IT WAS STRANGE, DIANORA THOUGHT, STILL MOVING THROUGH the crowded Audience Chamber as spring sunlight filtered down on Brandins court from the stained- glass windows above, how the so clear portents of youth were alchemized by time into the many-layered ambiguities of adult life. Sipping from her jeweled cup she considered the alternative. That she had simply allowed things to become nuanced and difficult. That the real truths were exactly the same as they had been on the day she arrived. That all she was doing was hiding: from what she had become, and what she had not yet done. It was the central question of her life and once more she pushed it away to the edges of her awareness. Not today. Not in any daytime. Those thoughts belonged to nights alone in the saishan when only Scelto by her door might know how sleepless she was, or find the tracks of tears along her cheeks when he came to wake her in the morning. What he did do, an instant later, was glance quickly beyond her shoulder towards the throne. Dianora was already turning by then, an inexplicable sense, almost an antenna, having alerted her. So she was facing the Island Throne and the doorway behind it by the time the heralds staff rapped the floor twice, not loudly, and Brandin came into the room. He was followed by the two priests, and the priestess of Adaon. Rhun shambled quickly over to stand near by, dressed identically to the King except for his cap. The truer measure of power, Brandin had once said to her, wouldnt be found in having twenty heralds deafen a room by proclaiming ones arrival. Any fool in funds for a day could rivet attention that way. The more testing course, the truer measure, was to enter unobtrusively and observe what happened. What happened was what always happened. The Audience Chamber had been collectively poised as if on the edge of a cliff for the past ten minutes, waiting. Now, just as collectively, the court plummeted into obeisance. Not one person in the whole crowded room was still speaking by the time the heralds muted staff of office proclaimed the King. In the silence the two discreet raps on the marbled floor sounded like echoing thunder. Brandin was in high good humor. Dianora could have told that from halfway across the room, even if she hadnt had a hint from Rhun already. Her heart was beating very fast. It always did whenever Brandin entered a room where she was. Even after twelve years. Even still, and despite everything. So many lines of her life led to or from this man or came together, hopelessly Brandins amused glance went from her to Rhamanus. It was not as if hed needed the reminder of which Tribute captain had brought him Dianora. She knew that, and he knew she did. It was all part of their verbal dance. His intelligence stretched her to her limits, and then changed what those limits were. She noticed, perhaps because the subject had come up with Rhamanus, that there was as much grey in his beard now as black. This, she realized, was why hed wanted to speak to her alone. Hed been up on Sangarios that morning; she was one of the few who knew about it. Brandin kept this venture quiet, in case he should fail. Shed been prepared to tease him about it. At the beginning of spring, just as the winds began to change, before the last snows melted in Certando and Tregea and the southern reaches of what had been Tigana, came the three Ember Days that marked the turning of the year. No fires not already burning were lit anywhere in the Palm. The devout fasted for at least the first of the three days. The bells of the Triad temples were silent. Men stayed within their doors at night, especially after darkfall on the first day which was the Day of the Dead. There were Ember Days in autumn as well, halfway through the year, when the time of mourning came for Adaon slain on his mountain in Tregea, when the sun began to fade as Eanna mourned and Morian folded in upon herself in her Halls underground. But the spring days...
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