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Sunlight streamed into the tower room and pooled on the wooden floor. Grey gnomes with spindle legs and warty faces materialized in the warmth and lolled like cats. Despite his great age, Nevyn felt tempted to join them. He sat in the chamber's only chair and considered his apprentice, who was sitting cross-legged among the gnomes. She turned her face up to the sun and ran one hand through her blonde hair, which fell to her shoulders in a ragged wave.
"Spring's truly here," Lilli said. "I'm so glad of it, and yet I dread summer. You must, too."
"I do," Nevyn said. "It won't be long now before the army rides out, and the gods only know what the battles will bring."
"Just so. All I can do is pray that Branoic rides home safely."
"You've grown truly fond of Branoic, haven't you?"
"I have. The prince doesn't like it much." Lilli opened her eyes and turned to look up at him. "You don't think he'd do anything dishonorable, would you?"
"Prince Maryn, you mean? What sort of dishonor "
"Letting Branno be killed in battle. Putting him in harm's way somehow. It sounds so horrid when I say it aloud. I can't imagine Maryn doing such a thing, truly. I'm just frightened, I suppose, and it's coloring my fancies."
"No doubt." Nevyn hesitated, wondering if her fear were only fancy or some half-seen omen. As apprentices so often did, she picked up his thought.
"I've been meaning to ask you somewhat," Lilli went on. "You know how the omens used to come to me? I'd be sewing or thinking of some ordinary thing, and then all of a sudden the words would come bursting out of my mouth?"
"I remember it well."
"It doesn't happen anymore."
"Good." Nevyn smiled at her. "It's a common thing, that a person marked for the dweomer will have some wild gift, but when she starts a proper course of study, she loses the knack. Later, once you truly understand what you're doing, the gift will return to you."
"I see. To tell you the truth, I'm just as glad. I'd be terrified if I could see well, you know someone's death."
"Just so." Nevyn hesitated, thinking. It was likely that if grave harm befell either the prince or her betrothed, she would know, no matter how far away she was. He decided that worrying her the more would serve no purpose and changed the subject. "I need to be on my way. The prince is holding a council at noon, he said, so I suppose I'd better get myself there." He stood up, stretching his arms above his head. "You may finish the lesson I set you from the dweomer book."
"Those awful lists?"
"I realize that the memory work is tedious." Nevyn arranged a mock-fierce expression. "But those calls and invocations will come in handy some fine day. Learn that first page for today."
"I do understand. I've got part of them off by heart already."
"Splendid. Keep at it. But if you finish before I get back, there's no need for you to stay shut up inside. The more sun you get, the better."
Nevyn hurried down the stone stairs, which still exuded a wintry chill, and walked out to the sunlight and the main ward of Dun Deverry and the looming towers of the dun itself. Not even the bright spring day could turn the smoke-blackened stone cheerful. The fortress spread out over the top of a hill, bound by six high stone walls, lying at intervals down the hill like chains upon the earth. Tall towers, squat brochs, wooden sheds, long barracks, and stables they sprawled in a plan turned random by hundreds of years of decay, the fires of war, and the disasters of siege, followed by what new building and fortifying the kings had been able to afford. In among the buildings lay cobbled wards and plain dirt yards, cut up by stone walls, some isolated, all confusing.
In the center of this tangle, however, lay a proper ward, and in its center rose the tidy cluster of brochs and towers that housed the prince, his family, his personal guards, and the many officials and servants that made up his court. Against the black stone, bright banners displayed a red wyvern on a cream ground, lifting and trembling in the breeze. As Nevyn was crossing this ward, he saw Princess Bellyra just leaving the main broch tower. With two pages and one of her husband's bards in attendance, she was heading for the door of one of the side buildings. Dressed in blue linen, she walked slowly, her hands resting on her belly, heavy with her third child. Her honey-colored hair was bound up in a scarf stiff with embroidery, as befitted a married woman of her rank.
"Nevyn!" she called out. "Are you off to the high council?"
"I am, Your Highness. Why are you going inside in this lovely weather?"
"It's that bit of old map you found for me. I simply have to go see the room it refers to."
"Ah, indeed. I'm curious about it myself, actually. If you could let me know what you find?"
"I will. But you'd best hurry. Maryn's been looking for you."
Nevyn bowed, then hurried through the double doors of the central broch. The great hall covered the entire ground floor, a huge round room scattered with wooden tables, benches, and a small collection of chairs at the table reserved for the prince himself. At either side stood enormous stone hearths, one for the prince's riders and the servants, the other, far grander, for the noble-born. Despite the spring warmth outside, fires smoldered in each to drive off the damp.
Nevyn wove his way through the tables and the dogs scattered on the straw-strewn floor. About halfway between doors and hearths a stone staircase spiralled up the wall. He'd climbed only a few steps when someone hailed him from below. He turned to see Councillor Oggyn just mounting the stairs himself. He was a stout man, Oggyn, and egg-bald, though he sported a bristling black beard. He was carrying an armful of rolled parchments.
"Good day," Nevyn said. "Are those the ledgers?"
"They are, my lord," Oggyn said. "I've recorded all the dues and taxes owed our prince by the royal demesne. I'm cursed glad he can count on the Cerrmor taxes for a while longer."
"So am I. Getting the army fit to march would strip his local holdings bare."
"Just so. We'll have to wait for provisions from the south, and that's that. I just hope our prince sees reason. I know he's impatient to be on the move."
"Oh, I'm sure he will. I'm hoping that our enemies are as badly off as we are."
They climbed in silence to the first landing, where Oggyn paused to catch his breath. He looked out over the great hall below while he mopped his bald head with a rag.
"Somewhat else I wanted to lay before you, my lord," Oggyn said. "I saw our princess going about her investigations just now. Is that wise?"
"Well, the midwives all swear that the walking will do her naught but good."
"Splendid, but that's not quite my meaning. That bard. Is he fit company for her?"
"Ah. I see."