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This Scepter'd Isle

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This Scepter'd Isle

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Author: Mercedes Lackey
Roberta Gellis
Publisher: Baen, 2004
Series: Serrated Edge Prequels: Book 1
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Denoriel Siencyn Macreth Silverhair was a warrior in Koronos' band, a fierce rider in the Wild Hunt, but when he was summoned he came obediently to the valley of the FarSeers.

A glow of power lifted about the crystal lens. "Here is the nexus of our future," said the FarSeer in the dress of ancient Greece, and a mist seemed to pass over the surface of the lens. A moment later, the surface cleared, and within it, Denoriel saw the image of a human infant, red-haired and scowling, swaddled in fine, embroidered linen and lace... and glowing with power. The babe was being held by a figure that Denoriel recognized--the mortal king of England, Henry, eighth of that name.

The lens misted again, and scene after scene played out briefly before him--briefly, but enough to show him a future very bright for the mortals of England, a flowering of art, music, and letters, of great deeds, of exploration and bravery. Oh, there were problems--twice, if Denoriel read the signs aright Spain sent a great fleet against England, only to be repulsed at minimal cost. But the troubles were weathered, the difficulties overcome, and the result was nearly an age of gold.



With red-eyed hounds wailing and horns sounding "the death," the Wild Hunt poured into the forecourt of Caer Mordwyn, the palace of Vidal Dhu. Rhoslyn Teleri Dagfael Silverhair reined in her black steed, feeling his flanks heaving beneath her legs, his muscles trembling with weariness. Automatically a sidelong glance measured the physical condition of her twin, Pasgen Peblig Rodrig Silverhair, and his mount, but his not-horse was no less tired than hers. It had been a long Hunt; their quarry had been a canny creature who had doubled and redoubled his track, trying to escape them. They hadn't expected that; it wasn't as if he was anything special, just a mere mortal boy out on the wrong moor on the wrong night.

He'd been a gypsy, though--perhaps that had had something to do with his cleverness.

Not clever enough, not by half. He'd finally gone to ground in a place he probably thought was safe, a churchyard--but elves weren't demons, no matter how many times mortals confused them, and the holy symbols that mortals held powerful were of no use against them.

Cold iron now--if the fellow had remembered to keep even a single horseshoe nail about him, they might have cornered him, but they'd never have been able to touch him. The fool--going out at night, on the moors, without cold iron (and why hadn't he had a knife, at least?), a hawthorn sprig, or any sort of true protection against the Unseleighe Sidhe.

Perhaps he hadn't been a real gypsy then; a real gypsy wouldn't have been so foolish. A real gypsy would have had a cross made of horseshoe nails about his throat, and perhaps even a horseshoe in his pocket to boot. After all, a horseshoe was proof against mortal as well as Sidhe, when wielded in a fist.

The horses milled, the red-eyed hounds swarming about among their clattering hooves, the courtyard a seething sea of chaos and noise. Then Vidal Dhu, unmistakable in his ebon armor, rode his sweating horse halfway up the staircase, paused there, raised his hand, and a silence fell over all of them. Even the hounds cringed, and slunk away to cower beneath the hand of their houndmaster.

"Disperse," their leader said, the single word echoing against the obsidian walls that surrounded the court.

And, of course, they did.

The houndmaster left first, his charges surging about him in waves, but silently now, silently, for Vidal Dhu had made it plain that he was wearied of the noise. To their kennels they would go, to lick the mortal blood from their paws and dream of another such hunt.

The lesser members of Vidal's court left next, riding out, not through the Gate to the mortal world which was now dead and dormant until Vidal called it to life again, but through the ordinary courtyard gate into the Underhill realm in which Vidal Dhu held sole sway. The greater lords and ladies, those who dwelt here in Caer Mordwyn at the pleasure of their lord and master, dismounted as servants came to take their steeds. With the creak of leather or the soft susurration of silk, they slipped up the stairs to the Great Hall, and from thence, to their quarters.

Now only Vidal Dhu, Rhoslyn, and her twin brother Pasgen remained, still mounted, in the courtyard.

Vidal slowly removed the antlered helm he always wore when leading the Wild Hunt, a fearsome thing of blackened silver with a pair of antlers worthy of an Irish elk, and a grim, grated visor that permitted nothing of Vidal's face to show.

A servant appeared at Vidal's stirrup; literally. Such things were commonplace Underhill, depending on the strength of the mage, of course. Vidal handed the helm to the creature, which was black-skinned and looked rather like an elongated newt in Vidal's black-and-silver livery. With a jingle of harness and a creak of leather, the Unseleighe prince dismounted, and stalked down the staircase and across the courtyard to the twins.

He took Rhoslyn's hand in his, and bestowed a kiss on the back of it. Even through her leather gloves, his lips were icy.

"I believe that the FarSeers require your presence, and that of your brother, my child," he said, his voice a velvet purr over a blade of adamant.

Pasgen and Rhoslyn exchanged a look, and both dismounted. Rhoslyn had no idea how the Prince of Caer Mordwyn knew that his FarSeers wanted her and her brother--certainly no words had been exchanged between him and his servant. It was, perhaps, a measure of both his power and his control over everything within the bounds of his domain.

They were dressed alike, Rhoslyn and Pasgen, in tight black leather breeches, thigh-high boots, and black silk shirts with billowing sleeves. Wide, waist-cinching black leather belts held their weapons, matching daggers and rapiers. They differed only in their headgear; Rhoslyn wore a flat cap over her silver-blond hair, while Pasgen, as long-haired and fair as his sister, went bare-headed.

While Vidal Dhu watched with cold, green, cat-pupilled eyes and more newt-servants came to take their horses, the two crossed the courtyard and climbed the stairs. When the prince of Caer Mordwyn spoke, it was wise to follow even an implied order.

Not everything was bedecked in black in Caer Mordwyn. Once past the doors, the entrance-hall was a blaze of red and gold, with brazen stairs rising right and left. Pasgen, with slightly longer legs, got a bit ahead of his sister, and preceeded her up the right-hand stair.

Vidal kept his FarSeers in a tower, which they never left. Why, Rhoslyn wasn't certain. It wasn't as if there was anywhere for them to go. They couldn't pass the established border of Vidal's domain. Vidal never took them with him anywhere. And she and her brother were rapidly overtaking their teachers in FarSeeing skills. There was no reason anymore to keep his old servants confined--unless it was to deprive them of all external stimuli so they would be more eager for their visions.

Rhoslyn shivered, glad Pasgen was ahead of her on the stair so he would not see her weakness, but a really horrible thought had just occurred to her. Would she and Pasgen be the next denizens of the tower?

The chamber holding the great Mirror was at the very top of the tower, in a round room with no windows. A plush black carpet covered the floor from edge to edge, black velvet draperies covered the walls, so that every sound was muffled. The Mirror, a round, shallow basin, black as the walls and filled with the clearest of water, stood directly on the floor. Around it were placed the stools used by the FarSeers. The lighting in this room, dim and subtle, came from the ceiling--the entire ceiling, which glowed like a moon, a flawless moon, a silver disk without a shadow on it.

The other three FarSeers, sexless elves, pale and willowy, were robed identically in black, like the robes worn by the occasional priestly mortal Rhoslyn had seen in the upper realms, equally sexless, equally pale. Those poor worms, however, were clothed in harsh wool, while the FarSeers were draped in velvet.

They waited already on their stools. Without a word, Pasgen and Rhoslyn joined them. The three elder elves raised their hands in silence, and a mist drifted down from the ceiling above, a mist glowing with latent power as it settled on the surface of the Mirror. Theirs was the power. As she thought it, the knot that had formed under Rhoslyn's breastbone, making it hard to breathe, loosened. She and Pasgen could not summon that kind of power--and by her will and her warning, they never would. However, it was Rhoslyn and Pasgen who would clarify whatever dim vision the FarSeers had sensed in the Mirror that had caused them to call for the twins.

The mist settled; the Mirror began to glow as the light within the room dimmed. Rhoslyn could not have pulled her gaze away from that glowing circle now if she'd wanted to.

But she didn't want to, not really, in spite of the price she knew she would pay. The power in the Mirror was like a heady drink, and filled her with languor and euphoria at one and the same time. She did not wish to look away, and although she forgot it when she left this chamber, the moment she took her place on the stool before the Mirror, she remembered, and longed for the draught.

Shapes formed in the shifting light, and she leaned forward, just as, on the other side of the Mirror, Pasgen did the same. She felt him, hot and strong, binding to her as she bound to him. Both drank the power, willing the shapes to become more.

"Ahhh," that was one of the three FarSeers, as shapes became figures, and figures became the images of mortals.

The mortal king of this island--Henry, eighth of his name--a red-haired infant in his arms. A deathbed, with a bloated, monstrous version of the same king upon it. A coronation procession, though who was being crowned, Rhoslyn could not make clear.

Then many images in rapid succession--green fields and fertile harvests, festivals, laden ships coming into port--musicians and players, poets and painters--faster and faster until they blurred together into a single impression of burgeoning and flowering--and blurred into the formless mist.

Inside herself Rhoslyn shuddered; it was a future Vidal Dhu would hate. He would not thank the FarSeers for such a vision. This future held none of the things that their prince treasured. Only when there was unrest and pain in the mortal world, did he reap a harvest of his own. Rhoslyn glanced quickly at the poor, pale things and was surprised that they were not weeping and groaning. They would suffer for what she had seen. But Rhoslyn herself? Deep within her something stirred... and she strangled it a-borning.

"That is one future," whispered one of the FarSeers. "Linked to the red-haired, mortal child."

Even as Rhoslyn thrust down that quiver of desire for light and joy, another image began to form. She knew at once that this was why the FarSeers were not aghast; this was what they had brought her and Pasgen here to See. She concentrated on a new potential, buoyed by a burst of will from Pasgen, on a future that did not hold the red-haired child or that golden coronation procession. Rhoslyn held to that thought, driving all others from her mind, as her brother was doing across the Mirror from her, and the shapes began to form in the mist again.

And this time--they were very different.

Linked to a woman, whose hair might once have been red but was now drab and dark; linked to a woman surrounded by those black-robed Christian priests, and beside her a man, hardly taller than she, pale and pasty fair, with a long, thin, melancholy face, softened only by too-full, too-red lips surrounded by a thin, sandy beard. His clothing was as black as the priests' and his small-eyed head was presented on his crisp ruff as if it were being served on a plate. And now images that would be much more pleasing to the prince passed like ghosts across the face of the mirror.

Fires, fires in the heart of which twisted the bound figures of mortals. Mortals trooping into churches beneath the eyes of priests, with fear in their eyes and bowed heads. More mortals, in the hands of those priests, screaming in agony, undergoing what the mortals drolly referred to as "the Question." More fires, more mortals, bound and shaven, some mere children, being marched to feed those fires. Books going on still more fires as well, and a pall of smoke covering the land. The smoke rose to obscure the fires, to mix with the mist, and then, as always, Rhoslyn felt Pasgen's strength withdrawn and her own drained out of her as the mist thinned and settled and vanished. She sagged on the stool and passed her hand in front of her eyes; when she looked again, there was only the Mirror, blackly reflecting the silver ceiling above, and across from her, the weary emerald eyes of her brother.

"Ahhh." This had the sound of satisfaction in it. "Well done, my lord, my lady. The prince will be pleased."

Rhoslyn could not tell which of the three had spoken, but the one nearest her clapped his hands, and servants, stick-thin creatures with fingers like gnarled twigs, parted the curtains beside her. They looked fragile, but as she knew of old, they were strong; they helped her down from her stool, as on the other side of the Mirror, they were helping her brother. After a moment, he waved them off unsteadily; she elected to lean on them. After all, what else were they there for?

"Your lady-mother is preparing your chambers for you, my lady," one FarSeer said, holding aside the curtains so that she and her escort could pass through. Rhoslyn wanted to protest--not mother--she'll make such a pother!--but it was too late. The decision had been made for her, and she was too tired to do anything other than go along with it.

She felt a moment of envy, when it appeared that Pasgen was remaining behind. Lucky Pasgen--he wouldn't have to listen to their mother's vaporings! And perhaps he would learn from the mouth of the prince himself what the visions all meant, and what parts, if any, the twins were to play in his plans. She would not let herself be left out of those plans this time!

But then the moment slipped away, for she was too tired to think about anything other than placing one foot in front of the other. Speculation could wait, and so could jealousy and rivalry.

For now--the sole center of her universe was the urgent need for rest. Everything else could wait.

Elsewhere Underhill a far different hunt had come home, lthough here too the silver horns wailed the Mort. Their prey had well deserved his fate, for he had dealt death, and far worse than death, to many, and had grown so rich from his work that he had been flattered and courted instead of despised. The Sidhe had done what mortal law could not--or would not--and the swirling crowd of riders called cheerfully to each other as they dismounted from their elvensteeds and patted the dogs that leapt and cavorted around them.

Unwinking silver stars set in the illusory sky of Elfhame Logres burned down through the eternal twilight that shrouded the groves and meadows in misty blue. Denoriel Siencyn Macreth Silverhair turned away from the last of his companions of this night's Wild Hunt, leaving them to their revels and feasting under the shelter of the leafy boughs in the gardens of High King Oberon's Summer Palace. He had another appointment this night, one he would not break for a much higher price than wine and laughter.

"Miralys," he breathed, and the elvensteed was there, nudging him with a velvet-soft muzzle. He swung around the steed and mounted. Miralys had run all night, but he was ready and willing to run again. That was not necessary. Denoriel guided the silver-dappled, emerald-eyed elvensteed down moss-covered paths that led away from the sounds of music and laughter toward the Gate that joined Logres to Elfhame Avalon. As he rode, he made some significant changes to his appearance.

The Hunters were a fearsome group, whose fantastic armor, costumes, and weaponry were designed a-purpose to strike terror into the hearts of the mortal humans foolish enough to have earned their attention. Denoriel rode with the Seleighe Hunt, whose victims deserved their attention--those "whom the law could not touch," who made the mistake of venturing into places where the Wild Hunt rode freely, their power uninhibited by the taint of cold iron. There were men enough in England who committed the worst excesses, who left death and weeping in their wake, and escaped men's justice, either because of rank, wealth, or cleverness. But they could not escape the Hunt, once it was on their scent...

The Seleighe Hunt took only evil-doers; the Hunt of the Unseleighe Sidhe, the Hunt in whose ranks Denoriel's half-brother and half-sister rode, was not so discriminating. The wicked were much harder to separate from their fellows and lure or drive out where the Hunt could bring them their just reward, and the Seleighe Wild Hunt loved the challenge, sneering at the Unseleighe, who sacrificed poor careless innocents. Mortals, of course, could not tell the two apart, but that was their problem, not Denoriel's. He delivered justice, justice in the form of a slim, leaf-shaped blade and the bright silver arrows of elf-shot.

Nevertheless, his twin sister did not like to be reminded that he rode with any Hunt at all. Gentle Aleneil never caught sight of him in his batwing cloak and his night-dark armor without a shudder, so as he rode toward the Gate, he banished these accouterments, calling up the soft silks of courtly garb in Aleneil's favorite colors of green and azure to clothe himself anew. Denoriel was no Magus Major, but the elf who could not clothe and reclothe him- or herself with a single thought when Underhill hardly deserved the name of Child of Dannae.

He favored styles of an older mode than that current among the humans; the puffed breeches and short tunics, the lace ruffs and slashed sleeves seemed unreasonably silly, if not downright uncomfortable, to him. Let others ape the latest foppery of the mortals; he would keep to what suited him. His green tunic was beautifully molded to his body and at mid-thigh length exposed smooth-fitting azure chausses, cross-gartered in the green of his tunic, that displayed his handsome legs to fine effect. He could not change the obsidian hilt on his sword--and would not if he could--but the sheath was now soft silver rather than dead black.

Silver lanterns, like miniature moons, hung among the branches at intervals along the path, and he passed from light, into shadow, back into pearly light again. At length the path opened up into a round meadow, ringed with witch lights; the grass was studded with huge, white moonflowers, and at the center stood the Gate.

There was but one destination this Gate held--Elfhame Avalon, the mystic heart of Seleighe lands Underhill, and as a consequence, the Gate was guarded by Oberon's most trusted knights and warriors. Once, one of them had been Denoriel's father...

The knights on duty at the Gate to Avalon did not bear their usual arms and accouterments; they wore instead a uniform style of armor and the High King's livery. With their helms down and closed, Denoriel could not recognize any of them, but they recognized him.

Recognized who he was supposed to be, at any rate. The Knights of the Gate were also magicians of power and took no chances. Denoriel felt the shiver of a spell pass across his skin, like the caress of icy silk, as one of them cast a magic that would dispel any illusion over him.

"Welcome, and pass on, Denoriel Silverhair," said a hollow voice that sounded as if it came from somewhere over his head, rather than from any of the knights. The two nearest him parted enough to allow him to take his steed between them, and onto the white marble platform of the Gate.

Gates took many forms, according to the whims of their creators. This one was an arched dome of opal lace, rising above the eight fluted pillars of chalcedony that supported it, its floor a platform of the whitest, blue-veined marble. Miralys's hooves rang on the stone as the elvensteed paced slowly across the marble to pass between the two closest pillars and under the arch.

And the moment that Denoriel reached the center of the dome, the very air shivered, he felt a moment of unsettling disorientation--

And he was no longer beneath opal lacework, but under the interwoven boughs of eight trees wrought of solid silver, and beneath the hooves of his steed, not marble, but a pavement-mosaic of an eight-pointed star, formed of thousands of pearly seashells, each smaller than the nail of a newborn baby's finger.

His twin sister, Aleneil Arwyddion Ysfael Silverhair, waited for him at the edge of the pavement, bathed in the blue twilight of Underhill, her eyes grave, but welcoming. Denoriel swiftly dismounted and strode toward her, hands outstretched to catch hers.

As always, he felt that shock of familiarity, that unsettling feeling of staring into a mirror that somehow inverted his gender. The same eyes, Elven-green with slitted pupils, were common to High and Low Court, Seleighe and Unseleighe--but hers were the exact shape of his. The arch of her brow duplicated his, the sharp curve of cheekbone was the same that his own fingers traced, the barely tilted nose, one he had lamented in his own features, but which her suitors called "adorable," was also the same.Differences--there were those. Her hair was longer than his; hers swept the ground behind her, unbound, covered only by a tiny, heart-shaped cap, while his was neatly trimmed at his shoulder blades. And she wore a gown, not a tunic or doublet, fitted in the bodice with a low, square neckline, spreading as to the skirts. Today she wore a gown, tomorrow it might be doublet and hose; Elven women were free to wear or not wear whatever they chose. But Aleneil not only chose the sweeping skirts, she chose them in the current human mode, not the antique garments of another century, nor the curiously wrought robes favored by the most traditional of their kin.

"I'm here, as you asked," he said, meeting her eyes and seeing trouble in them. "But you didn't tell me--have you asked me as sister, or as FarSeer?"

"FarSeer first; then as your sister. It is as FarSeer that I must show you something of grave import; it is as sister that I will then ask something of you because of what I will show you." Her solemn, almost fearful, expression gave him a chill of foreboding, but she said nothing more, though he looked at her with a hundred questions in his eyes.

She took his hand and led him away; Miralys they left to graze as he would near the Gate. The steed would come to no harm here, and if Denoriel needed to ride, Miralys would come to him at a thought, no matter where he was, Underhill or in the mortal world. Elvensteeds were not limited to passing by Gates.

They were all fortunate that the steeds would not travel into Unseleighe Domains in their unlimited journeys, or the ongoing skirmishing with their Unseleighe cousins would turn into something even uglier than it already was.

Elven FarSeers, Healers, and the most powerful of the Mages were trained here in Avalon, which was said to be one of the oldest Elfhames. Aside from the teachers and those in training, only a select group of FarSeers actually dwelt here still. Avalon was small, but the very air hummed with power, and unlike any other Elfhame, there were no actual buildings here. Fragments of walls were melded with living trees and bushes, creating as much or as little privacy as the inhabitant or the use required. There were no roofs; where was the need for roofs where it never rained? Avalon's air was always that of a sweet and balmy spring night with a hint of a breeze, and if one wanted a little more darkness than the twilight, one could make one's dwelling in the deep shade of the boughs of a cascading cypress or a sighing willow.

In the time of Arthur, human mages and the novices in service to the ancient gods had come here too, to be trained, passing--if not "easily," then certainly at their will--across the boundary between mortal and Elven lands. But then Christianity had supplanted the ways of the gods and goddesses, and the humans came no more. No mortal had set foot in Avalon for a thousand years.

Which was, Denoriel reflected, just as well.

As Aleneil drew her brother deeper and deeper into the heart of Avalon, the signs of current and former occupants appeared more often along the path. The pathway itself was lit by moon-lanterns, and the pearly glow they shed showed the arch of a doorway here, the thrust of a tower there, a surprising burst of color from a stained-glass window framed, not in stone, but in the living trunk of a tree.

He knew where she must be taking him, although he had never seen the artifact himself--the great Mirror of the FarSeers. This was not only a vehicle for the FarSeers to use in seeing the possible futures, it had been enchanted to be able to capture those visions and show them to those who were not, themselves, able to FarSee. It was the only creation of its kind in all of the Seleighe lands; perhaps the only one in the world, mortal or Underhill.

When they came upon it, though, it was a complete surprise.

On the rare occasions Denoriel had thought about the mirror in connection with his sister, he had wondered idly whether it would be silvered glass or blackest obsidian? A still pool, rimmed with glowing precious stones? A giant ball of flawless crystal?

It was none of these things.

It was, however, set in the middle of a depression in the earth, a tiny bowl of a valley, carpeted with millions of minute flowers. They nestled among leaves no bigger than seed-pearls, which gave off a sweet, spicy scent as he trod on them. In the center of the bowl was a pedestal of alabaster; on the pedestal stood a silver frame, enclosing what appeared to be an enormous lens of crystal.

Standing beside the lens were three elven women Denoriel didn't recognize. One, like Aleneil, was gowned in the height of current mortal fashion, though her chosen colors were sapphire and sky-blue. One wore little more than draped silk gauze, pinned in the style of ancient Greece at the shoulder with bronze brooches and held to her waist with a matching belt. The third, gowned in a style not seen since Atlantis disappeared beneath the sea, wore silks in pastel colors that clung to her body, embroidered all over with vines and leaves, with trailing sleeves and a train that covered the tiny flowers for yards behind her. All three were blond, of course, for Seleighe Sidhe favored blond hair, but the first had hair like a ruddy sunset, the second like a field of ripe corn, and the third, like Aleneil, pale as moonlight.

"My teachers," Aleneil said simply. "Now come and look into the Mirror."

He stood where she directed, and she beside him. The three other ladies raised their hands, and a glow of power lifted about the crystal lens.

"Here is the nexus of our future," said the one in the dress of ancient Greece, and a mist seemed to pass over the surface of the lens. A moment later, the surface cleared, but within it, Denoriel saw the image of a human infant, red-haired and scowling, swaddled in fine, embroidered linen and lace... and glowing with power. The babe was being held by a figure that Denoriel recognized--the mortal king of England, Henry, who was the eighth of that name.

"And here are glimpses of the future when this child comes to reign in Great Harry's stead," said the lady garbed as a mortal of that court. The lens misted again, and scene after scene played out briefly before him--briefly, but enough to show him a future very bright for the mortals of England, a flowering of art, music, and letters, of freedom of thought and deed, of exploration and bravery. Oh, there were problems--twice, if Denoriel read the signs aright--Spain sent a great fleet against England, only to be repulsed at minimal cost. But the troubles were weathered, the difficulties overcome, and the result was nearly an age of gold.

"And this--" said the lady of the ancient ways, "is what will come to pass if that child does not reign."


Image after image crowded the lens, and even Denoriel, not unaccustomed to pain and terror, winced away from the appalling scenes. Black-robed Christian priests, grim-faced and implacable, brought scores, hundreds of victims to the Question, torturing their bodies until they would confess to anything, then burning what was left in front of silent onlookers. Others, whose intellects burned as brightly as the flames, did not need to be tortured; they confessed their sins of difference defiantly, and were burned. In place of a flowering of art and science, came a blight. Darkness fell over the land, pressed there by the heavy, iron hand of Spain and the Inquisition.

Then the lens cleared, and the ladies stood quietly, watching him. "Interesting," he said at last, forcing his breathing to be steady and even and swallowing the constriction in his throat. "But I fail to see what relevance this has to us."

It was the last of the ladies to speak who addressed him, her brows raised, her voice patient, as if she addressed a particularly stupid child. "What happens to them has always been relevant to us, Denoriel. Britain is bound to Logres, and Logres to Britain; it has always been so, and will always be. Think! Have you never heard of Elfhame Alhambra, of Elfhame Eldorado, and what became of them when the hounds of the Inquisition were set loose upon the land of Spain?"

He stiffened; no elf liked to be reminded of the darkened, deserted halls of the great palace of Alhambra, of the silent gardens of Eldorado, both haunted by things it was better not to meet. If anyone had told him why the elves had fled those elfhames, it had not stuck with him. But the word had been enough to give him the clue... Inquisition.

The lady of the Greek peplos stared at him in rebuke. "If dark times come upon the mortals of Britannia, they will come to us. Death and cruelty feed our Unseleighe kin, as creativity and joy feed us. If that comes to Britain at the hands of the Inquisition--the gates to Logres will be open to the Unseleighe Underhill."

Her eyes flashed angrily at him, and he stepped back a pace, startled. "Your pardon, lady," he murmured. "I did not know--"

She sniffed.

"But lady," he continued rather plaintively, "what has this to do with me?"

The lady in modern court dress answered him. "Imprimus, because the visions came to your sister, not to us. That suggests that, despite her youth and lesser experience, she is to have some part to play in this. Secundus, when my fellows and I attempted to scry further clues, we could see only you--you, and the red-haired child, together--in the visions of a golden future. So it seems that you, Sir Denoriel, are the key to all of this."

This did something more than merely take Denoriel aback; it shocked him to the core. He stood with eyes wide and mouth inelegantly agape, his gaze flicking from one to the other. However, it was Aleneil who came to him, and put her hand gently on his arm. He met her eyes eagerly, but she offered no escape.

"Brother, I am sure they are right. In every way, they are right. You are the key to all of this; the red-haired child of Great Harry of England must live, and thrive, and grow up to rule. You must go to it in the mortal world, and become its protector." Her emerald eyes held his.

"But I am a warrior, not a nursemaid--" he said, feebly.

"And perhaps it is a warrior that will be needed," the eldest of the ladies said, impatience and a touch of scorn on her lovely features. "In any case, you have no choice, Sir Knight. We are sworn to work for the good of High King Oberon and Elfhame Logres. We, his FarSeers, can and will order you to this task, if we must."

"That will hardly be necessary," he said coldly, drawing himself up and gathering his dignity. "I, too, am sworn to protect and defend my king and this realm. I will do what I must."

And with that, he turned on his heel and left, but he burned within. And not even Aleneil followed him.

Copyright © 2004 by Mercedes Lackey

Copyright © 2004 by Roberta Gellis


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