(28 Dolefaren 413: The Crossing, Zoluren)
His green eyes pierced me as he stood there. His voice was gone from my ear, but my questions were not. I willed my petticoats not to rustle, breathing ever so carefully in the silence between conversations. I was an observer now, and I knew it. Protocol dictated it. He counted on it.
My thoughts drifted for a moment, following a scrap of melody. It toyed with my attentions and a fragment of a key lyric attached to it. I was supposed to be paying attention, though.
By now a woman was in the room, speaking. Speaking as if there were only two people present. “Am I invisible?” I wondered. The woman’s voice had a hard edge, a cynicism laced with sarcasm. She said too much, so fast. As he dismissed her, the woman gave a haughty laugh.
“That’s her tell,” I thought. What she had actually said no longer mattered. “I wonder if she realizes that just happened?”
His next appointment looked like a mage. The man spoke in a slow, purposeful manner. His questions bordered on accusing, his tone seemed more like measured threats. This one needed no reading. It was all out there. But before he left, he gave me a deferential nod with a small smile on his face. “Hmmm. What was that for?” I pondered it. Curious enough to remember.
One of Kalag the Black’s men strode in, missing nothing. (“Wait a minute, he’s dead. So is … Does that mean I am, too?”) After a formal bow, he turned to me, “Bardess, please excuse us, this is a delicate matter for his ears only.”
I turned my eyes from the Guilded Shadow and looked to the man in charge. I saw the spark in his eyes before he spoke, and knew what was next. I did not move a muscle or speak.
“Never question in whom I put my trust. She is here at my pleasure, and remains so.” He simply nodded at me and gazed back at the man.
I could see the doubt flash for a moment in the man’s eyes, and almost instantly be replaced by a cool gaze. The flash on his face told me he had not been prepared for that. His decision was made quickly, and I was about to find out what it was. He was the only person in this room with something to lose, though.
As the Shadow took a step forward, he began to speak in quiet tones. He made the right call. I note to myself, “It speaks well of him. There will be hell to pay for him later, I bet.” But not from the man he was speaking to, and not for long. There’s a pecking order to survival in this province.
As he finished and turned to leave, he glanced at me. Practice made perfect for him, the glance was nothing I could read. I gave him the same as my eyes met his.
A group was ushered in. “Dear Damaris, why are there so many here?” My thoughts remained only my own, though.
The delegation had only one spokesman. The rest were quiet, but not still. It was curious. The spokesman first over-flattered, then brought up mundane matters that belonged to another venue, another arbiter. The first was not unexpected, the second, odd. I did not watch the spokesman, only listened. I watched the others.
The unease that gripped me had no name. Identifying that much, all my senses were on alert. I finally caught the eye of the guardsman who did not register alarm, but his grip changed. I never looked at him unless something was amiss. It was our agreement in these situations.
Laughter. Laughter broke into my wariness. “Why was anyone laughing?” My eyes were drawn back to the two men speaking. “Should I laugh, too? No, I think not.”
Into that moment of not watching, of wondering, I missed something. An enchante sprang from within me, but too late. From their cloaks, some of the delegation had already drawn weapons and some dreadful wrong-magic filled the room. Two were already on the guard, two on me (Wow? I rated two?) and three were rushing the front of the room.
His green eyes looked towards me in alarm, and he took a step. The filthy magic confounded my enchante, but not my voice. I screamed a loud, ear-piercing scream that only comes from a trained voice. Everyone in the room looked at me, instinctively.
“Would it be enough? Could he get away?”
“NO!” he shouted as extra people rushed me.
“No!” I shouted, to him.
It was the last thing I said. Unconsciousness crept first to my ears, of all things. My very life depended on my ears. I was deaf, and that panicked me! The attackers turned from me; all the color was draining from the scene as life drained from me. The guard was already laying on the floor, and he … he was falling. My heart broke with a dissonance that would have cracked the foundations, if I were …
Blackness fell upon my mind. I tried to scream. Nothing came out.
…I bolted straight up in bed, screaming without control, sobbing. I reached for the comfort shared in our bed.
I was alone.