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A fantasy with humanoid telepathic characters, Zezilia's tale is being written for a young adult/adult audience. Telepathic communication, or sending, is noted within the text by the use of '~' before and after the dialogue. I am interested in any comments you might have. Thank you in advance for the feedback. :)
© 2006 Rachel Rossano
The whispers about the High King’s absence from the formal breaking of the fast the next morning kept the gossips busy. Right afterwards, the Talents gathered in the southern parlor to discuss on how to handle the ascension of the next High King. Among the gathered were all of King Ilar’s sons, a prince of the house of Sabina, and two of the house of Marcellus. Aside from them, forty others of lower houses and common houses filled the room to capacity.
I chose a chair at the back. Within the ranks of the Talented, outside political rank meant nothing. It was drilled into our heads from the moment we began training. A commoner’s son could out rank a prince among the Talented. The current Sept Son was a pig farmer’s son. Within the Talented, level of talent and courtesy to others was all that mattered. I, being a Proctor’s son, ranked higher among the talented than all the princes present because of my age, training, and ability. Yet, it was something that one didn’t call attention to.
Tristan, a prince of the house of Ynyr, rose to his feet. The whispers lowered and all conversations dropped to the mental level.
“Talented young men,” he began, “There is an issue that the Sept Son wishes for us to address this morning. He sent Master Horace with a special missive for your discussion and recommendation.” He then bowed Master Horace into the place of honor.
The High King stood on the brink of the downward slope toward death. The doctors gave him three years at best, nine months at least. The Sept Son wasn’t much better. Old Neleck neared his ninetieth annum. Though his spirit and talent remained strong, age worked against his body. Thus everyone worried about who would go first and how that would affect the succession.
The High Throne did not pass from father to son, but from kingly house to kingly house. Right now, the royal house of Honorus led by Uiseann held the High Throne. But once Uiseann died, the Sept Son would appoint the new family to take the rule.
“But what if Neleck dies first?” one of the young talents asked as Master Horace took his seat.
“Then the new Sept Son will appoint the new High King,” Tristan of Ynyr replied.
A few of the younger men stole glances in my direction. As one of the three current seventh sons in the kingdom, I was one of the candidates for the position.
“So, if High King Honorus dies first, may he live forever, Euginius becomes High King because Neleck favors him, but if Neleck goes first, we will not know.” The same young man persisted to state the situation despite his comrades’ efforts to stop him.
“Boy,” Tristan of Ynyr growled, “If you do not cease, I shall have you removed.” The boy fell silent, but the angry look on his face bode ill for his temper.
“Now,” Tristan continued, “I have summoned you all to find a solution to another possibility that we hope does not happen: the High King and Sept Son dying within a month of each other, thus preventing the instatement of a new Sept Son before an heir must be named.”
Murmuring flowed across the room like wild fire. I glanced over at Errol Silas. He and I had discussed this possibility only three weeks ago. Sitting back in his chair with his hands folded on his broad middle, Errol didn’t look like he was paying much mind to the proceedings at all. I frowned. He looked too calm.
“You put him up to this,” I accused.
Errol didn’t even shift. ~It seemed that no one other than us has given thought to the possibility. I simply mentioned it as an unlikely scenario to the Sept Son. He felt it needed to be discussed.~
I resisted frowning at him. The only solution we had come up with for such a scenario was to have the successor installed and acting as soon as possible. That would be the only way to insure a smooth transition for both positions. Unknown to all but Neleck, Errol, and myself, I was already chosen as the next Sept Son. It wasn’t a choice I relished, but for the glory and work of the one true God, I was willing to do it.
I waited and listened in unhappy silence as the men around me debated their way to our conclusion. I took them even longer than Errol and I on our own. Partially because the youngling with the big mouth kept interrupting to ask answered questions or insert completely unrelated antidotes. Before long I found myself glancing at the height of the sun. At this rate I was going to be late meeting Donellea Ilar.
The discussion stalled as one of the younger men began carrying on about the distantly related topic of reworking the provision arrangement for the Sept Son’s sons. I sought out Errol’s mind. ~May I respectfully request a recess?~
Errol turned his head and looked at me with a raised eyebrow. ~What is the hurry?~
~I promised Donellea Ilar a tour of the gardens this morning in payment for my rudeness last evening. I am already late.~
~I will see what I can do.~ Errol returned his attention to Tristan. I picked up a small sending and within minutes Tristan dismissed the meeting.
~I am impressed.~
~Don’t be, he was thinking the same thing. All I did was suggest that we end now because I had an appointment to keep.~
~Thank you.~ I rose with the others and turned to take a short cut out the tall glass doors into the gardens.
~Greet Zezilia for me. I shall be seeking her out later after I have another argument with her father.~
I stepped out into the warm humid air wondering what argument Errol was going to use to convince strong minded Ostin Ilar that he should allow his daughter to be trained. Then I put the thought from my mind. I had a duty to perform.
Slipping through the bushes that lined the carefully trimmed paths, I cut across the manicured lawns. I didn’t truly expect her to be still waiting where I asked, but it would be a good place to start looking.
As I anticipated, the bench beneath the willow was empty.
“Master Aleron.” I turned at the sound to find her watching me with great amusement in her grey eyes. Only then did I realize that I probably looked quite foolish bursting through the shrubbery and scanning the area like a man searching for a lost glove. But before I could make a better impression, she laughed.
I tried to compose myself in a manner better befitting my age and station. But when I beheld her amusement at my expense, I suddenly realized that it was the first time I had seen her smile. It lit up her face in a way that was quite enchanting. I couldn’t help but appreciate the change. I decided to play along. Sweeping a deep bow, I said, “My dear Donellea Ilar, I must yet again request your graceful forgiveness.”
“All is forgiven,” I assured him, but he wouldn’t hear of it.
“Don’t you know that you are required to make me suffer?” His dark eyes were only half serious while his face looked severe. “Please ask a boon of me for being so thoughtless.”
I studied him for a moment, unsure whether or not he was teasing me. Well, teasing or not there was something that he could do for me. “You can answer my questions.”
He inclined his head. “With pleasure.” Then gesturing toward the path, he asked, “Shall we walk and talk?”
I agreed and we set off.
“Is it true that there are talented females?”
“Yes, I have encountered a few and I have heard of more.”
“Master Silas informs me that I am one,” I told him.
He nodded while studying the path ahead. “I would agree. You certainly are receptive to sending which is the first sign.”
I frowned. Master Silas’ touch and the word in my mind had been vastly different than the sending from Master Aleron. “Does it always feel like that?”
He looked over at me and quirked an eyebrow. “Like what?”
“You know, a taste in the mouth and the pressure of something touching inside your head.” I struggled to find the words for the feeling, but those were all that came and they seemed inadequate.
“The taste, yes,” he agreed. “Each sender has a different taste and some have sensations that come with the words.”
“So, every time Master Silas sends a thought to you, your mouth tastes plums.” I looked up at him.
He smiled and nodded. “Yes.”
“What do I taste like?” I asked.
He laughed and stopped. “You are the first person to ask me that.”
“You mean you don’t know what you taste like?”
He smiled at that. “I have been told my taste defies description. I am not saying it to be prideful. There just isn’t a substance that anyone knows of that matches mine.”
I nodded. That I believed. His taste was different than anything I had ever tasted. “When you interrupted my thoughts, did you…” I looked up to find him watching my face with a thoughtful look. “Am I wrong to ask?”
“No,” he replied slowly. “I just…” Then suddenly turning away, he began striding down the path toward the water gardens. I had to trot at a very unladylike pace to keep up with him.
“I am sorry,” I offered.
“But I must have offended you and I am sorry.”
He stopped abruptly. I took two additional steps before stopping a little ahead of him. When I turned back to ask what was bothering him, I found his dark eyes watching me with a peculiar expression. “Would you allow me to touch your thoughts again?” he asked.
I could think of no reason to not let him. It wasn’t as if I could do anything to stop him if he truly wanted to touch them. “Only if you tell me my taste,” I demanded.
“Agreed.” Then taking my hand, he drew me aside behind a clump of jurnar bushes. The jurnars’ thick leaves and heavy blossoms effectively hid out presence from the path. Then releasing my hands, he stepped back and closed his eyes.
“Don’t you need to touch my forehead?” I asked, remembering Master Silas’ sending.
He shook his head. “I brushed your thoughts from across the room last night. Now concentrate on relaxing.” I took a deep breath and watched his face as I waited for that strange taste to come again.
~Can you hear me?~ The words blossomed my head as his heady taste flooded my taste buds.
“Yes,” I said aloud.
~Good,~ he replied. I could somehow sense his pleasure at my reply. ~Now, shut me out.~
Shut him out? How?
~Push me away, only not with your hands. Do it with your thoughts.~
I wasn’t sure it would work, but I tried to comply, closing my eyes in concentration. Then abruptly his presence in my head was gone. I hadn’t identified the feeling of his existence there until suddenly it was gone leaving an empty space. I cautiously opened my eyes to find him still standing a few feet away. He was studying my features with a thoughtful brown gaze.
“So?” I asked.
He gave me a half smile. “You definitely taste like mint.” I must have looked slightly surprised for his amusement deepened. “Hoping for something more exotic?”
“No, just wouldn’t have guessed mint.”
“Be thankful you aren’t like some.”
“I have met people who taste like flat bread and rancid butter.”
I silently agreed with him that I was thankful I was mint.
“Come, enough of work,” he said as he led me back to the path. “I have yet to show you my favorite part of the gardens.” He led me off among the shimmery cool pools of the water garden.
When we reached the other side where the manmade streams emptied into the riverbed, he instructed me to close my eyes. Willingly I did. He took my hand and with gentle coaching led me a ways downstream. The breeze coming off the water rustled something around us and occasional a feather-light wisp would brush my hair.
“Stand right here,” he instructed.
“Can I open my eyes?”
“Not yet. Wait until I tell you.” I waited, sensing that he was stepping back and away. Just as I began to wonder if he was playing a trick on me, I felt him brush my mind. ~Now.~
I opened my eyes and gasped. I stood in the midst of a canopy of draping fronds. Green and feathered, they danced gracefully in the breeze, skimming the water at my feet and whispering. Flickering through the curtain, sunlight flecked the ground and water in lazy patterns. Sinking to sit on the bank, I leaned my head back so that I could see the branches, gnarled and twisted high above.
~Beautiful, isn’t it?~ he asked.
Glancing around, but he was no where in sight. “Where are you?” I asked aloud.
~On my way to the palazzo. I just received a summons. Master Silas needs me. Enjoy the willows.~
“Thank you,” I whispered.
~You are welcome,~ he replied and then suddenly he withdrew. I sat in the freckled sunshine and savored the rich taste of his sending on my tongue. Someday I would put a name to that taste.
Errol, in his usual fashion, did not wait for my arrival to jump into the fray. When I entered the palazzo and followed the servant’s directions to King Ilar’s quarters, I began picking up raised voices before I reached the correct door.
~Ah, there you are.~ Errol commented as I raised my hand to knock. ~Come on in, Ostin is angry enough to not notice and I am too busy to open the door for you.~
I eased the handle open and slipped inside.
“By what right do you demand that I have my daughter trained?” Ostin shouted, angrily striding toward Errol. “Isn’t it bad enough that she isn’t a son? Isn’t it degrading enough to not produce that seventh son that we hoped and prayed for? Now you want to bring further ire from the goddess down upon us by training her. No, I tell you, no.” Towering over Errol by a foot, Ostin Ilar’s red face and livid gaze made me hesitate. This couldn’t be good for him at his age. I glanced at Errol.
~Are you sure this is the right way to go about it?~
“Just consider this a moment. What does the goddess demand of young women?”
“Marriage by nineteen and children.”
“What if I can insure that she shall fulfill those requirements?”
“Oh, no.” Ilar turned away. “You cannot promise me that. Training her will change her. I have met some of those women talents you have just listed. They exchanged their womanhood, their feminine ways, for the ability to use their talents. They swagger about as men, acting as though they are equals in all ways. No, my daughter shall not be one of them. They are not fit for marriage. And even if they were, what man would be willing to take such a woman to wife?” He whirled about and glared at Errol.
Impassively, Errol disagreed. “I shall train her. She shall not lose her femininity.”
Ostin waved it away. “Still what man would want a wife who can read his thoughts and converse as a man? She will be preoccupied with things that are above her station and neglect her husband’s household and their children.”
“Your wife has reared her well. Master Aleron here can testify to your daughter’s manner and actions. She is a polite, well bred young woman and I shall do nothing to change that. You found her such, didn’t you Hadrian?”
I frowned at Errol. I couldn’t see what he was up to yet, but I had a distinct feeling I was not going to like it. “Yes, your highness, Donellea Ilar is a pleasant and mannerly young woman.”
King Ilar’s dark gaze raked over me. “So, a seventh son of a Proctor finds her mannerly. What would he know? His life and status is within the Talents where titles and income mean nothing. I wish better for my daughter.”
“How much better can she attain than the Sept Son?” Errol pointed out.
~Errol,~ I protested. Suddenly his plan was clear. ~You are not arranging her marriage to me. Besides I am not Sept Son yet.~
He ignored me. “If I can get the next Sept Son to agree to marry your daughter, will you allow me to train her?”
~I will not marry her.~ I sent the thought with a hint of anger, but Errol’s green eyes remained on the king before him.
Ilar’s gaze, however, was for me. He was watching my features as though I were a new purchase. “What if I wish her to marry the next High King?”
“King Euginius’ eldest son is already married.”
“So the succession is set? I thought there was still some debate.”
“There is, but regardless all the eldest sons of the ruling families are already wed. If you wished Zezilia to marry a High King you should have moved more swiftly.”
Ilar glared at Errol. “You are not going to give up are you?”
“Never. That child is talented and I don’t want it to go to waste. She has great potential.”
Ilar turned to me. “You agree with this lunatic?”
“She has great talent, your highness. I have tested her mind and find much more talent than I have ever encountered untrained. There is even a chance she is as strong as a seventh son.”
Ilar turned away. Walking to a small table set with a light meal, he poured himself a goblet full of wine. After seating himself, he took a deep mouthful. Looking into the cup thoughtfully, he frowned.
“It is a deal, but…” Holding up a hand to stop whatever Errol was about to say, he continued. “The Sept Son must marry her when her training is completed.”
~Errol, I am not going to promise to marry her.~ I didn’t look at my old tutor, but the emotion that I sent with the statement should have been enough to stop him in his tracks.
“Agreed,” Errol said without hesitation.
Closing my eyes, I fought back the urge to do something drastic like flood his mind with my frustration or lift him up so that he couldn’t keep ignoring me.
~Trust me, Ilias,~ Errol sent. ~Just promise and trust me.~
I turned to glare at him. ~I am not going to promise.~
Errol returned my look with irritating calm.
“Promise me, Master Arelon,” Ilar demanded.
After a final glare in Errol’s direction, I bowed to Ilar. “I shall find her a husband or marry her myself.”
Ilar didn’t look completely pleased, but Errol acted as if I had done exactly as he had requested. “Good. I shall be taking her with me when I leave. My wife shall speak to your wife about the details. I am not staying the whole Caelestis Novem. I have business in the low country.” Bowing to Ilar, he motioned for me to do the same and we took our leave.
As soon as the doors were closed, I turned to Errol, picked him up and pinned him to the wall without laying a hand on him. I rarely used my mass moving abilities and it was the first time I had done it to Errol since the end of my training, but I was angry. ~What do you think you were doing in there?~ I demanded.
Errol glared at me. ~Put me down, Ilias.~
I didn’t want to, but I reluctantly lowered him to the ground.
~What have I taught you about losing your temper?~
I wasn’t repentant. ~I was justifiably provoked. What did you think you were doing in there? She is only a child. You are bargaining her life away, and mine, without even checking out how we feel about it. I am ten years her senior.~
Errol shook his head. ~I can see well enough to know that you two are fast becoming friends. I can see that you like her.~
~Yes, I find her amusing and unique, but that doesn’t mean that I want to marry the child, or will ever want to marry the child,~ I protested. ~She sees me as a friend of her older brothers. Not as a potential suitor.~
~That will change.~ Errol turned away and began to walk toward the stairs.
~And if it doesn’t?~ I followed.
~You will use that other option that you so carefully placed in your promise.~
He felt so smug I was tempted to flip him upside down, or at least push him against the wall, but I resisted the urge.
~Come, we are going to be late for the next Talent’s meeting.~ I frowned at the back of his head as we began to descend the stairs. Before he left I was going to extract a promise that Zezilia would never know of the nature of the bargaining that was done for her training.
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