Andemyon’s remarkable beauty had already excited too much attention. Silent and solemn, blond and cherubic, he stood out among the other heralds—gangling, chubby, pre-adolescent lumps that boys of that age generally were. The heralds scorned him, the court ladies fussed over the pretty child and made a pet of him. People liked to see him at the forefront of processions, bearing Dafythe’s standard. The more avuncular and auntish members of the Council rumpled his curls and spoke to him when they met him on errands about the palace. Pleasant jests were made on how he would break maidens’ hearts in a few years. For a shy child, such attention was agonizing; Dafythe did not wonder why the boy hid away in the libraries and sought to go unnoticed whenever he could. And there were certain men…
Dafythe had seen the glances of some of his courtiers, ones he knew to be inclined toward Greekish tastes for youthful beauty. Most, he knew, were men of honor; they might gaze upon the lovely child, but they wouldn’t dream of declared admiration. Dafythe, known for his broadminded policies in many matters, could be quite severe when concerned with his courtiers’ personal conduct. The Duke was wont to overlook amorous intrigues among the nobility so long as they were seemly and discreet, but he would not allow open scandals. He was especially fierce in his protection of those in his service. No pages were buggered, no chambermaids accosted, no guards enticed into private chambers for noble sport. Dafythe meant his subjects to know that their sons and daughters could serve at the Palace without suffering corruption.
There were rumors of Rafenshighte’s behavior in town, though no specific charges had been laid against him. Dafythe doubted that even if the gossip were true, Rafenshighte was fool enough to attempt the seduction of a boy less than sixteen under the Duke’s eyes. Andemyon was, after all, Dafythe’s young kinsman, wearing his livery and under his personal protection.
Andemyon was also guarded by another power. A silver talisman a little larger than a shilling hung about his throat, resting against the back of the uppermost lion on his tabard. Lord Redmantyl’s mark was engraved upon it, declaring that this child was under the protection of a most powerful and vengeful wizard.
Rafenshighte had flirted with Redmantyl’s elder son the previous spring. Laurel and Ambris had put a stop to it before Redmantyl noticed. The boy was apparently not of Greekish tastes himself, but vain enough to be flattered by the attention and silly enough to be offended that his father thought him capable of being so easily seduced. Of course, he had been seduced only a few months later in Storm Port and Redmantyl’s revenge had been horrible.
All Pendaunzel had seen the dark storms which raged to south this summer. The full story hadn’t yet reached the Duke’s city; Dafythe only knew that Orlan had somehow been ensorcelled by the Mayor of Storm Port and Redmantyl had fought with her as he would a magical foe. The storm was only a fragment of the rage the wizard had loosed on Storm Port that day. The city had been flooded with rain, the Mayor’s Hall had been burned to the ground and the Mayor’s husband killed. Some more terrible punishment had been visited upon the Mayor, a magical blasting that even the closest witnesses could not adequately describe. It was said that both the woman’s mind and soul had been destroyed.
This was the first exercise of Lord Redmantyl’s vast power any had witnessed since the wizard-battles which had established him supreme. It was the first time he’d exercised his powers against the non-magical and had killed a man who couldn’t harm him.
There had been some discussion in Pendaunzel about charging the wizard with murder and the wanton destruction of property, but Ambris had pointed out that the incident in Storm Port was within the long-standing traditions of wizard-battle, which all earthly governors had determined were beyond their jurisdiction. The death of the Mayor’s husband was said to be an accident. No one in Storm Port demanded recompense except for the damage to the Mayor’s Hall. After this dry summer, they welcomed the rain. Even if the wizard were summoned to account for his misconduct, who would dare to carry the warrant?
Dafythe’s tiger had unsheathed its claws, and he was unable to check the damage done. Lord Redmantyl was beyond his control if the wizard chose to step outside Norman law and act as a law onto himself. Yet this episode served to remind mere mortals how dangerous a wizard truly was. They had all seen what little Andemyon’s father was capable of when his child was threatened. Unless Geoffrey was a great fool—and Dafythe knew he was not—he must realize that Lord Redmantyl’s sons were not to be toyed with.
Another young nobleman had stopped to hear Andemyon’s song as well.
The elegant Rosandre of Daubenai was one of the small group of advisors who had accompanied Kat from London. Dafythe thought him astonishingly young for the responsibilities he bore, but his personal charm and exquisite courtesy made him a promising negotiator in spite of the fact that he was still in his middle twenties. He spoke as the Emperor’s representative; he’d been Kharles’s aide during Juan Maria’s recent visit and he would travel to Naufarre as soon as his business here was finished. Some whispered of how this young man had risen so rapidly in the Emperor’s favor, but what successful courtier was not whispered about?
“Beauty is more valued when it is brief and elusive, My Lord Rafenshighte,” said Daubenai. “Would you have been willing to make such sacrifice yourself for beauty’s sake?”
Rafenshighte laughed. “Me? I could never carry a tune. More would’ve been lost than preserved. But I think that if I’d been so lovely a lad with such a voice…”
“It is likely that it would’ve been done before you were of an age to decide such things for yourself. A grown man may choose to mutilate himself so, but of course the operation is not performed upon grown men.”
“I think it is. Is it not, My Lord?” Rafenshighte addressed Dafythe.
“The penalty is reserved for repeated and unrepentant defilers of the innocent,” replied Dafythe. “It is not done lightly. The punishment is far too cruel—the loss of life’s greatest gift, the ability to procreate and see life continued in one’s children. I would not suffer it on a free-born Norman child for the sake of a pretty song.”
“Yet it is committed by Normans, My Lord. Ambitious parents sometimes give their sons over to choirmasters to extend their soprano talents.”
“And such parents and choirmasters are arrested and punished for criminal mutilation.”
“But what of the boys?” asked Rafenshighte. “If the cuts have already been made, can else be done but allow them to continue their musical careers? They are fit for nothing else. We have often received such creatures to sing at court once they are grown.”
“To see them remain singers condones the crime against them,” said Daubenai. “But what else can be done?”
“Some do travel to foreign nations when they are grown men,” Dafythe said darkly, for he did not like it when he could do nothing to repair an injustice against one of his subjects. “And some return as professional sopranos. Regardless of–” he became aware that Andemyon was listening to the conversation with incomplete comprehension but intense interest. “You may go now, Lad. Gramercies for your delightful song.
“Regardless of the subsequent public success of those unfortunates,” the Duke continued once Andemyon had moved some distance away, “it remains a barbarous act. What has been done is done. But I will not allow it to be performed on a young boy in my protection while it is in my power to prevent it.”
But Rafenshighte had lost interest in the argument. “I didn’t dream of suggesting it as a national policy, My Gracious Lord.” He bowed slightly and walked away.
Rosandre remained. “A charming child,” he said after watching Andemyon for a few minutes. Rafenshighte had not followed the boy. “I see him often with my dearest friend, the Lady Laurel. It is good that he has so devoted a kinswoman to watch over him. Such beauty is dangerous to one so young. Pray God he will grow past it before it brings him to harm.”
Dafythe studied the courtier’s face, now turned in profile. The nose was delicate and the chin was well-modeled. The eyelashes were the same ginger shade as his fashionably braided and beribbonned curls. He was a very handsome youth himself and, in the aged Duke’s eyes, not much older than little Andemyon. Did he speak from experience? Dafythe thought again of the odd rumors he’d heard concerning this pretty and personable young man, but he wouldn’t dream of inquiring into so private a matter.
Rosandre turned back to Dafythe. “My Gracious Lord, may I speak with you?”
“My Lord Dafythe, we depart in the morning. I wish to bid you farewell and offer gramercies for your hospitality. You must know we have hopes that the unpleasant Juan will behave himself for a time.”
“As do I,” answered Dafythe.
“However,” Rosandre sat down and lowered his voice, “My Lord, I must suggest that you will be wiser if you permit your daughter the Prince to prepare. My Lord the Emperor thinks of the Terrojos march. He intends to claim it as soon as Prince Juan has been made peaceable.”
“If Juan is peaceable–?”
Rosandre nodded. “Exactly so, My Lord Duke. The Imperial Council has given him to understand that the treaty has already been broken and he may act as he chooses.”
Dafythe might have known. He’d had no control over his nephew since the youth had ascended his throne. With Penelope’s death, no one could restrain him. He would fight against this for as long as he could, but he was old now and they very young—they would win out in time. This pax normania was at an end.
The young Frenchman rose. “I comprehend that you do not think of war yourself, My Gracious Lord. I promise you it will not come for a year, perhaps two. And now, I must make my farewells to My Lady Laurel.” He bowed and left the garden.