunna's princely dignity to notice.

If the very Landbonds of the domains which have sworn to Lord Vieliessar are here, would she have left the children of her lords behind? "They wouldn't make war on children!" she said in horror.

"None who escaped saw children slain," Drochondeur answered with careful precision.

But a youth who had leaped the fire, or a maiden who had flown her kite, was permitted to act as a Page of Battle, and under the Codes of War such weren't children: they must give parole if they were captured, nor would they be returned to their own lands unless their ransom was paid. Annobeunna closed her eyes at the horror of it. "Let that word be carried to the rest of the Thirty, and the Twelve will find no allies here," she said grimly.

"I fear for all of us under your protection, my lord," Drianneredil said mournfully (she had the knack of hearing nothing but that which affected her directly), "for we're surely at the mercy of this host of great princes who will seize us and bear us away."

"If they seized you, at least I wouldn't have to listen to you prattle," Sangochon said nastily.

"Worthy opponent," Annobeunna said crisply, for she wouldn't rebuke a Princess of the Line Direct before servants. But Sangochon knew what was meant. "A komen's honor, whether prince or lord, lies in offering battle only to worthy opponents, for who will value a victory too easily gained?"

Sangochon set her jaw. "I suppose I should go see where 'Rovi is," she said grudgingly, as Adanbern drew out the pin that held the last piece of her armor in place.

"Put on a robe before you do," Annobeunna said. "I don't want you wandering the camp in your aketon as if you were a starving mercenary." She gestured toward her sleeping chamber, and Sangochon heaved a long-suffering sigh and trudged in that direction.

She returned a few moments later wrapping the sash tight on Annobeunna's favorite chamber-robe; deep blue velvet lined with soft black stonefox pelts. Annobeunna thought of telling Sangochon to return it undamaged, but such an admonition would probably only make her daughter find some mud to roll in, even if she had to order the Lightborn to conjure it first. And in truth, after the news she'd just received, even the destruction of a favorite robe seemed less important than it would have on another day.

"Discover what you can of what transpired while the Twelve held the High King's people," Annobeunna said once Sangochon had left. There were a dozen servants in her pavilion, but she spoke for Drochondeur's ears. "If any saw all of what happened, I wish to speak to them."

"T't," Drianneredil said, giving Annobeunna's hair an unnecessary tug. "Surely such plotting and prying is work for such as Lord Vorcamion, not a mere servant."

"And if Lord Vorcamion was likely to gain the answers I want, I would ask him," Annobeunna said, stifling a sigh. Drianneredil gave herself fine airs—she'd been born and raised at Court—while Master Drochondeur's family had merely served Annobeunna's family since the founding of Keindostibaent. They'd both been members of Annobeunna's household since before she became War Prince, and their rivalry was unceasing. She wondered if it would matter any longer. "I am sure you have pinned and braided everything you can possibly pin and braid, Drianne. Now find me something to wear—and send someone to the High King to discover when I am to arrive."

#


Though it had been barely two candlemarks since Annobeunna had first stepped into her pavilion, the whole of the encampment was in place. She wondered with a feeling almost of dread what the morning would bring, for to strike an encampment was a longer business than to set it. Undoubtedly she would hear an entire story-cycle of complaints from Drianneredil come next sunset, and as many from her lords, who would surely be similarly plagued by their servants. But that was a trouble for tomorrow, not today.

Annobeunna dismissed Celeroviel and Selasorin at the door of the High King's pavilion. Theirs had been a courtesy escort merely, for Lord Vieliessar had sent Lord Gatriadde—Gatriadde Mangiralas, though it was his twin who had been heir to Mangiralas half a year past—to show her the way. When she told them they had her leave to depart, only Celeroviel looked disappointed. It was the difference between Selasorin and his elder sister. Selasorin still believed people would come and demand to tell him what he needed to know, while Celeroviel liked to know things just to know them. Undoubtedly she'd be waiting in Annobeunna's pavilion after the feast was over.

Annobeunna had expected to find Lord Vieliessar's pavilion filled with the nobles of her court, and had welcomed it as a chance to learn more of the alliances she must make and where the threads of true power lay, but when she stepped inside, Lord Gatriadde, having delivered her, made his bow and took his leave, and she found only two places set at the table.

"Come. Sit. I don't keep great state," Lord Vieliessar said. She was dressed with shocking simplicity, in a tunic and leggings that wouldn't have looked out of place on one of Annobeunna's stable servants, and her hair hung loose. Suddenly Annobeunna was very conscious of the inappropriateness of her silks and jewels.

"I—" she began. She hesitated, and forced herself to plunge on. Even if it was in rebellion, Keindostibaent was a rich gift, and she would hope that would matter. "Drochondeur told me you no longer have proper servants because of the Twelve, and that isn't fitting. Allow me to make you a gift of him. He will serve you well."

"You are generous, Lord Annobeunna. But people aren't to be given as gifts," Lord Vieliessar said quietly.

"Forgive me," Annobeunna said, bowing her head. "I meant no disrespect."

"Nor have I taken any. I know I ask much of my princes and lords komen. Many think me foolish, and say I would turn all the Fortunate Lands into the Sanctuary of the Star. I don't know that this would be such a bad thing—but my way is a new thing. And to ease your mind further, I am not entirely averse to gifts—and you have tendered me a generous one."

At first Annobeunna thought Lord Vieliessar spoke of Keindostibaent, but she gestured toward a side table. Annobeunna hadn't permitted her gaze to wander in the High King's presence, but having been given leave to look away, she did. The box Annobeunna recognized as one of her own, made of silver, an elaborate design made on its surface by painting it with acid to turn the metal black. She hadn't known she'd packed it. Its high-domed lid was hinged, so it could open instead of merely being lifted free, and Annobeunna saw it was filled not with the gems or costly trinkets she half expected, but with simple wooden boxes—she recognized several tea-boxes—and even a few cloth-wrapped bundles. She frowned faintly in puzzlement, wondering who among her servants had taken it upon themself to present the High King with a gift in her name.

"I admit I've missed the delicacies I became used to in the Sanctuary—of course, in Oronviel I could order anything to my table I chose, and I did take advantage of that. But it's hardly reasonable to complain of missing tea and honeyed fruit when the whole of the army might be starving a moonturn from now."

"Truly?" Annobeunna said, alarmed.

"Depending on what battles we win," Lord Vieliessar said calmly, seating herself. "And who we must fight."

Since Lord Vieliessar had taken her seat, Annobeunna felt comfortable in sitting as well. As she did, a Lightsister entered, leading three servants with carrying baskets.

"Were Master Drochondeur here, this matter might have been arranged more neatly," the Lightsister said darkly to Lord Vieliessar. "When he came earlier, I almost demanded he stay."

Annobeunna was enlightened as to the presence of the mysterious box. Of course Drochondeur would have done all as she would have done it herself, and felt no need to ask.

"Aradreleg Lightsister feels she must browbeat me, now that Master Natuladab is no longer here to do so," Lord Vieliessar said. "I wish I might vow vengeance on his murderers, but the Silver Hooves don't love those who are foresworn," she added unhappily.

Did Lord Vieliessar not mean to punish those who had wronged her and her vassals so cruelly? Annobeunna wondered. It was an incredible thought. Nilkaran Jaeglenhend had slain one of his own children merely for laming a favorite horse.

At Aradreleg Lightsister's direction, the three servants set out bread and cheese and fruit, a cased pie, and a roast fowl. The Lightsister herself set two jugs upon the table, filling Lord Vieliessar's cup from one, and Annobeunna's from the other. It was odd indeed to see one of the Lightborn taking on the duties of Master of the Household.

"We might as well eat them as chase them," Aradreleg said, when Lord Vieliessar looked at her unreadably. "And if you wish to spend your days Calling chickens out of every tree, I do not. Nor does anyone wish to spend half the day chasing sheep once the geese have attacked them."

"Indeed," Lord Vieliessar said gravely, "I would rather face a great-taille of komen than an angry goose."

Aradreleg glanced toward her, and Annobeunna thought she would have said a great deal more if she hadn't been there. "As you say," she said instead. "I will return later to brew your tea."

"I can brew my own tea," Lord Vieliessar protested, and Annobeunna realized suddenly that the High King was doing her best not to laugh.

"If my lord will permit," Annobeunna said, "I, too, am entirely capable of brewing tea."

"Here's a wonder," Aradreleg Lightsister said, low enough that Annobeunna didn't think she'd been meant to hear.

"My greatmother, Lord Muirinagarm, held her personal Lightborn in great esteem, and charged all our line to care for Tarfalath Lightbrother as we would for one born to the Line Direct. He lived to a great age, and I cared for him in his last illness. He was...most particular about his tea, my lord," Annobeunna said.

Lord Vieliessar was gazing at her oddly, and Annobeunna wondered suddenly if she'd offended. "And so he must have been," she said, glancing toward Aradreleg Lightsister, "for Astromancers become used to having their wishes obeyed down to the smallest detail."

"Tarfalath was Astromancer?" Annobeunna asked in surprise. She'd never known him as anything other than an ancient—and much-indulged—Lightbrother, and in all the stories he'd told her, he'd never spoken of going into the west.

"More than six hundred years ago. He was the last Lightbrother to gain the honor until Hamphuliadiel of Bethros," Lord Vieliessar answered. "If he was your teacher, I am certain you can brew tea. So you see, Aradreleg, you are perfectly at liberty."

Aradreleg nodded as if to an equal, and chivvied the servants out before her.

"I shock you," Lord Vieliessar said placidly, picking up her knife to cut a wedge from one of the pieces of cheese. "You think my vassals should duck and cringe and consider every word before they speak it. But how does that make them more obedient? I do promise you, Annobeunna Keindostibaent, if you answer me with 'that is for my lord to say,' I shall pelt you with grapes." She tore a chunk from the loaf, and cut a bunch of grapes to add to her plate—perhaps as ammunition—and fell to eating.

"If I may not say that, then I must say I do not know," Annobeunna answered, helping herself cautiously to cheese and fruit. "I only know I have always been taught that too much license leads servants—and vassals—to do things we must punish them for. And it's a cruel thing when we must punish others when the fault is ours."

"This is a kind thought, and does you credit. But do you believe it is so?" Lord Vieliessar asked. "Will vassals and servants always rebel if they aren't afraid?"

"I cannot answer this question, either. I only know fear didn't keep me from rebellion," Annobeunna answered.

To her surprise and secret pleasure, Vieliessar laughed out loud. "So you see! Perhaps it's better to believe vassals will be faithful out of an honest desire to gain the good things their lord can provide."

"There are always faithful servants. But there are greedy ones as well. And greed oils the tongue."

"And faithful vassals don't dare to speak out against greedy ones when they know their lord would rather hear flattery than truth," Vieliessar said. "But I believe I can change that. If there isn't one law for the lords komen and another for the Landbond—if there are no Landbond at all—greed will no longer be rebellion and secret treason, but lawbreaking, and punished as such."

All through the meal, Lord Vieliessar spoke of the great-domain—the king-domain—she meant to rule over once she'd taken the Unicorn Throne. Some of it seemed madness: "laws" that didn't change from one domain to another, from one War Prince's reign to another—and some impossible hope: who would work the fields if there were no more Landbond? But Annobeunna began to think it might truly be possible.

If Lord Vieliessar won.

But no matter what glorious dreams were spun from a winecup's fumes, there was a shadow to this light, for Annobeunna remembered both the Windsward Rebellion and that Lord Vieliessar claimed the throne because of the prophecy in The Song of Amrethion. The Song itself was nonsense, but disturbing nonsense.

At last they had both eaten their fill, and Annobeunna got to her feet. She set a kettle of water on the stove to heat. Tarfalath had always favored the cherrygrass tea in winter, and the Vilya had fruited last year, so she'd ordered a good store of it made. She brought the box to the table along with the pot and cups—and a box of honeyed apricots as well, for the High King had said she favored them.

"You have said many things that are good to hear, my lord," she said, sitting down again. "Yet there are questions in my mind, and I would ask them, as your sworn vassal."

"Let me answer that which you have asked already, for you asked, when you joined us, where we rode," Lord Vieliessar answered. "It is no secret, and I will give my answer now. We ride to Celephriandullias-Tildorangelor. It is neither myth nor dream."

All Annobeunna could do for a score of heartbeats was stare at her liege-lord in astonishment. She wondered if it was more comforting to believe Lord Vieliessar was mad—or lied—than to believe she told the truth. "Indeed," she said at last.

"Indeed," Lord Vieliessar answered. "And you wonder why I don't choose to stop where I am to make my kingdom, for you have given me Keindostibaent, and there's no one left to rule over Jaeglenhend, and my army much outnumbers Sarmiorion's."

"I do wonder," Annobeunna answered, wondering at her own boldness. "And I remember you held a dozen domains in the West and abandoned them all. And I know further you name yourself Child of the Prophecy, and I wonder at that as well, for the Prophecy is a nonsense riddle."

"Not so," Lord Vieliessar said, and if she'd been merry at the beginning of their meal and visionary as she spoke of the "king-dom" she would rule, now she was somber and thoughtful. "A riddle, yes—but not nonsense. A true prophecy, set out by Amrethion Aradruiniel, its meaning carefully hidden. The water boils," she added in a different tone, and Annobeunna rose swiftly to her feet to collect the kettle.

Vieliessar didn't speak again as the tea steeped, nor did Annobeunna press her. The act of measuring and pouring sent her thoughts back to those days she'd spent tending Tarfalath Lightbrother. Few Trueborn reached such a great age. The lives of the commonfolk were hard, the lives of the princes and great lords were uncertain. She'd thought Tarfalath to be a wonder.

When the tea was poured, Lord Vieliessar raised her cup to her lips and sipped, nodded her approval, then set it down, cupping her hands around it. "I was raised in Caerthalien's Great Keep. I was sent to the Sanctuary of the Star in my twelfth year, and there I heard the words 'Child of the Prophecy' for the first time. It's a hard thing to discover your life is a storysinger's tale. And in that time I could think of nothing beyond revenging myself on Caerthalien, for Bolecthindial had sworn himself my father's ally and then betrayed him. It's no matter now. What matters is this: the Song of Amrethion says that after the birth of a certain child, a great Darkness will ride out of the north bringing a great army, and slay all that lives. Celelioniel knew when I was born the Darkness would come within my lifetime. Knowing that drove her mad, I think."

This time Annobeunna didn't speak for nearly a quartermark, turning over the High King's words in her mind. At last she spoke.

"The Prophecy does not name you High King," she said. "You are an omen."

"Yes. No. I am omen, true. But while the Prophecy does not name me High King—it says I am the only one who can become High King."

"A scholar's distinction," Annobeunna said sharply.

"I was a scholar for many years," Vieliessar answered calmly. "And I would have chosen any other way than this. But I could see none. An enemy comes. If we are fighting among ourselves, it will slay us all. But if we're one House together...perhaps we can survive."

"And so you flee the High Houses rather than fighting them," Annobeunna said. To speak was her only defense against the cold weight of horror in her throat, to know—to believe—the High King was Called by Prophecy, yet couldn't say whether she would succeed. She might even be acknowledged as High King by all...and fail.

"It is difficult to lead an army to war if you've already slain it," Vieliessar said dryly, biting into an apricot.

It would be many sennights before Annobeunna understood what a terrible burden this paradox was.

#


"Mother, we must leave this place," Prince Selasorin said urgently.

"I don't see why," Annobeunna Keindostibaent said placidly. "My pavilion is warm and my tea is hot."

It was three sennights since they had reached Ifjalasairaet, and for all that time the weather had been clear and bitterly cold. The army was now so near the Wall—a half-day's ride—that anyone who chose to ride out could see it was seamless. Annobeunna did not concern herself. Gate, pass, door—or none, she had seen the High King spill out miracles from her open hands too many times to trouble herself.

"I told you she wouldn't listen," Princess Celeroviel said smugly.

In the last four moonturns Annobeunna had seen more of her children than she had in the previous four turns of the Wheel, for the commons must have shelter from the winter cold, and so she'd taken as much of the court into her own pavilion as there was room for. Even Dathoreth Lightbrother was here. Annobeunna couldn't name the day when her mind came to know if it was no crime for her to intrigue against Sarmiorion, then Dathoreth was similarly blameless in giving first allegiance to Keindostibaent's Lightborn, and—though she would never admit it—his acceptance and understanding of the High King's new way was a comfort to her.

"By the Silver Hooves, see reason!" Prince Selasorin demanded.

Annobeunna withdrew her hand from the xaique-piece she'd been about to move. "If you will take that tone with me, Selasorin, I will need to remind you that you are both my son and my vassal. I will indulge my son—but not my vassal."

"Shall I withdraw, my lord?" Warlord Rorameida asked, sitting back and preparing to rise from her seat at the game-board.

"No," Annobeunna said, sighing. "Where would you go? Out into the night to freeze? "

"The High Houses are only a few days distant," Selasorin said angrily. "They will come—bringing a third again the komen the High King can put into the field! But we may still escape her fall. Tell Lord Vieliessar you wish to hold the flank on the day of battle. And then, when the fighting begins, we can—"

"Run away from it, desert the High King, and break our oaths of fealty?" Annobeunna said, her voice suddenly hard.

"But she cannot win!" Selasorin said, ignoring the attempts of his brothers and sisters to get his attention and silence him. "We are as an army pressed against the wall of an enemy castel, there to die at our foe's pleasure! I wouldn't mind dying in battle, but once they have won they'll see us slain as outlaws—and for what?"

There was utter silence in the pavilion; even Dathoreth had held himself silent.

"You are young, Selasorin, and so I will answer you, rather than striking off your spurs with my own blade and making you outlaw in truth," Annobeunna said. "I fight because I have sworn to. I gave Keindostibaent into the High King's hands. I did so because if she wins—if she wins, a thing not certain, as you so kindly remind me—she has promised one law throughout her land. Muirinagarm Keindostibaent, and Geraelion Keindostibaent after her, spoke of the thief and outlaw upon their border they dared not rise up against. They spoke of tithes so heavy half the domain lay fallow, for those Landbonds and steaders not paid out in tithe starved when their Lord must take their children, their livestock, and their seed-grain to win no more than a season's respite. And I have done what they have done, and come to know my domain as a realm divided, wherein I, my Lords Komen, my Lightborn, my commonfolk could do no other than fear and distrust one another, as one distrusts the beaten hound that may savage even the hand that helps it. My neck was heavy with the yoke of shame, and so it was that I would see you bear no such weight. Yes, we may die here, and she may fail—but by the Huntsman Himself, I vow to you we shall show every prince, every komen, every laborer in their meisne that the Twelve can be shamed and brought low! Never again will they or their children ride over the land with the careless arrogance of those who think no one dares to raise a hand against them."

Her children stared at her in astonishment when she let silence come again, and in truth Annobeunna hadn't known these words were hers to say until she'd said them, for she'd never been one for whom words were but another sword. As the silence stretched so thick and heavy she thought there might never be a sound that could break it, Dathoreth Lightbrother rose to his feet.

"My lord prince," he said, bowing low. "It is my joy, my honor, my...privilege...to serve you until the end of my days."

He bowed to her in a manner she'd never before seen from him. It wasn't the homage given by fear to power. It was a gesture of utmost respect, equal to equal. She held out her hands to him, and he came forward.

"Dear friend, our days may be short, but I will take no service from you as long as they run. Rather I would name you my companion and my counselor, and hope you will give for kindness what I may no longer compel."

Dathoreth took her hands and raised them to his lips. "For more than kindness," he answered.

###

(Anonymous) 2014-07-24 04:25 pm (UTC)(link)
I cannot wait until Blade of Empire, but these outtakes do help.

Thank You!

(Anonymous) 2014-07-26 02:12 am (UTC)(link)
I would like to thank you for taking the time to post these outtakes, since I have really enjoyed reading them. It makes the waiting seem more bearable. Hope you post another one.
Once again thank you.

(Anonymous) 2015-03-21 09:46 pm (UTC)(link)
I have enjoyed all the books in this series, and currently "Phoenix Transformed" is my favorite, partially because of Harrier's ability to keep his good humor and be witty even in the midst of some very trying times. That being the last book prior to "Crown of Vengeance", the difference in the writing styles of the two books, while understandable, was a tad jarring at first, but I do admire your ability to create such different "voices" that so adroitly match the characters and the times in which they live.

By the way, I laughed out loud the first time I read the words "Blessed Saint Idalia and her brother Kellen the Poor Orphan Boy" in "Phoenix Unchained"...it was a great introduction to the manner in which their reputations had altered and grown over time, as such things do.

Thank you for the wonderful books you have written, all of which I have read multiple times, and those yet to come.

Terry