The question rang in Sydli’s thoughts and
brought a gush of fear. Sydli. She answered before she decided whether
the voice belonged to a friend or enemy. To muffle her mind, she quickly
slammed the barrier her mother had taught her to erect.
She sank on a chair and covered her face
with her hands. Though she had given her name to a stranger, she had kept her
location secret. Cautiously, she opened the bond to her twin. Emli. Be
careful at dinner tonight. We don’t want Lodar to know which of us can hear his
Emli grinned. He is fun to confuse but I
don’t like or trust him. He makes me feel itchy.
You’re right to feel that way. I have
listened to him when he sits at Father’s side. Mandir constantly speaks of Wesren
and how wealthy that princedom has become. He hints the reason is because no
female or halfling can be the ruler. He also argues that as Father’s oldest
child, though his mother was never a spouse, he should be named as heir.
Emli frowned. Father was pleased when
Lodar returned. What will we do if he is named heir?
Sydli grasped her twin’s hands. We will
pray spouses are found for us in other princedoms.
If Father does that, we will be
Sydli caught a hint of eagerness in her
twin’s thoughts. Did Emli want to have a life apart? The possibility troubled
Sydli. Before their mother’s death, she had asked Sydli to protect her twin.
The promise had been sworn. We could have twin spouses.
Emli laughed. How many high-ranking sets
of twins are there? I know of no others. She rose. “Let me be the friendly
one tonight. Do you think Lodar knows which of us is the true heir?”
Sydli shook her head. “Doubtful. Prepare to
be charming. I will be nasty.” She finished braiding her hair. They had
inherited their pale hair and green eyes from their mother. Their copper-hued
skin was like their father’s. Being halflings had held them apart from the
people of Nortren.
The summoning bell chimed. Emli walked to
the door. “We should hurry.”
They sped along the corridor toward the
throne room. Sydli paused at the door to catch her breath and to read who was
inside. Emli reached for the handle. Sydli’s forehead wrinkled. “Lodar is here.
Father’s thoughts show he is pleased. What has Lodar told him?”
Emli made a face. “Who knows?”
“I could learn.” Sydli felt a brush across
her thoughts. Beware. Shield. There’s a stranger in there who can read
My blocks are tight. Could this stranger
be one of our half-brother’s friends or one of our relatives?
I don’t know.
Emli opened the door. “Father, we are
When Sydli saw the tall man whose fair hair
hung in a braid down his back, her skin prickled. She pulled her barriers too
tight she could barely hear spoken words.
The stranger rose. His black leather
clothes made his skin appear as pale as newly fallen snow. His coloring and
manner meant he was from the highlands. Who was he? A miasma of evil surrounded
him. Sydli knew he was no friend.
The man turned to her father. “Pedron, your
daughters are as lovely as any I’ve seen.”
His intense glare made Sydli’s shoulder
muscles tense. She clasped Emli’s hand. They crossed the room and curtseyed to
Prince Pedron smiled. “You may rise. Dom
Senet, my twin daughters, Emli and Sydli.”
Sydli kept her gaze lowered. She caught a
glimpse of Lodar’s sly smile from the corner of her eyes. In that instant she
knew the dom was her half-brother’s ally. Take care. She sent the
message on the twin bond.
The prince held his arm for Emli to clasp.
“The evening meal awaits.”
The dom held his arm for Sydli. She touched
the tips of her fingers to his sleeve. They walked toward the great hall. She
felt his attempts to penetrate the barrier over her thoughts. Small needles
jabbed. She wanted to push him away, but she dare not show she knew of his
In the great hall, Dom Senet held her
chair. “I knew your mother. She was one of my students. Did she ever tell you
how she was brought to your father’s attentions?”
Sydli shook her head. “I know she came here
after Lodar’s mother tried to poison Father.”
“I brought her,” Dom Senet said.
He lied but why? “I don’t understand.
Mother said Doma Jandia sent her here.”
The quick freezing of his expression made
her wish she dared read his thoughts. She couldn’t lower her barriers for an
instant while in his presence. Did he think her mother would have kept her
romance a secret from her daughters? The moment dinner ended she planned to use
the hidden ways to spy on him. The dom could be one of the men her mother had
warned her daughters not to trust.
All during the many courses of the meal,
Sydli felt subtle brushes against her barriers. When the last course arrived,
she managed to gain Emli’s attention. Has he tried to break your barriers?
Once or twice. What does he want?
I don’t know but I will learn.
When the courtiers and their ladies
gathered in clusters, Sydli and Emli slipped from the room. Though Sydli wished
they could use the inner ways, the presence of so many people in the halls
prevented this escape. They reached their suite and she bolted the door.
Emli slumped on a chair. “Lodar was so
smug. Told me he believes I will make a good spouse for his half–brother.”
Sydli pulled her dress over her head. “And
“Actually he said which ever of us the dom
doesn’t claim will become Mandir’s spouse.”
“I’ll flee before either happens.” Sydli
dressed in a tunic and divided skirt. “I caught several of Lodar’s thoughts. He
believes the dom will help him become heir.”
Emli grimaced. “We have to know how they
plan to achieve this. Should I come with you?”
“Not this time. Stay here in case someone
comes to check on us.”
“What should I tell them?”
“That I went to the stillroom. You need a
potion for a headache.”
“If the dom is allied with Lodar and helps
him become heir, what will happen to Father?”
“I don’t know.” She would worry about their
father once she knew her twin was safe. “I won’t be long.”
“Always. We’re the only ones who know of
the inner ways. Remember what Mother said. The passages were created when the
highlanders helped build the palace so they could have access if needed.”
Emli nodded. “Do you think the dom knows
about them? He is from the highlands.”
“I pray not.” Sydli stepped into the
wardrobe and opened the door into a dark passage. Emli handed her a candle.
As Sydli hurried along the narrow hall, she
hoped Dom Senet knew nothing about the hidden ways. She moved forward and
listened for voices. Loud ones came from Lodar’s suite. She peered through the
small viewing hole and swallowed a gasp. The dom was there. Cautiously, she
extended her talent to hear both their spoken and their silent words.
“I should end your life,” Dom Senet said.
“When you shattered the gem, you and your brother may have killed Alizand. I
had a use for him.” Though his voice remained calm, his thoughts churned with
rage. Death will be your lot when you complete the task I set.
“He got in our way,” Lodar said. “We just
wanted to kill the war steed.” Does he think he scares me?
“And that gave you permission to attempt to
kill Alizand?” Dom Senet raised his hand. A spurt of fire caressed Lodar’s
cheek. “I can mark you or I can destroy you.” But not until your usefulness
Lodar backed away. Fear scrambled his
thoughts. “Wasn’t me. Mandir is to blame.”
The question in the dom’s voice increased
the fear Sydli read in Lodar’s thoughts.
“We didn’t know he would die. We wanted the
steed dead and to have the jewel.”
The flame died. “Fools. Did you not know
the gem would become gray and dull if one of you touched it?”
Lodar laughed. “You’re wrong. Mother had a
necklace of red jewels.”
“That was nothing like the one Alizand
wore. No matter. You will pay for that action by obedience. This time you will
heed my instructions.”
Lodar nodded. “I promise.”
“Spend time with your half-sisters. One of
them has an affinity for one of the elements. I need to know which one.”
“Why?” Lodar’s thoughts raced with ways to
turn the order to his advantage.
“Not for you to know.” Dom Senet raised his
“How do I learn what you want to know?”
“By skillful questions. By observation.
When you have the answer, report to me.”
“What are these affinities?” Lodar turned
his back on the dom.
Dom Senet laughed. “You have seen me and
Alizand use Fire. Air pulls thoughts from a person’s head. Water senses
emotions. Earth makes plants grow.”
“How do I report to you? You’re leaving in
With a sudden movement, the dom placed his
hands on Lodar’s head. Commands came too fast for Sydli to hear them all. She
feared if she probed deeper Dom Senet would discover her. As she closed her
mind, she heard a voice.
Seek the Rovers. If you are in danger
they will help.
Dom Senet spoke again. “Not the Rovers, you
fool. There are two doms living in town. Seek them.”
Sydli stepped back and managed to avoid
hitting the wall. The voice giving the command hadn’t sound like Dom Senet’s,
but she had no idea if the speaker was friend or foe. She and Emli were in
danger. Plans for an escape were essential. Where could they go? She knew
nothing about any place except Norla and little about the town except for the
palace and the market. Could she and Emli find safety with the Rovers?