Note: Contains Spoilers!
Hormones, hard heads, and genes, oh my!
Deymorin hurried to his tent, certain he was in for a well-deserved lecture, embarrassed to realize that he hadn't warned his guards that Mikhyel would be needing clearance to enter his tent and open the records.
But his concerns proved unfounded. Mikhyel was in his tent, calm, all business, leafing through the records he'd left out for him. Stickler for propriety that he was, Mikhyel would never consider invading the Rhomandi's private papers without such an invitation, never mind he'd had absolute access to those papers for over ten years.
"Either you picked up some tricks from Mother," Deymorin said, as he ducked inside the tent, "or I'm going to have to reprimand my sentry severely."
"Save your reprimands, Deymorin," Mikhyel responded without looking up. "He recognized me. Besides--" Mikhyel did look up, then, and the twinkle of latent humor was unmistakable, as if nothing he had seen on the hill was valid. "I've been getting past closed doors for over ten years. Lockouts devised and manned by individuals far more sophisticated than your stout fellows outside."
"So much for Mikhyel dunMheric's obsessive sense of propriety," Deymorin murmured.
Mikhyel's eyebrows rose.
"You'd be singing a different tune if it were your private books that had been invaded."
Mikhyel grinned openly. "No one gets past Raulind."
"Don't you mean Ganfrion?"
Mikhyel returned to his absorption. "Raulind rules my privacy, Deymorin, inside Rhomatum and out. Compared to Raulind, Ganfrion is positively accommodating."
"And what does Raulind think of Dancer?" Deymorin asked, casually concentrating on simple things, details of the desk, the books Mikhyel perused, anything to keep his true purpose here submerged, now the mental haze between them was gone.
"Her name is Temorii, Deymorin." It was a quiet rebuke, but the feelings beneath it were suddenly far from quiet. Mikhyel, whose mind previously had been a blank to him under such circumstances, was radiating resentment.
"We were introduced otherwise," Deymorin said, trying to keep to the surface of his thoughts. "Adjustments take time."
"Do they?" The tone was absent, cool, remote, attention all for the papers. "Well, this takes a special brand of hubris: dunTroyid of Orenum is requesting a flat fifty percent usage-tax reduction, claiming hardship and inability to make payroll. The orgy he threw in Khoratum last week would not only cover the tax, it would cover his payroll for six months." This, then the whiplash retort: " --Perhaps it's not Temorii at all you're finding difficult to adjust to."
The abrupt shifts of topic were Mikhyel at his most difficult.
"I don't know what you mean."
Mikhyel shot back: "You'll figure it out."
Habit, Deymorin told himself. Mikhyel was so accustomed to attack in their exchanges, he knew no other method. "Nikki and I were surprised, that's all," he said, striving to calm that resentment. "From what we'd gotten from you during your time in Khoratum, we had no idea your ringdancer was, well, our Dancer, if you will."
"Your Dancer. You display your own brand of hubris, brother. You never even mentioned her. Never told me of the sacrifice she made for me. The obligation left on my honor." The tone was almost conversational, in stark contrast to the words and seething anger below.
"Ease back, Khyel. Dancer told us not to say anything to you. To let you remember or not on your own. Hi--Her exact words, brother!"
"And you've always been so obedient to arbitrary instructions." The tone slipped, allowed bitterness through: "Even if you didn't tell me, did you never wonder what happened to her after she saved my life?"
"We've been just a bit occupied, brother! Mother and Dancer disappeared. We had no way of--"
Back to the papers, eyes averted, tone detached. "Viaprini. That name sounds familiar. I think I should consult Ganfrion on some of these. Does that meet with your approval, Rhomandi?"
"Of course. I--Dammit, Khyel, stop it!"
"Mother is one thing. You knew Temorii went off alone. A young woman, alone in the woods. Deserted. You knew that, and did nothing!"
"Kiyrstin tried, but Dancer refused to stay. Didn't want our thanks or our help. We did what we thought best. If we were wrong--If we were wrong, I'm truly sorry. But Mother and Dancer disappeared as abruptly as they appeared, and we had other concerns. How were we to foresee the coincidence that would throw you two together again? --if it was coincidence."
A muscle tensed in Mikhyel's lean jaw, but his gaze remained fixed on the log.
"This is disturbing. This message from Kiyrstin references a packet from Shatum for me that arrived at the Tower. That might have contained a message from Shamrii. Help me remember to give Kiyrstin clearance to open such things in my absence." The muscle jumped again. "Of course it was coincidence. After Boreton, Mother retreated to her caverns. The Khoratum line was radically diminished. Damaged. Mother was detached from the surface world. Temorii was deserted. Alone. She returned to Khoratum where she survived on her own under unimaginable conditions."
"Unimaginable to whom? There are hundreds like her throughout the web, Barrister."
"No one is born to live in squalor. Every child begins an innocent. They're all tragic stories."
"She was Mother's, for the gods' own sake!"
"They all have mothers, Khyel."
The color rose above his beard, but the gaze that lifted to meet his didn't falter.
"I . . . stand corrected. The difference is, none of those other ones saved my life." Mikhyel closed the log and rested his arms on the table. "Mother said Temorii had been with her since she was a small child. That she'd never lived anywhere but in the leythium caverns. You saw the Rhomatum caverns last night when we called on Rhomatum to help. That's the world she knew."
"That and Rhyys' court," Deymorin reminded him.
"That and Rhyys' court." Mikhyel conceded. "Still, she had no concept what was waiting for her in Lower Khoratum."
He'd forged ahead against the expectation of explosion. He pushed another step. "Temorii was far from naive, even at Boreton."
Mikhyel did not react. "Quite well-versed, actually. Rhyys made it a point to have all the radical dancer candidates tutored for intelligent conversation. He liked to show them off to visitors. It wasn't knowledge she was lacking; it was her involvement that was limited, until--"
Mikhyel broke off, staring into shadows.
"Until she lived the theoretical. Experience . . . changes a man's perspective--radically--on what's important."
"Who are we talking about? Temorii? Or a more personal experience?"
Mikhyel's eyes flicked back into focus on Deymorin.
"How did you meet her?"
Mikhyel opened the book again, turned a page and took a note. "Nikki's got a real talent for allocating resources. He's done an excellent job with the supply plans, and he's still managing to keep that dam project moving forward. Perhaps I should put him in charge of Alizant's little research project. What do you think?"
"Zandy? His encapsulator? Brother, is there any side trail you won't venture down to avoid an issue?"
"These problems don't take care of themselves, Deymorin. For every problem solved, three wait in the shadows. Alizant's project is on hold pending his reconstruction of the greater encapsulator, which he insists he can do. Once that is finished, I promised him an opportunity to demonstrate to investors. I think Nikki would do well with it, if he's interested." A breath. "--She was working in a tavern where I took refuge from a rain storm." Mikhyel glanced up. "Hardly a planned meeting. She was accosted by some customers. She ran. They followed. I followed them."
"What did you plan to do, talk them out of it?"
"No need to remind me of my physical limitations. I didn't know what I could do. As it turned out, my mere presence put a halt to the proceedings. They were very minor hoodlums."
"Even so, an unusual reaction for you."
This time, the grey eyes narrowed, gleamed at him from under lowered brows. Mikhyel's long black hair hung loose, forming a shadowing hood for his lean face.
"If you say so," Mikhyel said, and returned to the records.
On the other hand, a look like that might well have scared mountain-born troublemakers into more civilized behavior. Deymorin shook off his own spinal chill with a personal reminder that this was his brother, and that they were on the same side.
"What drew your attention to her in the first place?"
"What is this, Deymorin? Interrogation?"
"Just making conversation."
"Like hell. --He thinks Tem's the best thing that ever happened to me."
"He? Who? What the--"
"Keep your arguments organized, Rhomandi. Primary rule of effective debate. --Raul. He threatened to leave if I pursued my own suspicions of her. Does that satisfy your curiosity?"
"Maybe. Why'd you notice her?"
"Just keeping my arguments organized, Barrister."
"And I should reward your efforts."
A sudden hiss of near silent laughter preceded a pause, during which Deymorin applauded himself for having scored a solid hit. Then:
"Her eyes." Mikhyel's dropped to the table. "I'd seen that look."
"In a mirror."
Mikhyel started, stared unseeing at the papers.
"Temorii's eyes are much like yours, Mikhyel."
The eyes in question cast him a frowning glance. "Physically, I suppose. But it was her expression. This . . . determination to survive even though life had taken everything away."
"As I said."
The frown deepened, and Mikhyel's spidery fingers turned another page. "Life took nothing from me, Deymorin."
Cry no tears for Mikhyel, he would say. And in the strictest sense, in Mikhyel's legalese mind, he was right: what his life had lacked, it had never had in the first place.
And thanks to Temorii, one, at least, of those deficiencies had been filled.
So here he was, trying to . . . take that away.
"Likely it was from Boreton," Deymorin said casually. "When you woke up, you were looking straight at Dancer. Under the circumstances, a memorable impression, I'm sure."
Mikhyel mouth pulled into a reluctant smile. "Thank you, Deymorin."
"Don't thank me yet. What suspicions?"
The smile vanished. "I have many suspicions."
"You said Raulind would leave if you pursued your suspicions. What suspicions?"
"Have a good teacher, don't I?"
"There are times I truly wonder. --Moot, now. Something Ganfrion said."
"Moot. Even in light of recent developments?"
"Particularly in light of them."
Sensing the subject dangerously near the flash-point, Deymorin changed it.
"Nikki's gone. We should know by nightfall where Raulind and the others are."
"Again, my thanks."
"You're not the only one who's worried."
"Nonetheless, they are my responsibility. --Deymorin, why don't you sit down? I'm getting a kink in my neck."
"Sorry." Deymorin threw himself into a chair and crossed his legs. "So, why'd you endanger them all?"
"I didn't. I got them out--"
"At the last possible moment."
"I wouldn't say that."
"No, I imagine you wouldn't. We'd have lost without you."
"And anywhere along the leyline, I could have reached you. Even had Rhyys thrown me in prison. We knew physical proximity wasn't necessary, only that we be on the lines. We'd proven that."
"But you could have cleared out a full day earlier. Guaranteed both your safety and that of your men."
"If I'd left before the competition, Rhyys would have had Temorii killed--or denied her the chance to compete, which would have amounted to the same thing."
"Why? He'd have gained nothing by it."
"Spite? To muddle my thinking? Who knows? Rhyys didn't need reasons. But Gan said--"
"And suppose Ganfrion was right? Temorii was responsible for her own life. You did her a favor getting her into the competition."
"Not a favor, Deymorin. She lost her first chance saving my life. I owed her! No favor."
"All right. Your obligations. Still, you got her in before either of you knew the ramifications of your association. She could have pulled out with you."
"Dammit, Deymorin, don't discuss what you don't understand! Temorii's a dancer. A Khoratum radical dancer! It's taken a merging of souls the likes of which you can't even imagine for me to begin to comprehend, so don't tell me what her options were!"
"Merging souls? Darius save us, you're sounding more like a Harisham priest every day."
"Don't mock me, Deymorin!"
Mikhyel's eyes were flaming, the green rim growing so pronounced they seemed to glow with an inner light. And Mikhyel's anger battered at Deymorin's mind, trying to force understanding.
"Damn you, Mikhyel dunMheric!" Deymorin threw up the internal wall so abruptly that for a moment, he saw the world as solid granite.
When his vision cleared, Mikhyel was sprawled along the side of the tent, his awkwardly twisted body threatening the integrity of the entire structure.
Down, but far from out, as his eyes, gleaming from behind the shadowy curtain of his hair, attested.
Deymorin hauled his brother to his feet, held him there when his knees failed. It was old times with Mikhyel, head to head: he didn't want it, but he had it, and it had never done any good to back away, no matter how he didn't want this confrontation.
"You listen to me, brother Khyel," he hissed softly. "I don't know what your problem is, but you get yourself together and you keep your damned head where it belongs. I don't know what this person has done to you, but--"
Mikhyel wrenched free. "She's turned Hell's Barrister into a man."
Contents copyright 1999 Jane S. Fancher