Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 59

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This wasn’t the first time that Kat had alluded to the pointlessness of their campaign, but Mara grew more concerned at each disparaging remark. While all the Northlanders were impatient at their weeks of inactivity, it had become obvious that her cousin’s forthright opinions were the greatest threat to their eventual success. Her soldiers might grumble privately, but as long she had their loyalty, they would obey orders and follow wherever she led them. It was the same with her commanders; if Bel, Alyx, or Sataumie wondered why she had brought them here, they kept their questions to themselves. Kat alone felt free to speak her mind and, as Mara’s kinswoman and a Norman Prince herself, her words had weight. If she continued to do so, discontent might spread among the others and destroy their morale. Once the troops lost faith, this venture could only end in disaster. Kat must therefore be stopped.

Mara could guess why her cousin was speaking against her. There had been a tacit reconciliation between them once Kat had agreed to join her on this campaign, and no discussion of their private differences while they made their plans and embarked on the long journey westward, but those differences remained. Mara would like nothing better than to mend the breach and have Kat as her trusted friend again—and not merely because she wished to have her cousin’s mouth shut—but that meant that they both must speak of things they’d avoided discussing for a very long time.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 58

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Santiago

1956

tuentye

Iagoburso sat high atop its massive platform of craggy and wind-sculpted rock above the curve of a wide green-grey river, which was called Rio Amarillo by the Spanish; a lesser river, called d’Iago Pescador, flowed into the greater just below the rocks. All was exactly as Mara had seen it in her vision last spring. When she’d first set her eyes upon the fortress at the end of the long march westward, it had seemed like a dream. Now, after nearly three months encamped on the river’s opposite shore, she had not only grown accustomed to the sight, but was weary of it.

It had taken eight months for her army to assemble at Guylliamesburghe and make the journey downriver to Jamesfort, a frontier town on the western banks of the vast Michelne and on the eastern border of the Jamesmarch. From there, they had crossed the Jamesmarch on foot and on horseback, and settled here in their present camp in the midst of a sweltering June. And here they had remained through a blazing July and August. It was early September now. Cooler nights were beginning to promise some relief from the heat, though they couldn’t expect the temperate autumn of their homeland in this desert. Many hoped that they would not still be sitting here when winter came.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 57

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A portrait of the Redlyon, painted early in his reign, hung in the gallery of the Manor next to a similarly larger-than-life-size portrait of his consort, Duke Diana. Mara and Peter left the packet in Ren’s care and left her chambers to go down the stair to the gallery to examine it closely. Though Mara had walked beneath this painting nearly every day of her life, she’d never given it more than a glance.

Peter was the first to find it. “There it is, Prince Mara! Look!”

Mara stood close beneath the painting’s frame and stood on tip-toe to peer upwards at the spot Peter was pointing toward. Among the massive chains of office that hung heavily covering the late Emperor’s breast was a single dark-red pendant—a blob of paint like dried blood. Could it be…? She held up her own gemstone by its tether; the two appeared to be identical. “So he did have it!”
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 56

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She left Hartshall, walking swiftly toward the Manor to find her cousin and Bel and tell them her good news. Rafenshighte raced to catch up with her.

“I must say you surprised me today, Prince Mara,” he said once he’d gained her side and matched her pace. “I thought you would be pleased to become Regent, otherwise I wouldn’t have voted as I did. Well, I daresay you know best about obtaining your own ends, but it delays some other important matters. We’ll have to wait to make any personal announcements. I’d hoped I might be allowed to continue to serve you as your consort intended, if not consort in fact, while you were away on your campaigns. Whatever else he allows in order to become Regent, My Lord Ambris as certainly won’t stand for that! I simply don’t understand why you refused this power when you’ve sought it so ardently.”
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 55

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nyneten

The delicate task of speaking to Dafythe was left to Ambris. Mara never learned precisely what was said during that private conference, but she saw the effects of it upon her father. That anniversary celebration was to be the Duke’s last public appearance. Dafythe withdrew, first from all official duties, then to his chambers, then deeper and deeper into himself. Only a few select people—his children, his physician—were admitted to see him. No boys attended the Duke in the night now; Dr. Dimitrios’s assistants, grown men and women, took that duty. Though the physician said that there was little physically wrong with Dafythe beyond the ailments common to a man of his age, Mara was shocked at how much her father was changed in only a few days’ time. Dafythe had truly become old. Not merely his face, but his hesitant voice, his impersonal tone of conversation, his uncertain demeanor, were unlike the father she’d always known. It was as if the news of the gossip had struck at his mind and his heart and caused greater damage than the physical pains he’d suffered on that night when Andemyon had gone to fetch the doctor.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 54

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Ambris spoke to Old Toppet, who was in charge of the heralds, early the next morning to ensure that Andemyon would no longer be given night duty with the Duke. He intended to bring the boy into his own office as soon as he could do so without drawing undue attention. So much was easily accomplished. Finding Andemyon alone so that he could be questioned proved a more difficult task, for Andemyon was never alone. He continued his daily duties of attending Dafythe with the other heralds, and when he wasn’t thus occupied, he spent his time with Laurel. It was impossible to summon him away without having to explain why he was wanted; Ambris was more anxious to keep this state of affairs from his wife than he was to keep it from his father, for Laurel was very fond of Andemyon and almost as protective of him as her own small children.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 53

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“There’ve been terrible rumors around the court,” Ambris told Mara and Kat later that night after they’d returned to the Palace. Dafythe had gone to his bedchamber; the rest of the courtiers had likewise retired. The halls of the Manor were dark and silent and the only lighted candles were in Mara’s room, where the three now sat in private conference. Ambris was obviously embarrassed to speak of the matter, but after the incident at the theatre, he felt it necessary that his sister and cousin know all. “It’s rumored that Father has taken that boy into his bed. As you heard tonight, Mara, they call him ‘The Duke’s Cat.’ It is an abbreviation for ‘catamite.'”
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 52

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heyghten

One evening just after midsummer, the Duke’s thespian troupe performed a new play titled The Dragon Displayed—a dramatization of Mara’s conquest of Terrojos. The aged Duke, his family, and courtiers walked in a solemn group down the Processional from the Palace gates to the Duke’s Theatre to attend. This in itself was a remarkable event, for Dafythe hadn’t gone out to his theatre in many years. While he continued to patronize the troupe, as he’d done since the theatre was first built more than sixty years ago, he rarely saw them unless they were invited to the Palace for private performances. But tonight was a special occasion. The Duke’s presence had been particularly requested, and Dafythe graciously accepted the invitation. Like everyone else in Pendaunzel and the Palace, he was curious to see the play.

The Duke’s box had been refurbished in anticipation of his acceptance. New blue velvet curtains were held back by golden ropes. The crest of the Northlands over the box—a hartshead, not Dafythe’s lions nor Mara’s dragon—was freshly gilded, as was all the ivy-vine trim. The chairs in the front row, with their high-backs like little thrones, were likewise freshly varnished and the cushions new. A row of less impressive chairs stood behind these royal seats and a bench ran along the back wall, though it was nearly impossible to see the play from this position. The Duke’s box hung above the far right side of the proscenium; from its left end, it was possible to look down into the wing beyond the stage and see thespers changing their costumes and waiting for their cues while backstage hands rushed about to perform mysterious theatrical business with innumerable ropes.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 51

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After his interview with Mara, Dafythe sent for Lord Rafenshighte to have a private conversation. “Geoffrey, I’ve heard reports of your conduct which do not please me,” the Duke began in his most authoritative tones. He was gratified to observe that Rafenshighte had the decency to look surprised and abashed. “It must stop—now—before you’ve brought irretrievable disgrace upon yourself. This is a dangerous game you meddle in.”

“Dangerous, perhaps, My Lord,” Rafenshighte agreed, his spirit rallying. “But disgraceful, how?” Dafythe began to bluster, amazed at the young nobleman’s reply, when Rafenshighte went on, “The Prince your daughter is a grown woman. Your pardon if I offend, My Gracious Lord, but it is for her to decide if she finds me a fit companion. I assure you that my conduct with regard to her has always been irreproachable. My intentions are of the most respectful and honorable nature.”
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 50

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She didn’t wait long; her father summoned her to his private apartments that same afternoon. “Mara,” said the Duke, “it has come to my ears that you continue to think of your campaign to Santiago.”

“Has it?” Kat must have gone straight to Dafythe with the news. Only two other persons were privileged with any part of her secrets: Bel, who wanted another chance at the Spanish so badly that she would never dare breathe a word against Mara even if she could doubt her purpose or think of committing an act of disloyalty; and Geoffrey, who wasn’t trustworthy, but who had everything in the world to gain if he were loyal to her and nothing to gain by betrayal.
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