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Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley

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“Probably gods. If against all odds, this were a Lost Colony, it would make

Elizabeth happy,” Ysaye pointed out. “Legends are her business, and in a sense religion is, too.”

John Haldane laughed. “I can see it now: you and Elizabeth can be the goddesses, one black and one white.” He bowed to her, clasping his hands across his chest. “Oh, great Sky-Goddess of Night, hear the prayers of your humble servant! You’d never want to come back to the ship, you’d have hundreds of nubile young men literally worshiping at your feet!”

Ysaye laughed, too, shaking her head. “You’re incorrigible, Haldane. I assure you; the only divinity I care for is the kind made with sugar and covered with lots of chocolate.”

CHAPTER 2

The banner-bearer saw the Tower first, where it reared isolated and lonely, a

structure of brown unfinished stone. It rose high above the plain and the little village that huddled at its feet, as if seeking protection beneath the Tower’s skirts. It was nearing evening and the great red sun hung low on the horizon, sinking visibly. Already three of the four moons hung in the sky, nearly invisible behind the clouds of a late spring rain that had just begun to mist down upon the riders, nothing more than pale blurs of slightly brighter cloud amid the gloom. The clouds were heavy, but at this season the rain did not turn to snow, at least.

There were eight guardsmen including the banner-bearer, all mounted on the

finest of riding animals, and the Hastur banner went before them, noble blue and silver with its device of the silver tree and its motto.
Permanedal
—“I shall remain.” Behind them rode Lorill Hastur, his sister, the lady Leonie Hastur, and Melissa Di Asturien, the lady’s companion and chaperone—although at the advanced age of sixteen, Melissa was hardly much of a chaperone, and since she bored Leonie entirely, she wasn’t much of a companion either. Both women were swathed in long riding-veils. Fine though the

riding-beasts were, they moved slowly, wearily, for the caravan had been on the road since sunrise.

Lorill signaled them to halt. With the Tower already in sight, it was hard to stop, even though they all knew that their goal was still several hours’ journey away.

Distances here on the plain were often deceptive.

From long habit, Lorill Hastur left the decision of whether to camp or go on to his sister.

“We could camp here,” he said, waving at a clearing sheltered by budding trees

beside the roadside and ignoring the mist that beaded up on his eyelashes. “If it begins to rain hard, we would have to stop anyway; I can’t see any reason to try to push ahead in a rainstorm and risk laming our beasts.”

“I could ride all night,” Leonie protested, “and I hate to stop in sight of the Tower.

But—”

She paused for a moment, thinking. If they continued to ride in the rain, they

would arrive at the Tower sodden, chilled, and exhausted. It was a night of four moons

—and her last night of freedom. Perhaps it would not be such a bad thing, to spend it in the open…

“And where will we stay?” Melissa asked, with a frown that betokened immediate

rejection of Leonie’s idea. “In tents?”

“Derik tells me that there is a good inn in the next village,” Lorill said. “I suppose he is thinking of their beer, though, and not the accommodations.”

Leonie chuckled, for Derik’s capacity had become a standing joke with them all

on this journey.

“He drinks like a monk at Midwinter,” she laughed. “But he is sober enough on

the road. I suppose we should not grudge him his beer—”

“I don’t wish to ride all through the night, at least,” Melissa put in querulously, with an odd combination of whine and her usual simper.

Leonie tensed with irritation and held back a snappish reply; but Lorill only said good-naturedly, “Well, I don’t suppose
you
are thinking of the beer.”

“Not at all,” Melissa replied, with a pout, “only of a warm fire. There is no reason to suffer in a tent when we may
have
that warm fire with a little more riding.”

Suffer in a tent? In the style of tents a Hastur entourage carried with them, Leonie thought a night in a tent was hardly suffering, although it might be a bit chillier than Melissa preferred—but Melissa was given to complaints and delicate allusions to her fragile health. And, without a doubt, once Melissa was warmed through, there would be complaints about the food, the smoke-filled room, and squeals of fear at the sight of any pests. Leonie much preferred a night in a tent, though it might be a trifle cold and damp, to a night spent in a vermin-infested inn. The tent, at least, was a known quantity; the quality of the inn ahead a matter of speculation.

And there was that one other consideration…

Leonie’s beast stirred restlessly, as she said, with a wistful sigh, calculated to coax her brother into indulging her, “It will be a night of four moons—”

“But you will not be able to see them,” Lorill pointed out with inescapable logic.

“They are hidden by clouds; you might as well enjoy the fireside. The inn will at least be heated and dry.”

“The inn
may
well be as leaky as a Dry Towner’s promises, and with a legion of mice and fleas. But I will have the rest of my life for firesides,” Leonie protested. “I will have the rest of my life for seeing only the world within four walls! And a night of four moons does not come so often that I care to miss it!”

She glanced scornfully at Melissa, wishing the young woman anywhere except

riding as her chaperone. For that matter, she could quite readily have done without the guardsmen and banner-bearer as well. If truth were known, she would rather have ridden alone with Lorill. The Hastur twins had always been close, and she could see no danger in such a brief journey together—he was her
twin,
after all, he was hardly going to offer her any insult!

But both her high rank and the present fashion in manners did not approve of

young ladies riding even in the company of their brothers without ladylike escort and chaperonage, guards and the proper entourage. According to Darkovan custom, Lorill had been formally declared a man on their fifteenth birthday; and Leonie was now considered a young woman, not a child. She was rather hoydenish still and very strong-willed, but of absolutely unblemished reputation—

Which a long ride with no chaperones could conceivably damage.

Bother custom,
she thought rebelliously. If Lorill could not be thought to provide enough protection, she was not above protecting herself, after all! Lorill was medium height for a man, but Leonie, at almost the same height, was unusually tall for a woman.

That very height should give no few men pause to think.

She was striking in other ways as well. Like all the Hastur women, and most of

the men, she was fair of face with brilliant copper-colored hair, hair that was currently bound into a crown of braids over her forehead. Even more than Lorill, she bore the strong stamp of the Hastur kindred.
Comyn;
that was branded into every inch of her.

Comyn and Hastur—the combination should make even the boldest outlaw think twice about interfering with her. Should she come to any harm, the search for her attackers would be unrelenting, and the vengeance exacted terrible.

Leonie was also remarkably beautiful—a fact of which she was very much aware

—and had for the last three years been the toast of the court. Between the courtiers and her would-be suitors, Leonie had been very much the petted and spoiled darling of her set. Their father was one of King Stefan’s major advisers, and it was well-known that at one point even the widowed King Stefan Elhalyn himself had sought Leonie’s hand in marriage. That had made her more popular yet if such a thing were possible, as even those outside her age-group sought her attention, with an eye to the day when she might be Queen.

But Leonie had shown no mind to marry. She had another goal in mind entirely,

and not even the prospect of a crown could distract her from it, for a queen’s power was limited to what her lord and king granted her. Leonie wanted no such limitations on herself. Lorill did not have to suffer them, so why should she? Were they not twins, and born equal, except for sex?

From early girlhood Leonie had wanted to seek a place in one of the Towers,

where she would devote herself lifelong to the calling of a
leronis.
This would give her a place substantially above, both politically and socially, that of any female aristocrat, and power equal to Lorill’s.

And if she achieved her secret goal and became the Keeper of Arilinn Tower, she

would have power greater than her twin’s, at least as long as their father lived. For the Keeper of Arilinn held a Council seat in her own right, and took the orders of no man except the King himself.

There was no difficulty in finding a Tower that would accept her. It was widely

known that the lady Leonie was richly endowed with the Hastur
laran.
Yet now that the moment was at hand, Leonie had become acutely and painfully aware that this chosen path of hers would separate her from her family and loved ones, for Leonie would be isolated from her kindred during the period of her training in the Tower. At this moment, whatever she might become, she was only a young girl facing separation from her

brother and all her kinfolk. It was a daunting prospect, even for Leonie.

“I will have the rest of my life to sit by the fire,” she repeated, staring vaguely up at the darkening sky. “On a night of four moons—”

“Which, unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, you cannot see,” Lorill teased.

“You know what they say about things that happen under the four moons.”

She ignored him. “I do not want to be locked away inside a building tonight!” she said stubbornly. “Do you think a
chieri
might come and ravish me in my tent without you and the guardsmen noticing? Or would Dry Towners suddenly spring up from the Plain and carry me away?”

“Oh! Scandalous, Leonie! For shame!” Lady Melissa remonstrated, covering her

mouth with her hand, as if she had been hideously shocked by such a silly idea.

Perhaps she was simply shocked by the notion that Leonie had dared to joke

about such things as abduction and ravishment.

Leonie had gotten quite enough of Melissa’s crotchets and vapors, and she was

heartily weary of them. “Oh, do be quiet Melissa,” she snapped. “Already at sixteen you are an old maid! And a fussy one at that!”

Lorill just grinned. “I take it that means you don’t want to go to the inn? Well, Derik can do without his beer for once!” He shook his head. “At least we can set up the tents before the real rain begins. But you are the most unnatural girl I ever knew,” he teased, “wanting to camp out instead of going to a good inn!”

“I want to be under the stars,” she repeated. “It is my last night outside the Tower, and I want to spend it under the stars.”

“What, in this rain?” he asked, laughing. “Stars? You might just as well have a

wooden roof over you, for all that you’ll see them.”

“It won’t rain all night,” she said positively.

“It doesn’t look to me as though it will stop before morning.” Lorill shrugged,

giving in. “But we shall do as you wish, Leonie. It is your last night before entering the Tower, after all.”

Leonie sat her saddle easily, her reins loose, her beast calm, waiting for Lorill to arrange the camp. She was a good rider —and at any rate, her
chervine
was far too weary to bolt.

He gave the order for the tents to be pitched, and Leonie ignored the faint

grumbles and occasional resentful glances that were cast her way as well. The

guardsmen should be glad enough to stop, and a night spent in a stable—which was all the shelter a retainer would likely get in a tiny inn—was no better than one in a tent. It might well be colder, in fact—in a stable they would not be permitted a fire. Once they settled into their own tents, they might well recall this.

While the guardsmen were unfurling the canvas structures, Lorill dismounted,

helping Leonie down from her riding-beast, and into the dubious shelter beneath a tree.

Melissa followed, sniffing loudly, pretending to a chill Leonie doubted she truly felt.

Melissa just wanted someone to feel sorry for her—as always. Why her father had

chosen Melissa as her companion, Leonie had no notion. Perhaps it was that Melissa was so
very
prim, there was no chance whatsoever that Leonie could be tempted into mischief, as she might have been with a livelier friend.

The rain grew heavier as the guardsmen struggled with the bulky canvas, and

Leonie’s riding mantle was less protection by the moment. She felt a touch of dampness along her shoulders, and more than dampness at the hem—and Melissa’s sniffles had gone from theatrical to genuine. For a moment she regretted her stubborn decision—but only for a moment. This was her last night in relative freedom; not until she wore the crimson robes of a Keeper would she ever have this much liberty again. She was

resolved to savor it.

The moment the tents were erected, the young Hastur lord gave orders for a fire to be lighted, and for braziers to be carried into the tents to warm them. He guided Leonie through the thickening darkness to hers, holding her hand to keep her from falling when the sodden hem of her cloak wrapped around her ankles and threatened to trip her.

“Here we are, then. I still think you’d be more comfortable in the inn in the

village, and I know perfectly well Melissa would be,” he sighed patiently, “but here is your bed under the stars—not that you’ll see much of either stars or moons this night. I can’t imagine where you get these notions, Leonie. Do they spring from some logic that only you can see, or simply from a desire to see us all bend to your will?”

Leonie divested herself of her wet cloak, flung herself into a nest of pillows, and lay gazing up at her brother. Candlelight from the lantern hanging on the center pole of the tent revealed his handsome face clearly. It gave Leonie the unsettling feeling of seeing herself looking back down at her. “I think often upon the moons,” she said without preamble. “What do you think they might be?”

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