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The Player, Part 2

            When the music changed, Artus noticed. He entertained the notion that the change was, in fact, the signal, but since no one was screaming and none of the guards were yelling ‘get him,’ he figured it wasn’t.

            Artus was something of a musician himself. In the fields as a boy he had taken up the daer whistle to pass the time. It was a simple instrument with a sweet, pure voice, and he still carried one with him when they were on the road, much to Tyvian’s chagrin. Tyvian had told him, in no uncertain terms, that the whistle was ‘a crude, mechanical instrument lacking the capacity to capture true human passion of feeling.’ Artus had never really known what he was talking about, considering the violins and cellos that Tyvian favored to be squawky, fancy, and womanish. When the music started, however, Artus thought he might have changed his mind.

            The sound produced by the quartet was immediately sensual and tragic at the same time. The two violins wept with a bleeding passion, rising and falling as the beating of a breaking heart, whilst the cello and bass set a deep, thrumming beat. As one violin sang to another, as two lovers bidding farewell, Artus could actually feel himself blush.

            The dance floor had emptied with an almost frenzied haste when the song began. It was not until it was completely empty that Tyvian, the Lady Velitiere held close in his arms, stepped out. Artus barely suppressed a yelp. “What the hell is he doing?

            Tyvian always said that ‘the dance is nine-tenths of courtship,’ and Artus would never have believed him had he never seen Tyvian dance before. He had, as it happened, and he knew Tyvian was good—very good—and no man would practice that much if he didn’t think it was useful. Even still, Artus had never seen, much less heard of the dance Tyvian was doing now—if he had, he would have demanded that Tyvian teach it to him a long time ago.

            Tyvian and Velitiere held one another cheek-to-cheek, hip-to-hip, and slid across the floor as one person. This was not a dance of formality, this was a dance of passion. As Tyvian manipulated the lovely noblewoman around his body, her hands sliding up his arms and through his hair, Artus began to get worried. Hann, she was enjoying it! A married woman nearly twice his age!

            Artus looked around and tried to gauge the audience’s reaction. There was nothing but staring.

            “Tell me, monsieur, who is that man?”

            Artus turned around. A pretty young Akrallian woman, no more than seventeen, was gazing at the couple with her dark eyes wide. Looking around again, he discovered that she must have been talking to him. “Uhhh…who, him?”

            Her tight blonde ringlets bobbed as she nodded. “Oui, monsieur. The one who is such a fine dancer.”

            Artus swallowed and then adopted his best Tyvian-esque swagger. “Well, madame, he is actually a good friend of mine.”


            “Artus Vedda of Jondas Crossing, madame, at your service.” He managed a bow and kissed her hand.

            She giggled. “Aren’t you the gentleman? You’re a northerner, aren’t you?”

            Artus blushed. How did they always bloody know? “Yes, ma’am…madame.”

            She clapped. “How exciting! Do tell me about it.”

            Artus began to.


* * * * * * * *

            Velitiere was a good dancer, but out of practice. It took several bars on the floor before Tyvian got her to loosen up, but when she did, it was all he could do to keep her under control.

            She tried to lead, she pulled him closer, she brushed her lips along his neck. As the Revien Nu’Kasaar reached its stride, Tyvian began to lose himself in the dance. It stopped mattering who she was, it only mattered that she was there. When he spun her, he spun her hard, and when she returned, she clung to him like an old lover. They moved together, beat by beat, phrase by lovely phrase.

            Her eyes passed before him, and he dove into them. Gods, they were Jaliette’s eyes. Refracting in them was the same spark that he remembered when they spent four days on that ship to Ihyn. They had rested in the captain’s cabin, and the shinh’ar wanderling on board taught her to catch fish off the side. Back when they were partners, back when Jaliette was free…back when Jaliette was his.

            The Revien Nu’Kasaar’s final movement was more energetic than the others, and it was here that the dance grew taxing. Velitiere was out of breath, but was not to be stopped. Tyvian dipped and swung her like a doll, sliding from move to move with practiced grace. Her hair had come undone, her chest heaved, and her elaborate dress had been shedding jewels like leaves in autumn. As the music reached its crescendo, Tyvian’s dexterous hand slipped up Velitiere’s back, plucked the Eye of H’siri from its fastening around her neck, and secreted it in his sleeve. In the heat of the moment, and as the Revien Nu’Kasaar died a fiery death in a deep, deep dip, the Lady Velitiere never noticed.

            The music stopped. Silence, a single clap, then another…and another. The whole of the ballroom erupted into applause. Tyvian, smiling to himself, pulled his partner to her feet. Everything was going according to plan. All he had to do now was walk out the door.

            Then she kissed him—a deep, Akrallian kiss, tongue and all. It was a good kiss. It was also about then that everything started to go wrong.

            “Mother!” Jaliette, handfuls of wedding gown bunched in her hands, rushed between Tyvian and his dancing partner.

            Tyvian couldn’t resist. “I’m sorry, Jaliette, but I’m too winded for another dance just now. Maybe you and Remieux could go on a march.”

            Jaliette slapped him. Remieux, in a brand new doublet, was barging through the crowd his way. The bubble of open space the dance had created was collapsing at an exponential rate.

            “Monsieur!” Orsienne’s voice was thick with wine. “I would wish that you make your intentions towards my wife clear!”

            Velitiere broke away from him, her chest still heaving, her eyes distant, lost. Tyvian wagered that he had approximately five seconds until she noticed the Eye was gone. He started a countdown.


            Jaliette was before him. “What are you trying to do, Tyvian?”


            Remieux was closer, but the gawkers, bless them, were in the way.


            Tyvian caught her hand. “Jaliette, do you really love him?”


            Jaliette’s mouth dropped open. “What…I…”



            Everyone stopped to look at Lady Velitiere. She was shaking, a hand pawing absently at the empty clasp at her throat. “I’ve lost it!”

            Lord Orsienne held up his arms. “A thousand marks to the one who finds the Eye!”

            Half the guests bent over. Jaliette was with the other half. “Tyvian, you didn’t…”

            “First answer my question.” Tyvian looked to see Remieux was less than three paces away. “Quickly, please.”

            She inhaled, held it, released. “Of course not.”

            Remieux pushed Tyvian in the chest. “Get away from my wife, Reldamar.”

            Behind them, he could hear Orsienne yell. “Did anyone see it fall off? Velitiere, perhaps it’s in your dress somewhere.”

            Tyvian looked at Jaliette, then at Remieux. A little voice inside him piped up. “Oh, what the hell.”

            He spit in Remieux’s eye.

            Remieux roared and pulled a blade-less hilt from his belt. “Veris’hassa’i LeMondaux!” At the sound of the incantation, a rapier of mageglass grew out of the hilt like some shimmering thornbush. “I call you to the field of honor, Monsieur. If you haven’t a weapon, one will be provided.”

            Tyvian slipped Chance from his boot. “Veris’hassa’i Chance!” The two blades were very similar, but Chance was clearly the higher quality. Its hand guard was far more ornate and as it moved, the air sang around it.

            “Remieux, don’t!” Jaliette stepped between them.

            Remieux’s black eyes narrowed. “Is he your lover, then? Would you take his side over mine?”

            Jaliette’s face fell as she began to speak. Tyvian could almost hear the tears coming. “Remieux, I didn’t want to tell you, but…”

            Tyvian cut her off. “What she means to say, Remieux, is that she fears for your life. She’s seen me fight, you know.”

            Lord Orsienne looked up from his search. “Great Gods, whatever is going on now?

            Between the dance, the kiss, the lost diamond, the duel, and the restrictive nature of the corset, some women at the ball passed out from the excitement. This, of course, led to more excitement, which in turn led to more women passing out. The end result was that of mass chaos. Men called for water from all over the ballroom. The women who managed to remain conscious tried very hard to find somewhere to sit down. Guards carried the unconscious to the guest rooms upstairs. Lord Orsienne tried to console his panicking wife. Jaliette tried to console a panicking Lord Orsienne, and, in the middle of it all, Remieux and Tyvian faced off across a strip of well-inlaid ballroom floor.

            “To the death, is it?” Tyvian assumed the en garde position.

            Remieux did the same. “I’ve no wish to kill you—first blood.”


            “To the death then!”

            “A little drastic for a spit in the eye, wouldn’t you say?” Tyvian grinned.

            “Silence!” Remieux flechéd, which is to say, he performed a running leap with his sword out. Tyvian parried effortlessly and turned him aside.

They squared off once more. Remieux moved like a hunter, each foot placed deliberately, every motion of his blade precise. Tyvian danced, his blade a consistent blur of motion. They clashed in a quick series of attacks and counter-attacks once, twice. Remieux was strong, and Tyvian could feel the force of his blows travel through Chance and up his arm. If the captain connected, Tyvian was spitted like a hog and he knew it.

“Why are you here, Saldorian?” Remieux’s sword twisted to a pronated position. “Trying to steal Jaliette from me?”

“Something like that.” Tyvian lunged, Remieux was ready. He retreated past Chance’s reach and counter-lunged. The point of his blade, LeMondaux, made a ribbon of blood across Tyvian’s cheek.

“You are no kind of man, Reldamar.” Remieux continued, changing his guard position again. Tyvian had been expecting to fight a man who was using Bon’chaire, the Akrallian school of fencing, but the military officer kept switching from style to style. Until Tyvian could nail down a pattern, he wouldn’t know what to expect. If he wasn’t careful, he could walk into another trap.

Remieux kept talking. “A man should get a woman and keep a woman. He should give her a home and a family. You? You are nothing but a toy they play with and throw away.”

Tyvian feinted, Remieux fell for it. He could have gone for the heart, but he simply cut a ribbon along the captain’s cheek. “Look, Remieux, we’re twins!”

Remieux attacked hard and fast. Tyvian parried blow after blow, retreating quickly. He fell backwards over a servant, still searching for the Eye. Remieux shot forward for a final blow. Tyvian threw himself to the right as the tip of LeMondaux buried itself in the wood floor. As Tyvian scrambled to his feet, the Eye opted to slip out of a hidden sleeve pocket and inconveniently skitter across the ballroom floor.

The Eye could not have been more conspicuous if it had been accompanied by war drums. It clattered against the floor in a staccato rhythm, breaking the crowd into an awkward silence. Everyone saw it, and everyone saw Tyvian run over to grab it.

Lord Orsienne yelled the first obligatory word. “Thief!” He then followed it up with the second. “Guards!”

Before ‘seize him’ managed to cross Orsienne’s mind, Remieux stepped in the way. “No! He’s mine.”

Tyvian entertained a few theories as to how Remieux could have become so ridiculously stupid. “Artus, now!”

Nothing happened.

Remieux attacked, Tyvian defended. “Artus, now!

Tyvian was driven back again. He’d figured out Remieux’s pattern now, he could take him at any time, but killing him wouldn’t solve anything. The longer they fought, the more time he had to figure out an escape. If the captain fell, the guards fell on him. Still, pattern or no, he couldn’t hold off Remieux forever. “ARTUS!”


* * * * * * * *

            Her name was Ysabette, and she was perfect. Perfect little turned up nose, perfect delicate hands, perfect gentle voice—everything was just perfect. Ysabette had invited Artus out to sit in the garden until the song was over, so they could talk some more.

            She was actually fascinated with his common past. She kept asking questions about the sheep, and about all his brothers and sisters, and about whether he had ever seen a real arahk or not. He told her story after story, and she just kept laughing! It was simply amazing. Artus didn’t think noble blood could produce such girls.

            “Artus, why did you run away from home?” Ysabette nestled her head against his shoulder.

            Artus looked through a space in the branches of the briarleaf tree above them and watched the half moon. “I didn’t want to go to war, like my brothers did.”

            “Why? You weren’t scared, were you? I can’t imagine you being scared.”

            “No, I wasn’t scared…well, not really. I didn’t want to put Ma through it. I was the last boy in the house—I had four brothers, and all of them went to fight the arahk. Marik was the only one come back. I figured, if I ran away, at least I’d be alive, and Ma’d know that, and she’d be happier than if I was dead in some marsh in Roon.”

            “Oh.” Ysabette took his hand and traced the tendons on the back with one finger. “I would love to have a sheep. My mother won’t let me have any pets except stupid birds, and they always die. It isn’t my fault, either—they just get a chill and then drop dead.”

            “Mmm-hmm.” Artus closed his eyes. He heard a lot of noise coming from the ball room. He wondered vaguely what Tyvian was up to.

            Ysabette perked up. “Did you hear your name just now?”

            “Don’t think so, why?”

            She shrugged, then shivered. “It is a cool night, Artus. I love it.”

            Artus stood and gave her his jacket. “Here. Where I’m from, this is a hot summer day.”

            Ysabette giggled and curled up under the coat. In the background, the roar of the ballroom faded into his subconscious like a crowd that cheered only for him.

The Player, Part 1


            “It’s a bad idea.”

            “Artus, are you suggesting that I cannot do it?” Tyvian Reldamar surveyed the glasses of red wine on the tray offered him by a powder-wigged servant. He dipped a finger into one and tasted. Making a face, he waved the tray away.

            “I didn’t say you couldn’t do it, I just said it was a bad idea.” Artus scratched under his lace collar for the twelfth time that hour.

            Tyvian slapped his hand. “Please, Artus, try not to look so pedestrian.”

            Around them, in a grand ballroom of shimmering mageglass and ivory, the ball progressed much as it had that last hour. As a string quartet played a Saldorian waltz, women floated through the dance in massive dresses like a fleet of galleons on maneuvers, their hair and sleeves glittering with enchanted jewelry and illumite. Watching from the sidelines, wealthy old men smoked imported tracco from Ivistan, and clapped their hands to send black-liveried servants scurrying. Voices were polite and muffled; the smiles were plentiful and insincere.

            “Is this the whole reason you came here?” Artus was doing his best, but was still uncomfortable. Not a year ago he was just some northern peasant boy, running from home, trying to dodge the draft, knife-fighting in the streets of Freegate, eating only what he could steal. Now he was shoe-horned into some frilly gentleman’s outfit standing among people whom, upon a whim, could buy all the possessions of his family farm five times over and not even skip a meal. Hann’s Boots! They wouldn’t even have to skip an hors d’oeuvre.

            Tyvian smiled. “I don’t think she’d even miss it.”

            “It’s a two-pound diamond resting between her breasts. She’ll miss it.” Across the room from where they stood, the Lady Velitiere Numeux du Akral stood beside her husband, Lord Orsienne. She had chosen this evening, the night of her daughter’s marriage, to showcase her most infamous of possessions, the Eye of H’siri. Until now, Artus had been confused as to why Tyvian insisted upon coming to Jaliette’s marriage celebration. Now he knew.

            Tyvian fiddled with the plain iron ring on his finger. It seemed out of place when matched with his incomparably exquisite clothing, but then he was never without it. “Is Marik waiting with the horses?”

            “Yes. Is this really necessary?”

            Tyvian gave Artus a wink. “Is anything?”

            Artus snatched a glass of wine from a passing tray and downed it in one gulp. “This won’t get you Jaliette back, you know.”

            “Who cares? Jaliette’s just a woman.”


            Tyvian slipped into the crowd.

            Artus surveyed the layout of the ballroom for the fifth time since entering. Four chandeliers of mageglass and illumite, which wouldn’t break, but they’d fall readily enough; sixteen windows, approximately twenty feet tall and very breakable; twelve guards in plain sight, all breakable to varying degrees. Of course, then there was Lord Orsienne Numeux du Akral himself—a former initiate of the Arcanostrum who could have been, had he chosen that path, a staff-bearing mage. He might be trouble, real trouble.

            Artus sighed. “Why does every party end like this?”


* * * * * * * *

Tyvian coasted across the dance floor, noting the intricate pattern in which the wood had been inlaid. Good workmanship, that. He’d have to remember it for that far distant day when he was too old to do anything else but buy a house.

            He spotted Jaliette on Remieux’s—no, make that her husband’s—arm. A military fellow, was Ramieux, which on this side of the Dragonspine meant broad shoulders and a barrel chest to hold in all the hot air. Tyvian set a direct course for their position, cutting through a few waltzing couples. A few of them complained, but he didn’t tarry long enough to listen.


            She turned around. “Tyvian?” A white gown with sapphires to match her eyes, her midnight hair bound atop her head by an elaborate marital apparatus of pins and pearls. To think he’d almost had her. She could have ruined his life, and he might have let her.

            He bowed with a grace born of blood and the tutor’s lash. “You are stunning, as ever, milady.”

            She had the temerity to blush. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

            “I wasn’t expecting to be invited.”

            “You weren’t.”

            Tyvian smiled. “I know.”

            “Monsieur Reldamar, I presume.” Remieux extended a gloved hand. “Jaliette has spoken of you. I had the privilege of meeting your mother last spring—a truly brilliant woman.”

            Tyvian took his hand, and Remieux gripped hard. “The pleasure was all hers, Captain, I’m sure.”

            “You should come visit us sometime.” Remieux squeezed harder, smiling.

            Tyvian put one leg back in time to trip a passing servant. With a clatter, the poor fellow’s tray of soft Eddon cheese and cocktail wafers splattered all over Remieux’s immaculate uniform. “I’ll be sure to.” Tyvian returned the captain’s smile.

            “Clumsy fool!” Remieux glowered over the groveling servant. He even went so far as take off his glove to strike him. Fortunately for the servant, the quizzical gazes of polite society stayed his hand.

            Tyvian examined his sleeve for crumbs—none, thank Hann. Remieux, of course, looked like a buffet. “It seems as though your doublet may have suffered a fatal wound, Captain. Perhaps you ought to attend to it.”

            Remieux wiped away his rage long enough to favor Jaliette with a tender kiss. “I’m afraid he’s right, my lovely. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

            “Hurry.” Jaliette let her eyes linger on Remieux’s wide back for a moment before turning to Tyvian. “You haven’t changed.”

            Tyvian moved a strand of her hair back into place. “Ah, but I have, my dear. I seem to be short one lover.”

            Jaliette stepped back. “Ex-lover, and you never seem to have a shortage.”

            He caught her hand in his. “Come, introduce me to your parents.”

            Jaliette searched Tyvian’s face for the joke. He composed his face into a mask of earnestness, but he could tell she saw the sparkle in his ocean-blue eyes. “What are you scheming?”

Tyvian laughed. That was what he liked most about Jaliette—she always knew when he was planning something. It had made the chase that much more interesting. “Nothing drastic, I assure you.”

            “Since when do you do anything that isn’t drastic?”

            “Since now.” He kissed the back of her hand so lightly that she couldn’t even feel it through her glove. He backed the gesture up with his most winning smile. “Please?”

            Jaliette growled something under her breath and led him off.


* * * * * * * *

            Artus’s pickpocket hands twitched as he shouldered through the wealthy throngs to where the ropes that held up the chandeliers were tied off. He would have put his hands in his own pockets to stem the urge, if only he had pockets. Bloody pants cost fifty gold marks and didn’t even have any bloody pockets.

Tyvian’s ettiquete lessons welled up in his head. ‘Pockets are the province of those too poor to have porters. If it’s too precious to give to your man, it’s too precious to be carrying about, anyway.’  Easy for him to say, what with Artus and Marik carrying around all his junk, but what if you were the man? What then? Bloody stupid nobles and their bloody stupid rules.

Artus made it to the chandelier tie-off and along the way only snatched two wallets, a bracelet, and a truly foul tasting meat pie off someone’s plate. He wasn’t sure, but he thought it had spinefish in it. It figured—only Akrallian fops and lunatics would spend that much money to put a poisonous fish in a pie.  

Having no pockets, Artus simply deposited most of his booty in the corner by the chandelier ropes. He selected the fattest of the wallets from the bunch to stuff in his shirt. It was now his job to wait for Tyvian’s signal. Of course, he had no idea what that would be. Tyvian had only said it would be ‘obvious.’ Artus hoped he was right. Between all the money and all the girls, this was an easy place to get distracted, and he didn’t feel like waiting all night.


* * * * * * * *

            Lord Orsienne Numeux du Akral was built like a porcelain teapot—squat, pale, and decorative. Tyvian entertained the notion that, were he pushed down the stairs, the Akralian noble would start rolling and never stop, his stubby little arms and legs flapping like the fins on a turtle. His wife, as though through the artifice of some storybook convention, was tall and graceful despite her years. How the spheroid Lord Orsienne had secured such a beauty for a bride was utterly beyond Tyvian, though he was grateful that Jaliette took after the Lady Velitiere. He had a rule about bedding egg-shaped women.

            “Very pleased I am to meet you, Monsieur Reldamar. I had the privilege of being instructed by your mother whilst at the Arcanostrum. Never was an archmage so skilled at conveying the intricacies of Etheric enchantment.” Lord Orsienne passed Tyvian a glass of his atrocious wine. Tyvian took it and resolved to find a convenient plant in which to dump it at his earliest opportunity.

            “My mother spoke of you as well, milord.” Tyvian lied.

            Lord Orsienne’s painted eyebrows shot up an inch. “Really? I’m flattered! It was nothing bad, I hope.”

            “Of course not.”

            Orsienne poked his wife in the shoulder. “Did you hear that, Velitiere? Maybe I should have stayed and been a mage, eh?”

            The Lady Velitiere smiled. “How is it that you know my daughter, monsieur? I’m surprised that she did not bring a man of such good family to our attention sooner.”

            Jaliette pounced on the question. “We do not know each other well, mother. I’ve only met Tyvian a few times, and then only briefly.”

            Tyvian smirked. “And we didn’t do much talking.”

            Jaliette scowled.

            “I see.” Lady Velitiere put a hand on the Eye. The big diamond, made her hand look thin, almost sickly.

            The conversation progressed at a plodding, predictable rate. Tyvian was consistently amazed at the consummate worthlessness of so-called ‘noble’ conversation. He would have taken the company of a hundred drunken criminals over a single lord if for no other reason than the criminals would have something interesting to say. Of course, it would be stupid and interesting, but that was better than stupid and uninteresting, which appeared to be the overriding motif in Lord Orsienne’s anecdotes.

            “…and then the footman said, ‘yes monsieur, if you please!’” Orsienne erupted into a fit of laughter. Tyvian conjured the picture of him rolling down the stairs again, and laughed along.

            Jaliette’s laughter was light and airy. Tyvian knew that laugh—that was her fake laugh. She had used it before when the two of them were together—‘partners,’ as she called it—and they were caught by pirates or about to be roasted by a firedrake or some similarly dire situation. Tyvian could hear her sarcasm before it arrived. “Oh, Father—you tell that story so well. You must excuse me, I think Remieux must be missing his bride by now.”

            “Who wouldn’t?” Tyvian smiled. Before she left, Jaliette shot him a glare.

            “Now, Monsieur Reldamar…”

            “Please, milord, call me Tyvian.”

            Lord Orsienne clapped his hands. “So be it, Tyvian. And for you, a Reldamar, I shall grant the privilege of addressing me as Orsienne! What of that, eh?”

            Tyvian bowed. “I am flattered, Orsienne.”

            “Naturally, Tyvian. Now, as I was saying, I remember back in the fifty-seventh year of the Keeper Polimeux—the last time a son of Akral was privileged with the Seat—I was a young boy and I had this falcon…”

            Tyvian let Orsienne drone on, nodding when he thought it might be appropriate. He let his eyes drift to the Eye of H’siri and, more importantly, to that which cradled it. Velitiere may have been a woman some twenty years his senior, but her bosom seemed none the worse for wear. She was, in fact, better endowed than Jaliette herself, which, he reminded himself, was only natural for a woman who had borne a child…at least, he was relatively certain that was natural. He was a nobleman, not a midwife, so he didn’t know all the intricate details of such things. Maybe when Jaliette had popped out a brat or two, he could conduct a comparative exercise.

            Ordinarily, Tyvian would eye an attractive woman for recreational purposes alone, but this case was different. He wasn’t about to bed Orsienne’s wife, though not out of any respect for Orsienne. Rather, it was based off the assumption that a woman who would willingly submit to a union with some vapid penguin of a man undoubtedly was afflicted with a mental or emotional deficiency that Tyvian wanted no part of. No, Tyvian’s discerning examination of Velitiere’s more womanly attributes was based solely in his wish for her to notice him doing so, and to secure her enthusiasm when he asked her to dance.

            “…and the falcon, it flew away! Ha!” Orsienne had finished his glass of wine and immediately began another. Tyvian smiled and nodded.

            They were midway through another tedious anecdote when Velitiere noticed. She blushed and put her hand to the Eye again. “A nervous habit…” Tyvian licked his lips ever so subtly, “…I suppose I’ll just have to make her comfortable.”

            Tyvian met her eyes. They were Jaliette’s—clear crystal blue. As Orsienne droned, Tyvian and Velitiere had a conversation of looks and expressions. At first, Tyvian did all the ‘talking.’ With subtle twists of his lips, the careful motion of his head, and the practiced flicker of his deep eyes, he spoke:

            “You’re beautiful. Don’t you know that you’re beautiful? Come closer to me. Please, I’m begging you.”

            At last, Velitiere let out a breath, and her eyes began to speak back.


            Tyvian inclined his head.“Why?”

            Velitiere shrugged and nodded towards Orsienne. “My husband…”

            Tyvian let his lips twist into the barest smirk and shook his head. “Him? He doesn’t care. He doesn’t even know.”

            Velitiere shook her head. “I don’t like this.”

            Tyvian fixed himself with the barest pout—a manly pout, but still a pout.“Please?”

            Velitiere played with the ends of her hair absently, glancing around.“I’m flattered but…”

            Tyvian let his eyes fix on hers.“You are beautiful.”

            She let her hand brush her neck and inclined her head.“Thank you.”

            Tyvian shot Orsienne a dismissive look and smiled at her.“He doesn’t appreciate you. How will it hurt?”

            She sighed just enough.“Speak to me.”

            “…and that’s why I never go to Iyhn without a…”

            “Orsienne?” Tyvian interrupted.

            The nobleman tripped on his words. “Yes?”

            Tyvian never took his eyes from Velitiere. “May I ask your wife to dance?”

            Orsienne blinked, downed his wine. “Well…uhhh…certainly Tyvian. Is that all right with you, my dear?”

            Velitiere extended her hand. “Are you a good dancer, Monsieur Reldamar?”

            Tyvian called to the string quartet. “Conductor, play me the Revien Nu’Kasaar.”

He was pleased at the gasp.