Before dinner that evening the Duke received Lord Redmantyl in the private closet of his apartments.
“My Liege,” Lord Redmantyl introduced the young boy he had brought with him, “I present you my ward, Andemyon.”
Dafythe had assumed until this moment that the child must be Redmantyl’s unnamed son—Laurel often referred to both this boy and Redmantyl’s acknowledged son Orlan as her cousins—but he was now no longer certain. The silvery fairness of the wizard’s family was distinctive, and this boy nothing like them. Instead, he was gold-curled, rosy, blue-eyed and cherubic.
“Andemyon,” the Duke spoke directly to the boy, “welcome to my court. How old are you, lad?”
“Fourteen, My Gracious Lord Dafythe.” The child dropped to one knee and bowed his head with the practiced grace of a courtier or thespian. His voice, however, quavered.
“He was confirmed at Easter-week,” Redmantyl added.
“Indeed? What name did you take?”
The boy looked to Lord Redmantyl. “Tell him,” the wizard urged gently.
“`Twas Dafythe, My Lord.”
The Duke smiled. “An excellent choice. May I ask why?”
“My– My Lord Redmantyl suggested it, as you’ve been his most generous liege and he promised I would come here to your service,” the boy explained. “`Twas meant to honor you, My Lord Duke.”
“Well answered!” Dafythe had seen his share of unruly noble-born youths; he was able to appreciate well-mannered children when he met them. “You come to my service, lad? And how shall you serve me?”
“As you require me, My Lord.”
“Some of my heralds take up new responsibilities soon and will need to be replaced,” Dafythe told the wizard. “The child may be suitable. Andemyon, will you be a herald? It is an important first situation in my court. Your duties are simple: you’ll accompany me at ceremonies, announce me, carry messages about the court and perhaps into the city, amuse me if you have any wit or talent, and occasionally sit up at night to attend me—my physician insists that I have someone nearby in case I fall ill. Are you willing?”
The boy was surprised to receive such an honor, but he answered modestly, “If you will.”
“Does it please you as well, My Lord Redmantyl?”
“It does, My Liege.”
“My own grandson has recently come from Samandra Abbey to begin his career at court. Andemyon, he’s just your age.” Dafythe turned to the open doorway and called out: “Bertie!”
A boy in heralds’ garb—velvet knee-breeches and short tunic covered by a stiff tabard bearing the Dafythe’s crest of three gold lions passant on a field of darkest blue—came in. A year younger than his brother Arthur, he was otherwise an identical sturdy and thick-set youth.
“My grandson Bertrande,” Dafythe introduced the boy. “Bertie, I present you to My Lord Redmantyl, and this is Andemyon. Andemyon will join the heralds. Escort him to Old Toppet to have him fitted for livery. Introduce him to the other boys.”
“Yes, Grandfather.” Bertrande looked over the pretty, slight boy with curiosity and Andemyon stared back warily; they might be of an age, but the young lordling was much larger.
“Off you go.” Dafythe dismissed them.
Once they had gone, the wizard said, “I’m grateful for your generosity, My Liege. I didn’t expect so much for the boy.”
“We are kinsmen now and it’s time your family was brought forward. He’s a handsome little lad, gentle, courteous,” Dafythe replied, meaning to encourage a confidence. “I believe there was another matter concerning the boy which you wished to discuss?”
“I would request a second favor of you, My Liege. I wish to adopt Andemyon rightfully.”
“Then he isn’t…?”
“I cannot name him by Norman law,” Redmantyl answered, which was no true answer. “I don’t make this request for reasons of inheritance—I have little beyond my title and Greenwaters Island, and those must go to my successor among the ranks of the magical unless you chose to alter that bequest. Orlan will be heir to anything else I have to leave. Andemyon may hope for little material wealth from me. I wish to call him my own son, no more.”
The love affairs of great wizards weren’t usually a source of contemporary gossip, for it was assumed that wizards who reached the highest levels of power were beyond the baser passions. In his youth, Dafythe had met many wizards, including the three previous Redmantyls: Maxim Gnome, a tiny, wrinkled imp, no taller than Dafythe himself had been at fifteen; Moruen the Courtly—long before, as court magician to Duke Julia, Moruen had been a lively young woman who enjoyed a good dance and received and discarded lovers at a whim, but when Dafythe had met her, she was a chubby, merry, white-haired little creature very like the grandmotherly faeryes in folk tales; Dagobert the Paduan, a fierce-eyed, bald-pated Merlin with a snowy beard to his knees and a strict abstemiousness which suggested he’d forgotten such frivolous pastimes long ago. The great ones were wizened, austere ancients—so old, Dafythe reflected, as himself today. There were younger wizards too, wanderers of no remarkable powers and no established rank; their love-affairs passed without notice.
But this Redmantyl had come to his powers while still a youth less than forty. No gnarled little imp far past his prime, but a handsome, vital young man, powerful in physique as well as magic. If not for his red robes, he might be mistaken for a battle-weary knight.
The Duke bore a great admiration for Lord Redmantyl. The wizard was a prime example of what he believed to be the success of the modern Empire: the talented and intelligent were able to rise from low origins to positions of wealth and power. Redmantyl was common-born, a miller’s son, but he conducted himself as elegantly as a nobleman of highest birth. He’d worked at it; the infamous boy-wizard Dafythe had first received at his court twenty years ago had spoken with conspicuous traces of a rural north-country accent. That provinciality had long since disappeared. The wizard’s manners today were impeccable. He might be a son of one of the old families if his silver-fair appearance did not indicate some other more remarkable pedigree.
The more unsavory parts of the wizard’s character Dafythe did not examine too closely. Redmantyl had killed fourteen wizards and destroyed the magic and minds of his remaining rivals, abruptly putting an end to the best of the last magical generation. All, of course, in his own defense—each had meant to kill him. Yet there was a touch of mystery about the death of the last Redmantyl, the reclusive Dagobert. Some said that his death had come later, not in the midst of battle with his former apprentice. Though the present Redmantyl always displayed perfect courtesy and deferential respect to his liege lord, no one could forget that he was a dangerous man. Dafythe felt as if he were master of a perhaps-tamed tiger; the beast had consented to be loyal to him and though he wasn’t afraid for his own person, he sometimes imagined the damage it might cause if it capriciously chose to unsheath its claws or bare sharp fangs.
In spite of this implied danger, or because of it, and in spite of or because of the wizard’s exotic appearance, women found Redmantyl attractive. There was always a flutter among the female courtiers whenever he visited.
Dafythe had heard stories of the wizard’s dalliances. The mother of the little boy he’d just received was a wandering thespian, head of Redmantyl’s patronized troupe, and a married woman. Andemyon might be her husband’s child, but the wizard displayed astonishing affection for the boy. He’d taken him into his household at the thesper’s death, had done all but name him. He proposed to do so now. Would he behave so if Andemyon weren’t his own? The mother of Redmantyl’s acknowledged son, it was whispered, had been a tavern drab. And the Lady Laurel was suspected to be his unclaimed firstborn, the daughter of an incestuous union with his own cousin.
“The papers might be drawn up during your stay here, My Lord. We can arrange a small ceremony—three persons to witness your claim of adoption.” Three witnesses were required for any standard legal procedure. “Nothing extravagant. Much like that other claiming, if you recall.”
Some years ago, the wizard had come to him with a similar request for the sake of his elder son, Orlan. In that case, there had been no impediment; neither Redmantyl nor the boy’s belated mother had ever married. The law required only that the young wizard declare his intention to marry the dead woman had she lived, since any children born to an unwed couple were automatically legitimate at the time of the marriage. This present adoption addressed a similar situation, if a slightly more delicate one.
Dafythe sympathized with Lord Redmantyl’s efforts to name his sons. He was touched by the affection he observed; few men cared so much for their by-blows. Also, if he must be honest, he took some consolation in the ease with which he endorsed the rights of this other man’s children. If only the situation with his own son Ambris could be resolved so easily.