As Herezah privately grieves for Lazar, she hatches an audacious plot to destroy the odalisque Ana, who flouts the rules of the harem but has found a measure of protection in having caught the eye of Zar Boaz. And Ana shoulders a tremendous burden of guilt as she matures from a beautiful girl into a stunning young woman . . . and fears what her future in the harem might hold.
Yet Lazar, unbeknownst to nearly everyone in the palace, is slowly recovering on a secret island. As he struggles to return to health, war from a distant realm threatens Percheron, and, as the cyclical battle of the gods continues to build, the first of the Goddess's disciples falls into the grip of the demon Maliz. Success or failure—for both Percheron and Lyana—hinges on Lazar, whose illness has left him with a new gift he fears is a curse, and if he cannot take action soon, all may well be lost.
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EmissaryBook Two of The Percheron Saga
By Fiona McIntosh
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Fiona McIntosh
All right reserved.
Three moons later . . .
It was Pez's idea but it was Zafira who had found him, had seen the potential; still she was shocked by his skill. She feared for the young man, but his uncannily calm manner and quiet confidence convinced her that he was right for this curious role. He asked for no money, which made it harder for her to ask him to do what she did. And when she pressed him for his reason for taking on such personal risk, he had staggered her by confiding that all he wanted to do was serve the Goddess. At his tender age what could he know about Lyana? And yet he had been firm in his claim that he had been called by the Goddess to this dangerous task.
Now Pez echoed all her anxieties. She had hoped he would ooze his usual confidence—needed him to—but it seemed he was as unnerved as she was by this youngster.
They sat in a small room stirred gently by a soft breath of wind that although it had journeyed halfway up the hillside of Percheron, still carried the scent of the sea. They could see the harbor from here. The massive giant statues of Beloch and Ezram gazed out across the Faranel, ever watchful for the long-feared raid that hadn't come in centuries.
"How does an orphanage command such a view?" Pez wondered aloud.
"I gather the palace gave it over to widowed wives of the Percherese Guard. Down the decades those families were given better care—separate housing, a stipend from the royal coffers—and this building became defunct. Then one Zar gifted it to the orphans of Percheron. It's still known as the Widow's Enclave."
"Yes, although there's talk of that magnanimous act being revoked now."
"Surely not?" Pez frowned, unable to imagine Boaz drafting such an ungenerous decree.
"So the sisters quietly claim."
"What would the Zar want it for?"
"Not the Zar. I think his newly intimate adviser has designs on it."
Pez pulled a face of disgust. "Tariq is certainly carving a new role for himself."
"Well, his role is to advise the Zar, of course. But according to what you've told me, it sounds as though our last Zar never chose to have his close counsel."
"And who could blame Joreb? The odd thing is that Boaz always despised the man as much as his father did."
Zafira nodded. "I saw Vizier Tariq the other day—"
"That's Grand Vizier Tariq, Zafira," Pez interrupted, grimacing. "It's amazing what nearly a year's worth of constant ingratiation can achieve," he added bitterly.
"What is it, Pez?" she inquired gently. "Has Boaz cast you aside?"
The dwarf shook his great head. "No, but he doesn't look to me for all of his companionship now."
"He's coming up toward seventeen. He had to grow up sometime, my friend. You've been his confidant for many years. He's just spreading his wings a little," the priestess reasoned. "He has a man's job to do—little wonder he had to cast off childhood so fast."
"True." Pez sighed. "I just wish it hadn't been Tariq's arms he walked into," he complained, adding, with a tone of frustration, "The man's undergone some sort of metamorphosis."
"Well, how odd that you say that," Zafira said, leaning forward eagerly. "When I saw him the other day, we passed each other around the main fountain in the market and I hardly recognized him."
Pez frowned. "Curious, isn't it?"
"Am I deceiving myself?"
Pez gave a derisive smirk. "No, I've noticed it, too. Younger, straighter, more . . . what is it?" He paused, searching for the word. "More presence. The old Tariq was weak, and his greatest weakness was craving attention from the royals. This newly invented Tariq exudes absolute confidence. He needs no endorsement from anyone, it seems. I swear he all but treats the Valide Zara with disdain."
"Well, so do you," Zafira reminded him.
"But I'm supposed to be mad, remember . . . and rude to everyone—especially Herezah, whenever I can find the opportunity. Tariq has all of his faculties intact and he openly does not suffer fools gladly."
"Are you saying the Valide is a fool?"
Pez gave some semblance of a rueful grin. "Far from it, but I sense she's as baffled as I am by this relationship that seems to deepen by the day."
"And you? How does he regard you?"
"Tariq? I sense that he's suspicious of me. He watches me carefully. He thinks I don't notice, but I am aware of his constant attention."
"What is he suspicious of?"
"I don't know. He can't know the truth of my sanity, I'm sure of it, but it's as if he suspects there's more to me than meets the eye and so he keeps watching for some sign."
"Iridor?" the priestess posed, her voice a whisper.
Pez shook his head. "Why would he suspect that?"
She shrugged. "If you have magic, why not others?" she suggested, keeping her voice low. "Or perhaps it's that Tariq's jealous of your relationship with Boaz."
"It could be—that would make sense. Yet I feel as though he is searching for any slip, any small sign that I am not what everyone believes me to be. It doesn't add up, but then neither does his behavior over the past year. I need to be more attentive." Pez moved restlessly to the window to watch the children playing a boisterous game of pigball in the courtyard.
"Are you sure about him?"
"He's astounding, Pez. He can do it. But can you do it to him?"
"There are bigger things at stake than individual lives, Zafira."
"Except, if you lose enough lives individually, you can lose a nation," she counseled softly.
"Don't preach at me," Pez said mildly.
"I just need to be sure that you understand the stakes. You're gambling with his life, not yours."
"I'm aware of that, Priestess, no need to remind me," Pez replied, a spike of irritation in his voice.
Excerpted from Emissary by Fiona McIntosh Copyright © 2007 by Fiona McIntosh. Excerpted by permission.
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