She hoped someday, in all the scraps of information she gleaned from neglected scrolls, she might find the answer. After all, if Yomnian had chosen Sendorland as the scourge of the world, then why should the soldiers of Sendorland fear anyone, even soldiers supported by dark spirits? If everything she had been taught was a lie, would it be a sin, rebellion worthy of the vilest punishment, to hope, to pray to Yomnian, for some chance to escape and find a life elsewhere?
Metal-toed boots clattered against the stone floors as someone approached the wooden door. She straightened her dress, took a deep breath and prayed. He glanced toward his desk first. The unpleasant twist left his mouth when he saw she was not there. She took a step forward and bowed her head to get his attention. Properly dressed and ornamented.
She is as I promised, my friends. Footsteps scraped on the stone floor, then were muffled on the carpeting around the desk.
The heavy oak chair thudded as Mordon pulled it away from his desk. More chairs scraped. How many people had he brought with him? His rich voice had a touch of humor. If she was about to be sold, did she dare hope someone with a sense of humor would buy her? Or would that humor be the vicious kind that found laughter in the misery of others?
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She obeyed, raising her gaze enough to ascertain where the men sat around the desk. There were four, two on either side, creating an aisle and an open spot to step right up to the edge of the rug. From her glimpse of tooled leather boots and silver threads embroidering the hems of their cloaks, they were noblemen.
She was raised properly. If any man tried to force her, she would kill herself before she would let our family name be dishonored. Her face burned. Oh, most definitely, she was on the auction block. Muffling a gasp of surprise at the unexpected question, she lifted her gaze to Mordon for instruction. He looked pleased that she waited for his permission to speak. Their long, chiseled features were near mirror images with the same brilliant, gray-blue eyes and thick, golden, curly hair. Arriena wondered if he hated her for that resemblance. Her life would have been so much easier if she had been a boy.
Mordon would have welcomed her presence in his house. Then again, if she had been a boy, Mordon would not be Lord Traxslan now. Or the boy she should have been would have been killed in a convenient accident, to get her out of his way, just like the suspicious, convenient accident that had killed her parents. All my studies say it has always been the enemy of Sendorland. May it be never, she silently cried.
May there always be at least one land in this world where there is joy and the freedom to dream. He heaved himself from his chair and approached Arriena. From the corner of her eye she saw his velvet longcoat and trousers, the color of dried blood, trimmed in silver.
His gloved hand filled her vision as he gently touched her chin and raised it, turning her head to force him to look her in the eyes. Never show fear, Mordon had told her. Even if a man holds a knife at your throat, never show fear and never surrender your body. You are a Traxslan, even if you are a woman, and you will not dishonor us in your death.
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Be sure I will follow your soul to the Netherhells and make you suffer if you fail us. She held her head still, refused to tremble, and met his gaze straight on. She held still as Lord Zuran looked her over, and tried to feel nothing, hear nothing, think nothing. He released her chin with a caress across her cheek. You will benefit our family by strengthening the alliance between two noble friends. What do you think of that offer?
What must I do to serve? She wished she could take back the words; could almost feel the rod slapping the bare soles of her feet, her usual punishment for excessive curiosity. What was so important that everything she did suddenly pleased him? Or did he only hold up a false mask in front of his lordly friends? Even as she wondered, the other three men stood.
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Only a fool would expect sympathy or support from a friend of Mordon. She stayed firmly planted before the desk, waiting as he ushered his four guests out of the study room and called a servant to escort them to their rooms. Silence, as her cousin settled down at his desk. She studied the whirls in the wood grain surrounding the paper he spread out on the desk and studied.
They had played this game before down through the years; he waiting until her curiosity burst, and then punishing her for speaking before he gave her permission.
Walter F. Murphy, James Fleming, Sotirios A.
James Fleming, Sotirios A. James Fleming, Walter F. Murphy, Sotirios A. Levy, eds. I Hope Not! Barber, eds. Tulis, eds.
James Fleming, review of Robert T. James Fleming, "Natural Law: U. Katz, ed. Newman, ed. Also in R.