Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley
young officer agreed gleefully. “And if they’re pre-industrial, you can stay longer and study them before you have to pack up and go away again. Say, Evans, where
you when they gave us all those pre-contact, contact, and post-contact lectures? Sleeping one off?”
Snickers from around the room made Evans flush. “That’s the way they figure it,
anyhow,” said David, mildly, interfering before his associate could do or say something irredeemably stupid. “I hope I’ll get to go down soon. We’re always wanting some new languages for the linguistic analysis computer.”
Evans glared about and saw no sympathetic faces except for David’s. He gritted
his teeth, gathered what was left of his dignity, and stalked off down the tube toward another dome. Robbed of further entertainment, the rest soon followed. And as the area slowly cleared, Ysaye settled down with the series of weather maps.
Even though she had sense enough to keep her mouth shut on the subject of
“psychic powers” in front of Commander Britton, she still had the feeling that, on some level, she knew what was happening—and that Elizabeth’s “wizard” theory wasn’t as far off as it sounded.
The sky was so heavily overcast that it might just as well have been twilight, not some time near midday. The garden paths were muddy, for the rain had been so heavy that it had washed much of the gravel into low spots. The trees sagged under their burden of rain-soaked leaves, and the few flowers that had survived the deluge intact drooped dispiritedly on their battered stems. The rest dripped water from their remaining petals. The garden was full of storm wrack: broken branches, leaves, flower petals.
Leonie walked slowly through the battered gardens of the Tower, surveying her
handiwork. The rain had been so very heavy that there were other tasks with higher priority—such as rescuing the fish who had been flooded out of their ornamental pond—
and the gardeners had not yet gotten around to cleaning up. Even the swing dangled limply by one of its ropes, untouched, unmended.
Leonie stared at it and felt nothing but despair.
Isn’t there anything for an adult to
do out here?
she couldn’t help but wonder.
Apparently not; not like the gardens at her own family’s estate, or the Castle at Thendara. There were mazes to solve, fountains to watch, cozy grottoes to curl up in, singly or—not. Nothing of the sort here. Nothing but an orderly little patch of trees and flowers, and not even particularly rare flowers, either. She turned and went back inside, restless and at loose ends.
She prowled the lower floors of the Tower, finding them strangely silent and
empty. The Tower might as well have been deserted, for all the company she found. Not even servants.
She knew how few people truly populated Dalereuth, compared to how many it
hold. Was this what those Towers that had been closed were like, so silent, brooding? If she were to walk into one, would she have the same odd feeling of being watched, even though she knew there was no one there?
After a time she found a deserted room filled with musical instruments. Finally—
an occupation for
hands! Leonie took down a
of carved and varnished rosewood, running her hands lovingly across the metal strings. After a moment she began to play an old folk ballad, improvising a bridge of notes, followed by a spray of odd harmonies. Playing, her restlessness dissolved, and she entered a kind of waking trance, so that when Fiora entered some hours later, Leonie saw with astonishment that the day was so far advanced that a low-hanging sun pierced the clouds, glowing huge and red. She was startled to see Fiora apparently looking at her intently.
“I did not know you played so well,” Fiora said, and the admiration in her voice surprised Leonie. She had not thought that anything she could do would impress the Keeper. A pity it was something as minor as music. “Where did you learn?” Fiora asked.
“I have had music masters since I was very small,” Leonie said, and shrugged. “It was simply a part of my education. I preferred it to tedious embroidery.”
“Do you know how lucky you are?” asked Fiora, a trace of envy coloring her
words. “My father was poor, so I had no such teaching till I came here. And when music teaching is delayed until so late in life it can never be learned properly. If I spent all of my waking hours in practice, I should never be as good as you are now, should I live to be a hundred.”
“I suppose not,” murmured Leonie in surprise. “I never thought about it. I enjoyed learning new songs, but I used to run away from my governess because I did not want to practice. I used to say there was nothing she could make me do if I did not want to do it.”
Fiora smiled, very faintly. “I can well believe that,” she said.
Leonie almost laughed, and caught it at the last moment. “But I soon learned to
love music for its own sake, and then I practiced enough to please her—though I never even finished the first sampler she set me. I suppose it is still in my work basket, if the moths have not gotten to it.”
“Yes,” said Fiora, “I suppose that it would be very hard to make you do anything you did not want to do. Perhaps we should be glad that you want this training so much.”
Leonie raised her chin haughtily. “That was always a foregone conclusion,” said
Leonie. “Ever since I was a little girl I have known that, soon or late, I would come to a Tower. I have powerful
It must be trained; it was only a question of to which Tower I would go.”
She had made it sound almost as if
had been the one making the choice, not the Keepers of the still-functioning Towers. As if the Tower were being honored by
presence, and not as if she were the one honored by being accepted. Fiora hesitated. It was a new experience for her to feel small and unremarkable; but she supposed that with a daughter of the Hasturs in her charge she would have to get used to that. Finally, telling herself that as Keeper of Dalereuth she need not feel inferior to anyone, and certainly not to this proud daughter of Comyn, she asked, “Did you never think—as so many girls do—of marriage?”
“Never,” said Leonie firmly. “Not even when I was very small. I always knew I
could marry anyone I chose, but there was no one I wished to marry. There was for me no one who could equal my own twin brother in any way; so whomever I chose,
I chose, would of course be someone below me in rank. I did not want to marry someone I could never think equal to myself, so I came here.” She did not speak of the King’s proposal; while rank had never entered into her decision in his case, there were other considerations which had. Personal ones, and to those Fiora hardly needed to be privy.
“I suppose,” Fiora murmured, with only a little irony, “we here are the lucky ones, then.” In an odd way, she meant this; if Leonie had chosen otherwise, a very powerful telepath might have gone untrained, and one of the oldest proverbs in the Domains was that an untrained telepath was a menace to herself and everyone about her. Dorilys the Stormqueen was only one of a hundred examples of how easily that proverb could be proven true.
Leonie chose to misunderstand. “I suppose I am fortunate you could make a place
for me here,” she said, her own inflection of irony a great deal heavier than Fiora’s. “I had intended at first to go to Arilinn—where the daughters of the Comyn mostly go.”
There was no mistaking her meaning; she
have gone to Arilinn. She still resented the fact that she had been denied a place there. It was obvious that Dalereuth was a poor second by comparison.
“Yes,” said Fiora, after a moment, “when we heard of you, and that you were to
be trained as a
we had expected that you would choose to go to Arilinn.” She saw at once how that could be misunderstood—as Leonie seemed to be willfully intent on doing—and continued quickly.
“I do not mean,” she said, tilting her head a little to the side, “that we are not glad to have you here. But—there were two of you to train. It is different, when there are siblings who need training at the same time.”
She hesitated. It was traditional to separate those in training from their families, but Fiora did not think that Leonie could be separated successfully from anyone she did not choose to be divided from. Certainly the bond with her twin would be difficult to shut out, even with Leonie’s full cooperation— which they wouldn’t likely have, and the great physical distance between here and Arilinn. Training her was going to be a major problem, one way or another, with difficulty being added by the girl’s own arrogance.
Yet the proper training of this haughty child would be a considerable credit to Fiora—or to any Keeper who could accomplish it. Of one thing there was no doubt: the girl’s considerable talent. She would make a
to be reckoned with.
Even now, the child sat toying with the harp as if the conversation were at an end, and Fiora’s continued presence of no consequence. Although she had never been on the receiving end of one before, the Keeper thought wryly that she knew a royal dismissal when she saw one! Fiora thought about the problems Leonie posed for several minutes, while Leonie idly strummed the
and finally decided to be completely, even brutally, honest. Perhaps that would shake Leonie’s confidence enough that she might—just
possibly—listen to the opinions and desires of someone besides herself.
Fiora took a steadying, calming breath, and said, “Of course, it is a given that if you can be properly trained you will be a great credit to all of us.” Fiora paused to be sure she had Leonie’s full attention, “but I am not at all certain that you can be properly trained.” While Leonie sat speechless, she added, “And I think that any other Keeper in the Domains would tell you the same thing. Perhaps that was one reason why you were sent here, where we have only two other young girls in training, and may spend more time in dealing with you.”
Leonie, dumbfounded, stared at the Keeper. Fiora was not certain she could be
trained? Nobody had ever expressed qualms about her ability as a
before! Yet Fiora seemed entirely serious, and quite calm, as if it were a matter of casual fact.
Perhaps—perhaps it was. The thought was daunting. Perhaps she
been sent into “exile” at quiet Dalereuth because Arilinn judged her to be too much of a risk!
Leonie could sense lies, easily enough—and Fiora was not lying, nor was she making things up to frighten her charge. She was entirely serious.
But Leonie was determined not to be frightened or intimidated; instead, she asked in a subdued, cautious voice, “Why should that be?”
The otherworldly eyes seemed to regard her steadily. “Because of your pride,
Leonie. Because you are so
of your importance in the world, and that nothing you desire will ever be withheld from you. I can tell even now that you have great potential, and you may well have the Hastur Gift. But the training in a Tower, especially the training to be a Keeper, to which you claim to aspire, is long and difficult. And tedious. You will have to sacrifice much, and the gain is not all that certain.” She sighed, and Leonie stirred uncomfortably. “I do
know if you can endure it. You have never had to sacrifice anything; I do not know that you are capable of self-sacrifice to the extent needed. By your own account, you have never done anything you didn’t want to do, you have never attempted anything perilous, and you have never failed at anything.
Perhaps that lack of failure is due less to your abilities, and more to the fact that you will not attempt things that are not easy for you, and abandon anything that bores you.”
Leonie started to open her mouth to protest, and shut it again when she realized that, cruel as those words were, they were also entirely true. She felt even more uncomfortable; Fiora seemed to be able to see right through her in a way that no one else ever had—except, sometimes, Lorill—and it seemed as if what Fiora found in the core of her soul was little to her liking, and rather petty.
Fiora continued, perfectly calmly, as if entirely unaware of the discomfort she was causing her newest pupil. “You have never even started to test the limits of your ability in anything. This training here might be your first experience of failure, and I do not know how well you would endure that. Not well at all, I would suspect.”
Leonie blinked slightly, shaken and utterly deflated. It was an entirely new
experience for her, and one that she did not at all like. “Do you think that I would fail, then, Fiora? Or give up as soon as the learning became difficult?”
Fiora shrugged slightly, as if it did not much matter to her. “No one can ever
know that except you. I can tell you, though, no matter how great your Gift, that your success is not assured. You will never know if you can succeed unless you are willing to push the limits of your body and your mind, to risk failure; and I do not know why you would be willing to do that when you have never done it before. And when, just by walking back through the gates of the Tower, you could have everything you gave up—
servants, pretty things, rank, prestige, admiration, and a crowd of sycophants fawning at your feet.”
That stung, worse than any physical slap. “Is there any way that I can assure
myself success?” Leonie asked, a little desperately.
“Not beyond all doubt, no,” said Fiora, and chuckled, as if she had found the
question quite amusing.
can do that. Are you looking for a way to cheat, or an easy answer? The ten simple steps to become a Keeper? The quick, correct answers, all at once?”
Leonie hung her head and bit her lip. That was, of course, exactly what she had
been hoping for when she blurted out that particularly stupid question. Now she wished she had kept silent.
Fiora sensed a weakening, and pressed home her advantage. “I do think that if
you are willing to work hard at it, you have the potential to accomplish almost anything.