“You are restless, My Lord.”
Dafythe lifted his head from the pillow to find the golden-haired child sitting at the foot of his bed like an attending cherub. “I’m sorry, Demy. Did I wake you?”
“I wasn’t asleep,” the boy answered, yawning.
The Duke grinned at the obvious lie.
“Shall I sing for you, My Lord?”
“No, it’s too late in the night for a lullaby. Talk to me.”
Dafythe enjoyed hearing the boy sing and dreaded the day when that astonishing voice must inevitably be lost, but he also saw more interesting qualities in Andemyon which people who observed the child’s beauty and had never gotten past his shyness hadn’t discovered. Andemyon possessed a remarkable young mind. He was bright and fanciful, his head filled with myths and strange stories; he was, after all, the child of a thespian and a wizard. Dafythe found him delightful to listen to. How different his elaborate imaginings were from the grunted Yes, M’Lord‘s, No, M’Lord‘s, and Dunno‘s of the other heralds.
It pleased Dafythe to imagine that Ambris might’ve been like this during his boyhood years away from Pendaunzel. This delicate, fair little creature was nothing physically like his own dark son, who must have been all arms and legs at fifteen. But Andemyon was possessed of that same sharp intelligence, that same quiet thoughtfulness. Dafythe would have liked to be able to say as much about his own grandchildren. Ambris’s sons at court, who ought to have inherited some of their father’s intelligence, were dull little lumps. Young Eduarde alone showed a spark of wit.
Andemyon was a timid child, not easy to draw out in conversation, but Dafythe had made the effort and he was pleased at the results. On nights when the Duke was unable to sleep, it was comforting to speak with the little herald at the foot of his bed. He looked forward to Andemyon’s nights on duty and often requested that the boy attend him even when it was another herald’s turn.
“What have you been about lately, Child? I hear you assist Magician Peter. You think to apprentice yourself to him, do you?”
Andemyon acknowledged the gentle jest with a smile. “No, My Lord. We study the lore of gemstones.”
“Gemstones?” Dafythe laughed. “What odd things scholars take interest in! I never would’ve imagined that mousy magician to care for diamonds and rubies.”
“`Tis for Prince Margueryt, My Lord.”
“That ugly stone she wears about her neck?” Now, Dafythe was truly curious. Kat had told him that his daughter was making a fetish of the gem. Mara had changed since her campaigns in Terrojos; she was more restless, impatient than ever before. She fixed upon pointless goals for no reason he could fathom. Did this gemstone have something to do with it? At the least, it was another symptom of her irrational behavior and too much like his father’s old superstitions for Dafythe’s comfort.
The boy nodded. “Peter researches its history. He says it may have once belonged to your father the Redlyon or Prince Denys. Somebody told Prince Mara so, and she wants to find out if it’s true. She thinks it may be magical, or so Peter says. That what he has me to help with, since I used to read magical books in Lord Redmantyl’s library.”
“Magical gemstones…” Dafythe murmured in disbelief. He would have to speak to Peter or Mara directly to learn more about this. To Andemyon, he said, “Well, it’s good of you to aid Peter in his researches, my boy, but you mustn’t let him keep you out quite so late. Old Toppet tells me that you came into the heralds’ chambers last night long after the other boys were abed. You’re not afraid to walk through the palace gardens alone at night?”
“Oh no, My Lord, not when the moon is up and I can see my way. And I don’t always go alone. My Lord Rafenshighte sometimes walks with me.”
This unexpected information brought Dafythe’s head up with a jolt that painfully wrenched his neck. “Geoffrey? What business does he have at the magician’s house?”
“I don’t know, My Lord. He’s there some nights when I’m helping Peter, and he offers to come with me back to the Manor.”
Dafythe didn’t like the sound of this at all. He made note that, tomorrow, he must also have a word with Geoffrey.
At last, Mara had found the name:
“Full wroth! Full wroth!
The might of all the Northlands
Could not cross the river’s froth.
Maud’s knights stopped upon Jamesbank
Iagoburso stood proud to tempt her,
but `twas not hers to take. ”
Iagoburso. The impenetrable Spanish stronghold upon a rock. Norman lands lay to its east, across the river boundary—a most vulnerable position. It must have a most powerful guardian.
Though she couldn’t convey her triumph to Bel in explicit terms, the little captain seated on the coucherie at her feet was smiling as she heard the words spoken and didn’t look up as Ren admitted Kat to the Prince’s sitting room.
“What’s that you’re reading?” her cousin asked.
“Poetry.” Mara held up the book to show Kat the pages she’d been reading aloud from. “A ballad of Duke Maud’s last campaign.”
Kat glanced from Mara to the cheerful-looking Bel. “I thought you’d both be heartbroken by my uncle the Duke’s ultimatum, but you seem to be bearing up well.”
Bel’s grin only widened. Mara answered, “We take our solace where we can.”
The Irish Prince nodded, her eyes fixed on Mara. “Leave us, Captain, I pray you,” she requested and once Bel had gone, she spoke her mind. “You haven’t given it up yet, have you, Mara?”
“I’m forbidden to speak—even to you, Cos—but there’s no reason in the world I shouldn’t edify my companions with a rousing ballad celebrating the adventures of one of our venerated ancestors.”
“An ancestor who once rode to battle on the same frontier where you wish to campaign,” replied Kat, who had paid more attention to her geography lessons than Mara had.
Mara scowled. “I don’t forget Santiago. I promise you, Kat, we shall see Iagoburso one day.”
“It is in this song,” Mara told her. “The Spanish fortress Maud couldn’t take. The fortress upon the rock! It’s the same one that I saw!”
“Oh, Mara,” Kat said softly.
“Do you doubt it?”
“No, Cousin. But it’s a subject we cannot discuss. Uncle Dafythe hoped that you’d abandon this scheme if you were kept from conferring with your companions. I ought not encourage you.”
Mara was baffled by this reticence. Once, there’d been a time when Kat would’ve damned Father’s restrictions and received her confidences eagerly. The Shieldmaids, even Bel, might be forbidden her secrets, but never Kat.
“And you ought not encourage her–” Kat waved toward the door Bel had gone out of. “She feeds off your promises of further battles against the Spanish and inspires you to make more elaborate plans. If Alyx, Taumie, and I had been here to advise you, this would never have gone so far.”
“But you weren’t here. There was only Bel, and I’m satisfied with her advice.”
Kat sat down at Mara’s feet, where Bel had been. “Have you taken her into your confidence in defiance of your father’s wishes?”
Mara shook her head. “Not a word! But she’s no fool, my captain. She sees without being told the significance of the fortress Maud couldn’t capture. I don’t make her promises, Kat—I’m not permitted to—but she understands without my speaking.”
Her cousin stared at her. “I never thought I’d see you twist your way out of an oath, Mara,” she said after a moment of incredulous silence. “You once knew the importance of fealty.”
“I know fealty!” Mara shot back, shocked herself that her cousin could accuse her of such deceit. “I feel it both as liege and vassal. I’m bound by my obligations to Bel and the others and the armies who have marched with me and to you, Cousin, as much as I am to Father and to the Emperor. I’ve kept my word to the letter. I haven’t disobeyed Father, and I haven’t betrayed the faith of my friends.” Suddenly, a dark pang of suspicion struck within her. “Can you say the same?”
Kat frowned. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Don’t you? You speak very well for my father’s interests. You seem more in sympathy with him than with me.”
“I worry for you, as he does.”
Mara pursued her point. “If I tell you I haven’t ceased to make plans for Santiago, will you carry tales to him?”
“I can’t if you don’t tell me!” Kat replied with some heat. “Whatever is it you do in spite of Uncle Dafythe’s wishes, `tis best kept to yourself. For your own sake, let me hear no more of Santiago and the Jamesmarch and fortresses set upon rocks.”
This reply confirmed Mara’s worst suspicions. “Cousin,” she asked, sick that this question should ever arise between them, “Have you been spying on me?”
“Uncle Dafythe’s worried for you,” her cousin repeated, rising from the coucherie. “He sees much that alarms him. Your passion for this campaign. Your visions. Your secrecy. I will not fly to him if you tell me you continue to make plans, but I would much rather not know what you’re up to if he should ask. I would rather not lie, even for your sake.”
“I read,” Mara flung at her. “I study maps. I keep my little book of notes. No one has read it yet, but there will come a time when I can make my thoughts known and all will be revealed. Tell Father that.”
It was a challenge flung down between them. A test of Kat’s allegiance. If Father did find out that she hadn’t abandoned her plans, Mara would know his source.