Authors: Tamora Pierce
Tags: #fantasy magic tortall
GUESTS IN CARTHAK
Royal Highness Kaddar, prince of Siraj, duke of Yamut, count of Amar, first
lord of the Imperium, heir apparent to His Most Serene Majesty Emperor Ozorne
of Carthak, fanned himself and wished die TortaUans would dock. He had been
waiting aboard the imperial galley since noon, wearing the panoply of his
office as the day, hot for autumn, grew hotter. He shot a glare at the nobles
and academics on hand to welcome the visitors: they could relax under the
awnings. Imperial dignity kept him in this unshaded chair, where a gold surface
collected the sun to throw it back into his eyes.
about, the prince saw the captain, leaning on the rail, scowl and make the Sign
against evil on his chest, A stinging fly chose that moment to land on Kaddar's
arm. He yelped, swatted the fly, got to his feet, and removed the crown.
"Enough of this. Bring me something to drink," he ordered the slaves,
to the captain, trying not to wince as
legs tingled. "What on earth are you staring at?"
of broiling, Your Highness?" The man spoke without looking away from the
commercial harbor outside the breakwater enclosing the imperial docks. He could
speak to Kaddar with less formality than most, since he had taught the prince
all that young man knew of boats and sailing.
funny. What has you making the Sign?"
captain handed the prince his spyg/ass. "See for yourself, Highness."
looked through the glass. All around the waterfront, birds made use of every
visible perch. On masts, ledges, gutters, and ropes they sat, watching the
harbor. He found pelicans, birds of prey—on the highest, loneliest
perches—songbirds, the gray-and-brown sparrows that lived in the city. Even ship
rails sported a variety of feathered creatures. Eerily, that vast collection
was silent. They stared at the harbor without uttering a sound.
ain't just birds, Prince," the captain remarked. "Lookit the
spied dogs and cats, under apparent truce, on every inch of space available.
Not all were scruffy alley mongrels or mangy harbor cats. He saw the flash of
bright ribbons, even gold and gem-encrusted collars. Cur or alley cat, noble
pet or working rat catcher, they sat without a sound, eyes on the harbor.
Looking down, Kaddar found something else: the pilings under the docks swarmed
with rats. Everywhere—warehouse, wharf, ship— human movement had stopped. No
one cared to disturb that silent, attentive gathering of beasts. Hands shaking,
the prince returned the glass and made the Sign against evil on his own chest.
know what it is?" asked the captain,
never seen—wait. Could it be—?" Kaddar frowned. "There's a girl,
coming with the Tbrtallans. It's said she has a magic bond with animals, that
she can even take on animal shape."
nothin new," remarked the captain, "There's mages that do it all the
like this one, apparently. And she heals animals. They heard my uncle s birds
worW knows them birds are ill," muttered the captain. "He can lose a
battalion of soldiers in the Yamani Isles and never twitch, but the gods help
us if one of his precious birds is off its feed,"
grimaced. "True. Anyway, as a goodwill gesture, King Jonathan has sent
this girl to heal Uncles birds, if she can. And the university folk want to
meet her dragon."
How old is this lass anyway?"
That's why I'm out here broiling, instead of my uncles ministers. He wants me
to squire her about when she isn't healing birds or talking to scholars. She'll
probably want to visit all the tourist places and gawp at the sights. And
Mithros only knows what her table matters are like. She's some commoner from
the far north, it's said. I'll be lucky if she knows which fork to use."
that won't be a problem," said the captain, straight-faced. "I
understand these northerners eat with their hands."
nice to have friends aboard" replied the prince tartly.
captain surveyed the docks through his glass. "A power over animals, and a
dragon.. .If I was you, Highness, I'd dust off my map of the tourist places and
let her eat any way she wants."
moment the girl they discussed inched over as far on the bunk as she could, to
give the man beside her a bit more room. The dragon in her lap squeaked in
protest, but wound her small body into a tighter ball.
they were making room for, the mage known as Numair Salmalin, saw their efforts
and smiled. "Thank you, Daine. And you, Kitten."
only for a bit," the girl, Daine, said encouragingly.
we don't wrap this up soon, I will be only a 'bit,'" complained the
redheaded woman on Numairs other side. Alanna the Lioness, the King's Champion,
was used to larger meeting places.
every member of the Tortallan delegation was crammed into the small shipboard
cabin. Magical fire, a sign of shields meant to keep anything said in that room
from being overheard, filled the corners and framed the door and portholes.
one can listen to us, magically or physically?" asked Duke Gareth of
Naxen, head of the delegation. A tall, thin, older man, he sat on the room's
only chair, hands crossed over his cane.
mages there nodded. "It's as safe as our power can make it, Your
Grace," replied Numair,
Gareth smiled. "Then we are safe indeed." Looking in turn at
everyone, from his son, Gareth the Younger, to Lord Martin of Meron, and from
Daine to the clerks, he said, "Let me remind aU of you one last time: be
very careful regarding your actions while we are here. Do nothing to jeopardize
our mission. The emperor is willing to make peace, but that peace is in no
manner secure. If negotiations fall through due to an error on our parts, the
other Eastern Lands will not support us. We wiU be on our own, and Carthak wiU
be on us.
need this peace. We cannot match the imperial armies and navy, any more than we
can match imperial wealth. In a fight on Tortallan soil, we might prevail, but
war of any kind would be long and costly, in terms of lives and in terms of our
frowned. "Do we have to bow and scrape and tug our forelocks then, sir? We
don't want to seem weak to these southerners, do we?"
duke shook his head.
neither should we take risks—particularly not you."
Champion, whose temper was famous, blushed crimson and held her tongue.
others Duke Gareth said, "Go nowhere we are forbidden to go. Do not speak
of freedom to the slaves. However we may dislike the practice, it would be
unwise to show that dislike publicly. Accept no gifts, boxes, or paper from
anyone unless they come with the knowledge of the emperor. Offer no gifts or
pieces of paper to anyone. I understand it is the custom of the palace mages to
scatter listening spells through the buildings and grounds. Watch what you say.
If a problem arises, let my son, or Lord Martin, or Master Numair know at
will be able to detect listening spells," remarked Numair. "I'm not
saying she can't be mag-icked, but most of the common sorceries won't fool
straightened herself on Daine s lap and chirped. She always knew what was being
said around her. A slim creature, she was two feet long from nose to hip, with
a twelve-inch tail she used for balance and as an extra limb. Her large eyes
were amber, set in a long and slender muzzle. Immature wings that would someday
carry her in flight lay flat on her back. Silver claws marked her as an
immortal, one of many creatures from the realms of the gods.
at the dragon, the duke smiled. When his eyes moved on to Daine, the smile was
replaced with concern. "Daine, be careful. You'll be on your own more than
the rest of us, though its my hope that if you can help his birds, the emperor
will let you be. Those birds are his only weakness, I think."
understand the rules?" That was Lord Martin. He leaned around the duke to
get a better look at Daine. "No childish pranks. Mind your manners, and do
as you're told."
squawked, blue-gold scales bristling at the mans tone,
understands these things quite well," Numair rested a gentle hand on
Kittens muzzle and slid his thumb under her chin, so she was unable to voice
whistles of outrage. "I trust her judgment, and have done so on far more
dangerous missions than this."
would not have brought her if we believed otherwise," said Duke Gareth.
"Remember, Master Numair, you, too, must be careful. The emperor was
extraordinarily gracious to grant a pardon to you, and to allow you to meet
with scholars at the palace. Don't forget the conditions of that pardon. If he
catches you in wrongdoing, he will be able to arrest, try, even execute you,
and we will be helpless to stop him."
smiled crookedly, long lashes veiling his brown eyes. "Believe me, Your
Grace, I don't plan to give Ozorne any excuse to rescind my pardon. I was in
his dungeons once and see no reason to repeat the experience."
duke nodded. "Now, my friends—it is time we prepared to dock. I hope that
Mithros will bless our company with the light of wisdom, and that the Goddess
will grant us patience."
mote it be," murmured the others.
waited for those closest to the door to file out, fiddling with the heavy
silver claw that hung on a chain at her neck. Once the way outside was clear,
she ran to the tiny room below decks that had been granted to her. Kitten
stayed topside, fascinated by the docking preparations.
cabin, Daine shed her ordinary clothes, changing to garments suitable for
meeting the emperors welcoming party. They wouldn't see the emperor himself
until that night—the palace lay three hours' sail upriver—but it was still
important to make a good impression on those sent to welcome them.
came the gray silk shirt with Housed sleeves. Carefully she tucked her claw
underneath, then slid into blue linen breeches. She checked the mirror to
fasten silver buttons that closed the embroidered neck band high on her throat.
Over all this splendor (as she privately thought of it) went a blue linen dress
tunic. It was hard to believe that back home the leaves were turning color.
Here it was warm still, warm enough that the palace seamstresses had kept to
summer cloth while making her clothes for the journey.
rapid brush strokes put her curls in order, and a pale blue ribbon kept them
out of her face. Carefully she put sapphire drops, Numair's Midwinter gift, in
her earlobes and sat on the bunk to pull on her highly polished boots.
hole in the corner emerged the ships boss rat. He balanced on his hindquarters
there, his nose twitching. So you're off? he asked. Good. Now my boat will get
back to normal.
celebrate yet," she advised. "I'll come back soon."
disappointment, he retorted. When do I get to see the last of you for good?
light filled the cabin; a heavy, musky smell drifted in the air. When the
light, if not the smell, faded, a badger sat on the bunk where Kitten slept.
pest— he ordered.
was brave in the way of his kind, but the smell of this friend of Daine's sent
the rodent into his hole. He had not known Daine was on visiting terms with the
smiled at the first owner of her silver claw. "You look well. How long's
badger was not in the least interested in polite conversation. —Why are you
here?—he demanded harshly. —What possessed you to leave your home sett? You are
a creature of pine and chestnut forests, and cold lakes. This hot, swampy land
is no country for you! Why are you Inert?—