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To walk into a room lit by a Torrent window was to step inside a miracle, they said, and Rain agreed. Little wonder that the Queen herself had chosen him to make the stained glass for the temple being built in the palace complex. Rain shaded her eyes to look over the rooftops of Tigral to the throne room at the summit of the hill, the new temple just beyond.
The tempest had tarnished the gold pavilions and stripped the fruit trees of their leaves-yet another gloomy day after weeks of rain. It had truly been a dismal harvest and without the wise government of Prime Minister Melletin the land would have been facing a winter of starvation.
As it was, though the city would avoid real suffering, everyone would be expected to tighten their belts and obey the rationing laws. Commissions such as the Queen's were hard to come by in these difficult days. Hopefully, the job should see the forge through the bad times until conditions improved.
Rain knew they would do better than many others and was grateful for the Queen's generosity, as the monarch funded public works out of her private purse. Slowly, the rain eased off and weak sunshine filtered through the iron-grey clouds. Seizing her chance, Rain edged her way down the alley, jumping from doorstep to doorstep to avoid the worst of the filthy water. Raising her woollen skirt and cotton petticoat above her shins out of the wet earned her a whistle from Mil Blackfire, one of the smith's boys.
Mil was courting her friend-and half the girls in the district if rumours were to be believed. Come on, Rain, you're half drowned. Not now, not ever. Anyway, I don't believe in having that kind of secret from my friend. Soon the regular chink of hammer on metal broadcast that he'd returned to his work. But the exchange reminded Rain that she did have one secret-one that risked her whole world if it came out.
Are you soaked? He strode out of the workshop, a big man with capable hands and a curly thatch of grey-streaked hair, face craggy with lines. Whisking the basket from her grip, he smoothly steered her to the furnace.
Work paused as the apprentices stopped to watch the pair. Her father tutted. He smiled into her blue eyes. He often told her that he counted himself fortunate to be able to look into a patch of summer sky each time he saw them. Used to his fussing over her, Rain submitted to him peeling off her wet shawl to hang in a warm spot so it could return from muddy pink to its normal rose colour. She twisted it up out of the way and fastened it in place with a pearl-headed pin.
Sit down, sit down. Nettle, fetch Mistress Rain some tea. Last bit to be had in Tigral. Torrent nudged his daughter. The poor boy's in love with you-half of them are, you know.
He's quite handy until you come along and then he's all fingers and thumbs. I can't do anything with them when you're in the workshop. I'm thinking of banning you from being in here, least when the fires are lit. But was it true? She glanced round at the apprentices, trying not to make it too obvious that she was studying them.
They had returned to their tasks but every so often they would sneak a look at their master and his daughter. A number of tools clattered to the floor as a plague of clumsiness swept over them. Torrent didn't laugh as she expected. Indeed, her comment made him a little glum-a strange mood for her usually cheerful father. Something must have happened to upset him. He knelt at her feet to ease off her boots, his tough leather apron reluctantly folding in the middle.
You wouldn't count Master Blizzard's Ember because she's only three. Well then, you're the second prettiest-' He didn't finish because Rain had jabbed him harder as punishment for his teasing. She took a sip and nodded. Dimensions W x H: Exacompta magazine file ecoblack. Suitable for storing A4 documents. Recycled plastic. Keep your documents safe and tidy in this simple yet stylish A4 folder from Art File. I cannot download any pdf file onto my computer.
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Learn how. The patterns on the ground reflected the rich culture of the Blue Crescent: Tashi approached her fellow rulers with a carefully measured step. Marisa of Phonilara, the First Crown Princess, was already sitting on her throne--the Throne of State, which was carved like a ship in full sail--her white robe spread around her so she looked like an old wrinkled figurehead.
The Second Crown Princess, 21 Safilen of Lir-Salu, a fine-looking woman in her fifties, was just taking her seat on the Throne of Plenty--a magnificent piece decorated with images of the harvest of land and sea.
She swept the folds of her green robe, embroidered with golden sheaves, so that they rippled gracefully to rest on the floor. Her face was set in a frown, fingers stroking the blue sash in her lap in a subtle sign of irritation. Her chair was cast from bronze, its back shaped like the blade of a sword. Korbin was the closest to Tashi in age, being only twenty-nine. The last place, the Throne of Nature, was built of plain wood. It was no better than many a chair in a matriarch's hall but its simplicity was to remind the four rulers that the riches of the land and sea, the civilization their ancestors had built here and the ocean they had come to dominate, were all founded on the natural gifts of the Islands.
Without the blessings of the Creator Goddess, none of this would exist. So why, wondered Tashi for the hundredth time as she approached the seat of unyielding wood, does the most junior Crown Princess get to sit on it? Tashi bowed to her sister rulers and took her place, spreading her dragonfly robes in an elegant arc around her feet to mirror Safilen's gesture. A bell rang in the roof, signalling that the government was in session.
Marisa rose to her feet. Our messenger birds from the embassy in Gerfal have brought a reply to our proposal of alliance. King Lagan agrees. She had known that the First Crown. Princess, responsible for foreign affairs, had spent months conducting these delicate negotiations.
Tashi remembered the rough-looking ambassadors she had practiced bowing to only the month before. Their tunics and trousers had seemed very out of place amongst the robes of the Blue Crescent court, their loose long hair almost wild compared to the modest veils customarily worn in the palace. And the Gerfalians had all been men. He proposes a royal marriage with his only son and heir but has rejected my suggestion that this should be with a daughter from one of our leading matriarchal families.
His Majesty is clear that only a Crown Princess will do. Though it is against our practice, I reluctantly agree with him. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. Prince Ramil must marry an equal to show that the two nations join as equals. Crown Princesses were allowed to marry, but only as a private matter, kept away from the court.
The Second Princess was well 23 known to have been married happily for twenty-five years, but few had seen her husband, rumored to be a priest in one of the lesser temples. But a public--a state--marriage was unheard of, a major break with tradition.
Tashi was not the only one to be surprised; all the councillors gathered on the benches around the thrones looked perplexed, a very extreme show of emotion for the notoriously controlled court of the Blue Crescent. Safilen rose to speak. What will Fergox Spearthrower make of our customs and our laws?
He will desecrate the temples of the Mother and put us all to the sword, Crown Princesses and commoners alike, if his behavior in other countries is anything to go by.
I propose a change, yes, but nothing as radical as he would force upon us. The Third Princess 24 made it sound as if marriage was a sporting competition. In importance and age, Korbin was clearly the front runner for the task. We must vote as to which of our two younger sisters should take up this burden. Tashi suddenly woke up to the fact that she was being seriously considered for the marriage. Her role will become that of a roving ambassador between us and Gerfal.
If the Crown Princess was away from the Islands, she would lose much of her power, miss the government sessions, reduce her influence with the people. Tashi glanced at Korbin's severe face: But I can't do it! Tashi thought in a panic. I'm barely accepted as it is.
A strange marriage would just about be the end of me, demote Kai further in importance, signal the end to my training and education. Added to that the fact that I don't want an "uncouth boy. A bell sounded. One by one, four sticks were cast onto the tiled floor between the thrones, falling on the lily mosaic designed to be a reflection of the dome above. Tashi stared at the floor in disbelief. Three orange sticks and one blue lay at her feet. The three older princesses had all voted for her.
Her three co-rulers looked at her in astonishment. No princess ever raised a personal objection in open court. Tashi stood and bowed. What I meant to say was 'As the Goddess wills. Once in the corridor she broke into a run, gathering up the heavy brocades of her robes in clenched fists.
Little Kai, unimportant island of the union, sacrificed to please some distant king and to keep the other three safe. She could scream. It should've been Korbin: So many reasons pointed to her. But they had all voted for the youngest, least important, most dispensable princess at court. An insult to the Gerfalians if they realized it. And an insult to me too, Tashi realized. They probably thought a goat herder would be a good match for the "uncouth" barbarian prince.
Tashi stormed into her bedroom, shut the door in the Etiquette Mistress's face, and threw the bronze fin-gerbowl out of the window. It made a satisfying clang as it hit the pavement below. She flung herself on her bed. She'd do her duty but Goddess help Prince Ramil if he expected any more from her than that. If he did, she would make his life very unpleasant.
The point when Ramil completely lost his temper was when he was refused entry to the stables. He had intended to fulfill his promise and take his little sister riding, but a guard stopped them both at the entrance.
Inside their loose boxes, the horses neighed, sensing the presence of their favorite rider at the door. Run back to your nurse. King Lagan was closeted with the Prime Minister, Lord Taris, a map spread on the table in front of them, dotted with tiny figures of men and ships.
Lagan pushed a division of soldiers towards the mountain passes crossing to Brigard.
You are treating me like a criminal! She would've saddled your horse for you and bribed the guards to let you leave. Sometimes the head, rather than the heart, has to rule. His particular heart had become a fiery ball of loathing.
He had had just such a scene with his own father and his punishment for his choice then was to have to live through it again today. I'm saving you from yourself. If you ran from your duty, believe me, you would never forgive yourself.
How 29 will you know whether or not I would act as becomes a prince of Gerfal if you do not allow me the chance to make my own mistakes or even make my own right choices? How can I ever be fit to rule Gerfal like this? Later, I promise, you will have plenty of freedom to show you are fit to rule. Shut me in the dungeon--show the people just what you think of me. Do not try to blame me for your injustice towards me! Tell me, in my place, would you put the happiness of your own child over your duty to your nation?
Tell me, what would you do? Streamers fluttered gently from the prow--orange in honor of the passenger who was to take this journey to the sea. Tashi was bringing nothing with her.
All her belongings and ceremonial. They didn't feel like hers in any case. She'd struggled for years to make herself into the Fourth Crown Princess, but the marriage decision had driven a breach between her two selves. The princess was an empty shell, a collection of words, actions, and drapery; Tashi was far away, hidden somewhere inside herself, watching it all with disdain.
The other three Crown Princesses stood beside her as the priests went through the ceremony of farewell. The other two rulers watched in surprise as she led Tashi aside.
The courtiers tried to ignore this break with precedent, keeping their eyes to the barges gathering in a flotilla of orange ribbons. The sun glanced off the network of canals that 31 crisscrossed the plain before the palace, making the water dazzle liquid gold. Swallows swirled in the sky above the jade-colored roof of the palace. The Second Princess drew Tashi into an arbor covered in a vine, grapes dangling in ripe clusters.
She cupped Tashi's pale face in her hand and looked deep into her green eyes. Tashi blinked, feeling tears spring into her eyes. No one had mentioned her emotions since she arrived at the palace. It was as if she had been stripped of the desires, hopes, and fears of youth and slowly become a machine created to rule. Now, just when she needed to be at her most hardened, the Second Princess was talking about feelings. That you do not matter?
Safilen dropped her hand from Tashi's face and instead took Tashi's fingers in hers. Another unparalleled sign of sympathy. You struggle--we all struggle--with the role the Mother has given us. My life has only been bearable because of my husband. I wish that for you too. Another custom shattered. Not an uncouth prince marrying me because his father says so! The Second Princess's eyes twinkled.
And besides, we could not send the Third Princess, could we? A joke from the Second Princess? That was definitely not in the Etiquette Book either. Tashi spent the slow voyage to the naval port thinking over the Second Princess's words. Her body sat in the Throne of Nature on the open deck so that all her subjects could see her, but her mind was far away, speculating about the motives behind her co-ruler's kindness.
The Second Princess was from Lir-Salu, the second smallest island. In many ways, Lir-Salu had the most to gain from Kai's decrease in influence, but Tashi could not shake off the impression that Safilen had been sincere in the wish for her happiness. Am I going to distrust everyone or believe that, sometimes, I will meet friends?
Tashi asked herself. Do I want to end up like Korbin, frowning at all I see, or like Safilen, content and still human? She had to take the risk for her own sake, and for Kai.
I trust she will think as I would have of the beloved people of Kai in all matters concerning the rule of our Islands. Tashi watched the bird soar over the canal locks that the barge had already passed through on its journey to the sea. She wondered if she was being a fool. Had Second Princess merely calculated that inexperienced Tashi would react gratefully to her show of concern? As representative of both Kai and Lir-Salu, Safilen would augment her influence at court as rival to both her co-rulers.
Be quiet, Tashi snapped at her cynical side. Let me at least think that I have one friend at court. Don't spoil it for me! Sometimes the heart has to rule over the head. Tashi had seen maps of the Known World but never comprehended its vastness until this voyage across the Northern Ocean. Gerfal lay over a thousand miles away, beyond the Empire of Holt, beyond anything that Tashi found familiar. The Blue Crescent navy could not land at any Holtish port, of course, so had to sail far to the north to the islands of the Ice Archipelago for supplies midway through the journey.
Fortunately, the winter had not yet frozen the seas, but Tashi woke to darkness each morning in her state cabin and had to say the Four Blessings well before the sun rose. Ice covered. The people of the Archipelago were suspicious but not hostile, providing furs, meat, and fresh water to the twenty ships in Tashi's escort. They encountered no challenge from the Pirate Fleet. Any scout ships soon disappeared back to Holt when they counted the strength of the Crescent navy.
By late November, just as the seas further north were locking the Archipelago away for the winter and the sun no longer rose, the fleet turned south for Gerfal. They arrived to be greeted by a flotilla of the much inferior Gerfalian navy and were escorted to the port of the capital, Falburg. The Gerfalian sailors could only whistle with amazement at the size and firepower of the Crescent ships with their white square sails and ferocious figureheads of dragons and bul s embel ished with gold paint.
The Islands alone knew how to manufacture gunpowder, and the smallest of the Crescent ships had at least twenty cannon, the largest over a hundred. The marines were armed with long rifles, a technology unknown on the mainland. There, the crossbow was the main long-distance assault weapon. The flagship of the fleet moored at the dockside to receive the representatives of King Lagan. Tashi sat once more on the Throne of Nature, brought out on deck for the purpose. She was dressed in her most elaborate gown, figured with leaves and wild animals 35 in honor of the forested land of Gerfal.
Her face was painted white, her eyes outlined in kohl, her hair hidden under a veil of green silk. An orange sash clinched her waist and fell to the deck in a swirl of color. Lord Taris, Prime Minister of Gerfal, knelt before her. Behind him knelt a stocky young man with red hair, introduced as his son, Lord Usk.
Though she was fluent, she felt awkward speaking Common. She took the topmost sheaf of paper and quickly folded it into the dragonfly, her personal symbol, and handed it to the Prime Minister. The Crescent sailors stirred, wondering if he meant to show disrespect. A carriage? No doubt pulled by one of the famous Gerfalian horses she had read about. She couldn't wait to see it. According to the Etiquette Mistress, a crown princess's feet were not to touch Gerfalian soil until she had had a chance to say the prayers suitable for arriving in a foreign country.
Four burly attendants carried her down the gangplank and stopped in front of the carriage. Tashi saw with a shiver of delight that not one but six white horses were waiting to pull it.
She then realized there was a hitch: But what about the prayers? I'll have to do them now. Nodding to her chief priest, she waited for him to strike the bell so she could begin the long prayer of thanks in her native language, uncomfortably aware that she was keeping Lord Taris standing on the dock-side with no explanation.
Rising, she accepted Lord Taris's hand to step up into 37 the carriage. To her surprise he got in beside her, with Lord Usk sitting opposite, so close that their knees were almost touching. The breach in royal protocol was staggering. She wondered if they knew that the Crown Princesses only ever travelled in their own compartments.
Apparently not, for the Prime Minister kept up a constant commentary as they rode through the streets of Falburg, pointing out places of importance, remarking on the commerce and customs of the city. Tashi pressed her lips together. No one spoke to a crown princess unless invited to do so.
She could feel her cheeks blushing under her white paint, and she concluded that either the Gerfalians were more barbarous than she had heard or he was deliberately mocking her age and inexperience. Her silence only seemed to make him more talkative. He even tried to include his son in the conversation, claiming the young man was a great friend of her husband-to-be. Hardly a recommendation for my favor, thought Tashi to herself.
He is probably as uncouth as his prince. Lord Taris pointed out the feasting hall up on the promontory overlooking the city. Its walls shone white in the sunlight; orange and green flags fluttered from the roof. Tashi allowed it to be an impressive sight, but alien to one used to the waterways and curved roofs of the Islands. These battlements and stone pinnacles looked very forbidding, conjuring up images of the claws and teeth of wild beasts crouching for the kill.
She had been told that the people of the continent were warlike but she had not expected their buildings to be so too. I understand you conceive of your Creator as female? Blasphemy after insults: Tashi fumed. She tapped her fingers on her knees, a sign of severe displeasure if he had known how to read her moods.
The Prime Minister sighed with relief as they passed under the palace gateway. The carriage drove up to the steps to the Crown Princess's apartments where her servants, who had gone ahead of her, were waiting.
He helped her descend, then watched her disappear into the building without a word. He turned to his son. Hortlan and Yendral were trying to dissuade him, but Ramil was too depressed to care. It's a. He cast it into the air. It fell in circles to the floor, blunting its point. Have a drink, Uskie. They went still, sensing that the news was not good. She's just. Everything a man could desire? She might warm up a bit when you get her.
They all knew their friend was doomed. It's hard to tell under all that face paint. She's the farm girl--the one Fergox bribed the priests to choose, if the rumors from Holt are to be believed. It chipped the plaster and left a brown stain splattered on the whitewash. I expect you could smell the pigsty, couldn't you, Usk?
Usk was shocked by the bitterness in Ramil's tone: Remember, Ram, these Blue Crescent people assume the dignity of their elected position. Her background doesn't matter; she's a Crown Princess. Bring me more beer! He asks your lordships to take the Prince to the royal baths and scrub some sense into him. Come on, let's get this pitiful prince of ours fit for his princess. That's what Her Highness is used to," shouted Ramil as they dragged him down the corridor.
Together the three friends manhandled Ramil all the way to the baths, only letting go when they passed him over to the merciless care of the muscular attendant. Tashi felt very lonely sitting in her rooms going through the rituals with only a few attendants to spectate. In the palace on Rama she had always known that her sisters were performing the same service at exactly the same time in other parts of the palace, as were the priests and priestesses in the temples throughout the Blue Crescent.
It had felt like one great 42 service, all for the Mother. As the only one performing these rituals for thousands of miles, probably at a different time as even the sun was strange here, she found her voice sounded very thin and weak, the bell insignificant, the responses feeble. The evening service complete, the Etiquette Mistress displayed the gown she had selected for the banquet: Tashi nodded her agreement.
She didn't really care for it, but then again she didn't care what she looked like. No one would mind as this was not about her at all: Her hair was hidden under a sunburst gold headdress and veil, her face paint retouched.
The Royal Chamberlain led the way to the feasting hall where the Gerfalian court was already assembled. Tashi peeked over his shoulder at the open door and saw that there were hundreds of strangers all waiting for her. She felt terrified.
And one of them was to be her husband. They all seemed the same to her--the bearded men with long wild hair and strange clothes, the women with low-necked gowns that clung to their shapely forms, leaving little to the imagination, so unlike the fair-haired, pale-skinned people of her own 43 court.
If a woman ventured in public like one of these Gerfalians, she would be considered halfdressed; an unshaven man would be censured by the priests. The room fell silent. Tashi walked smoothly up the central aisle, keeping her eyes locked on the man at the center of the long table in front of her.
She reached the bottom of the dais and bowed as befitted one ruler greeting another.
Tashi had been warned to expect this so did not flinch at. Tashi noted with pleasure that it was of equal magnificence to his own.
She swept her gown into an arc as she sat. A dog promptly flopped down on it, drooling on the priceless fabric. King Lagan bent and stroked the beast. Tashi turned to him with a frown. He looked different from the others--his skin was darker and his black hair tightly curled like a Southerner.
She wondered if he was some kind of entertainer, a court jester perhaps. He was very sloppily dressed and had already spilt something on his red velvet tunic. King Lagan was looking thunderous but he struggled to keep his temper. I am hopeless at these sort of introductions. Tashi was aware that all eyes were upon them. She wanted to slap the boy for his behavior but instead clasped her hands in her lap.
It was worse than she had feared: If he was not mistaken, the little peasant had just reprimanded him. To Tashi's horror, he spread it flat, obliterating her model, and made a crude paper dart. There's nothing written on it. It's a Blue Crescent tradition. She feared she was going to burst into tears in front of all these barbarians.
The gold trimmings of her headdress trembled. I will retire. Please enjoy the feast in my absence. Everyone jumped to their feet to bow as the Princess made her escape.
King Lagan narrowed his eyes at his son. Chapter 3 The King and his ministers were holding an emergency meeting. The Crown Princess had refused to leave her quarters for the last week, and preparations for the wedding were making no progress as the Blue Crescent delegation was withholding its cooperation. She can't still be tired! Perhaps his father might be having second thoughts about the advisability of the union.
It appears our greetings turned out in Crescent culture to be a catalogue of insults to the Princess. But you met her yourself! We held a feast in her honor. What more could Her Highness want? His country was on the brink of disaster and all because of some white-faced girl who was keeping to her room in a tantrum.
He wanted to box her ears. Didn't she understand what was at stake? The worst insult apparently was offered by Prince Ramil himself. You were there. She sent me this stupid paper bird. How about that for insults! She came thousands of miles and gave me a squashed paper model.
King Lagan buried his face in his hands and groaned. She's come to do her duty by giving herself in marriage to my son, behaving with decorum beyond her years, and what do our young people do? They snub her, sit on her gifts, then fling them back into her lap. The King scowled at his son. He knew that Hortlan and Yendral would tease him unmercifully for crushing his future wife's gift like an ill-mannered oaf. But it hadn't been his fault. He'd warned his father that the two cultures were completely incompatible.
I am surprised to hear that.
He sat there so sullen and uninterested in the business, almost as if it were someone else's betrothed they were talking about. He acted as if he had no inkling of the true seriousness of the situation. Gerfal could not afford the failure of this union. Do something that shows that you do have a good side. Sometimes I need reminding you have one too!
Show her you can be considerate, if you try. I trust you to show her the courtesy of a host," Lagan replied, moving on to the next item on the agenda. Tashi was in a terrible state. She realized she had to face the Gerfalian court again, but now that she had hidden in her rooms for a week it was doubly difficult to come out. She felt humiliated--and knew she was a failure. Wrapped in one of the furs bought in the Ice Archipelago, she paced the private terrace in front of her chamber, staring down on the city below her with unseeing eyes.
She already hated it here and suspected that the people despised her. Even in the stables, the servants had all gazed at her like some curiosity in a menagerie. No one lowered their eyes respectfully as she passed. She hadn't plucked up the courage to send it yet, but she knew with a fierce certainty that she could not abide to be married to that sneering boy who'd insulted her so publicly.
All who had travelled with her were whispering about it behind her back. She understood that scuffles had broken out down at the docks between sailors from the two navies. If she stayed much longer, she'd end up causing a war, not bringing about an alliance. The Etiquette Mistress appeared at her elbow. He is waiting outside and asks if you are at leisure? She smoothed her robe. There was no time to change into more formal attire.
She was wearing barely any makeup apart from the everyday kohl around her eyes. At least her hair was decently covered. The Mistress departed and returned swiftly with the King.
He strode towards her, arms outstretched. It grieves me that we have offended you. My son is heartily sorry for the incident 51 with the paper dragonfly. He had no idea of its significance and thought you were playing a joke on him.
Tashi did not know what to do. I'm not going to eat you, if that's what you're thinking," continued the King. Without all that make-up and glitter, he could see that she was a pretty little thing. And so young. It made him sad to think that she'd come to the other end of the world to marry his inept son when she should be growing up peacefully in her own home.
Another sacrifice. He pulled her gently to the seat beside him. I think it wise for you to get to know Ramil away from everyone. He's a good boy really. Not ride! Well, then there's a treat in store for you. Ramil is an excellent rider--gets it from his mother, Zarai, a princess among the Horse Followers.
He'll have you in the saddle and away before you know it. He's a very good teacher. If I am to learn to ride, I would be happy with one of the ordinary instructors. Why, there is nothing more important than him spending time with you. Say nothing more on the subject. Tomorrow morning, just after nine, he'll be waiting for you in the stables. Good afternoon. He'd patted her several times-no man had touched her like that since her father said goodbye to her on Kai four years ago.
He'd called her "my dear" as if they were already kin.