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Home Is Where The Heart Aches: Chapter Seven

By on the 24th day, Terran month 9 in Home is Where the Heart Aches (Novella) | 0 comments

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CHAPTER SEVEN

“It was excellent,” Krush said, gesturing with the spoon in his hand. “Very well done.
Understated, but unmistakable. I think you were right to put rumor to rest as soon as you
could.” He reached for the beaker of hot, azure berry syrup, and poured a little more on his
crisp slices of toasted mazea.
“Glad you approve,” Ardenai smiled. “And you, Teal, what did you think?”
“You spoke to ‘unfounded and unappreciated rumor,’ and I liked that,” he said, passing
a steaming bowl of vegetables. “I think if Pythos is right and this did come from the Eloi,
they will know you are displeased, and they may think twice before doing anything like this
again.”
“Why did they do it in the first place, is what I want to know,” Gideon said, putting
down his sticks to take a long drink of rhax juice. “What would the benefit be to having
Equus think you were … you know.”
“It all has to do with power,” Ardenai sighed, leaning back with his tea.
“Power? I thought you were the absolute, undisputed ruler of Equus,” the boy
persisted.
“If I choose to function as such, I most assuredly am. I could have all the Eloi taken
into custody and questioned. I could figure out very quickly who started this, and I could
get a thousand opinions as to why it was done. I’m choosing not to. This one I’m going to
let go by, but as I said last night, this will not happen again without repercussions. It does
our people no good to be unsure of the Great House, and it does us no good to be unsure of
each other.” He set his mug back on the table and reached for another flat-wrap. “We didn’t
see much of you last evening, young man, and what in the ten tribute worlds of Equus
happened to your hands? You look like you met a mothering kel on the trail.”
“I met Ah’brianne’s new puppy,” he grinned. “He’s the cutest little guy. All feet and
tongue …”
“And milk teeth,” Ah’rane threw in with a chuckle. “Ah’mae said they were getting
another dog. Sawkus is getting older, and they need the help, what with the kel population,

and the cerastaper population both on the rise around here. We've always had protopeds to
contend with, and it would be a tragedy if Ah’mae lost those beautiful woollies of hers.”
“Gee, maybe we should have a dog, too,” Gideon said, resisting the urge to hug his
grandmother for making an opening for him. She had said she would, saying in the same
breath that she wouldn’t advocate. Krush had never been much of a one for dogs around the
place. “If there are to be babes here soon …” he grimaced a little. He didn’t want the
conversation veering off before he was through with it. “Or maybe not so soon, but it takes
a puppy awhile to learn his or her responsibilities, and a dog would make a good guardian
for the … for whatever children. Even the herdsmen have children, and we have no dog at
all anyplace.” He took a breath and actually thought about what Ah’rane had said, and his
smile faded. “What are kels and … what? Certus … that other thing you mentioned?”
“Kel, in the ancient language, means claw,” Ah’din said. “Kels are huge, hairy
mammals with great, long claws and teeth. They aren’t usually aggressive, but if they’re
hungry, or they’re cornered, they can be deadly. And we do have reports of them moving out
of the solitudes toward us. Usually the sign of a bad winter coming.”
“They look very much like the ancient sport bears of Declivis,” Krush added, biting
into an extra crispy slice of mazea. It turned out to be hotter than he’d expected it to be, and
he paused, and sucked in some cool air to soothe his tongue and the roof of his mouth, and
waved at his son to continue.
Ardenai took up the instruction. “Cerastapers are wild Equi boars. They have ten inch
tusks in their lower jaw, horns on their heads, and horns on their front shoulders. They can
grow to be the size of Ethelred the Bold, and they can be nasty, deadly creatures.”
“And there are really kels, and cerastapers around here?”
“Oh yes,” Krush muttered. “And why Timor thinks something the size of a dog could
defend anything against one is beyond me. A dog wouldn’t make two bites for a kel, and a
cerastaper would just horn him into the next keep. Dogs are better for carrying off shoes
and digging holes and chasing what they’re not supposed to chase, than they are protecting
anybody against anything.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” Gideon sighed, and lowered his eyes to his cereal bowl.
“What else did you and Ah’brianne talk about?” Io asked, patting his thigh under the
table.

“Oh … just stuff, I guess. I met her parents, and they seem very nice. And she told me
that there’s a schoolmaster at the Great House, Master Breton. He tutors the students who
are serving as pages. I guess they spend two hours together every school night. She invited
me to come and sit in.”
“And will you?” Teal asked.
“I was thinking about it,” Gideon said with an offhand shrug.
“Well, let me recommend Master Breton,” Teal smiled. “He’s tough, but he has a
wonderful, lucid way of explaining things, and I’m sure he’d give your education a leg up.
You ought to try it, just for the experience.”
“Was he your teacher?” Gideon asked, looking surprised. “He’s been there that long?”
“Ancients that your father and I are,” Teal laughed. “Yes, he was.”
“It gets more unbelievable yet,” Ah’rane said soberly. “He was there when I was a
page. Back when we still carried clubs to school to fight off barbarians in the streets.”
“That’s how I met your grandmother,” Krush said fondly, “at club wielding class.
Good old CWC. Over the years it was shortened until it just became, the club. ‘Let’s go to
the club,’ we’d say, and that’s what we’d mean. And there she was one night, wearing that
fresh kel skin, with his teeth hanging around her neck and a cerastaper tusk in her hair. Oh,
I was in love. I just whacked her over the head, and dragged her home with me.”
“And then they had me,” Ardenai said, then held up one finger. “Oops. No. They
didn’t have me, did they. Where did you get me?”
“We found you under a rock,” Krush said, and at the same time Ah’rane said, “An
eagle dropped you on his way over.”
“The sslithery-ssnake brought thee in hiss big, green ssack,” Pythos hissed, smacking
down another piece of fruit. “Actually, I’d sstolen thee from a young mother of the Great
Housse, and wass carrying thee off for my ssupper, when it ssuddenly occurred to me that I
might be able to barter thee for ssomething truly delectable, like a wood rat. Sso I sstopped
at the cottage of a humble farmer and hiss lovely young wife …”
“Who just happened to look exactly like my sire,” Gideon added dryly.
“My sstory, if thee pleasses,” the serpent said blandly. “And I assked them if they
would pay me one wood rat every time all sseven moonss appeared together in the ssky for
the nexxt hundred yearss in exchange for thiss beautiful little boy, and they agreed. It iss the

truth, Gideon. Ssuch iss the sstuff of legendss.” He popped another piece of fruit in his
mouth and received a round of applause for his tale.
He nodded graciously and cocked his head in Gideon’s direction. “We had besst be
getting sstarted if thee wantss to be finisshed by the time the conferencce beginss,
Hatchling.”
Ardenai looked concerned, or at least interested. “How much damage did that puppy’s
teeth do, yesterday? Or is it any of my business?”
Pythos looked to Gideon, who smiled uncomfortably and said, “I’ve asked Pythos to …
how did my sire put this … to do a little sanding and priming. Oh, and Ah’brianne has
asked me if I’d like to go to a concert next Hesstee … I hate that word … why can’t you
people just say Friday?” He smiled, and tried again. “Hess-chee-gyre evening in Pomonar.
I told her I would ask thee, my father.”
Ardenai cocked a dark eyebrow and crimped a grin. “How late will you be, and where
will you sleep?”
“I believe the concert is over at the twenty-third hour, and wherever you are sleeping,
is where I will sleep, as well. If you are here, I will come here. If you are at the Great
House, I will return to Thura.”
“You may come here without me,” Ardenai chuckled. “This is your home.”
“No,” Gideon said quietly. “My place is with thee, Mister Grayson, watching thy
back, and carrying thy knapsack.”
“As thee wishes, Mister Gideon. You have my permission. Go with thy physician,
and then get ready for the conference. I would have thee sit in, at least for the morning. The
afternoon, belongs to your grandsire and the harvesting machinery. Tomorrow, we all
belong to your grandsire and the harvesting machinery.”
They watched Gideon exit with Pythos and Io said softly, “I think perhaps the young
lady is changing Gideon’s outlook on things.”
“Not too quickly, I hope,” Ardenai replied. “There are many ways in which one may
be overwhelmed, and some look more inviting than others. In any case you find yourself
overwhelmed, and then, it is too late.”
“Your son is a young man of rare good sense,” Krush said sternly. “Give him a little
more rein. I said it with Kehailan, I’ll say it with Gideon. I’ll say it with the next one, and

the next. You’re too strict. You have wonderful sons. Enjoy them. I must go. I need to
talk to Timor about something, and then I, too, would like to sit in on this conference, which
means I must cease to look like a … what was it … a humble farmer? Oh, the chernai are
here with furnishings for today’s pourparler. Have you any preference, Firstlord?”
“I will see to this, Sire,” said Teal, nodding with deep respect to his father-in-law.
“Make thyself ready.”
Krush caught his face and kissed his forehead in passing. “I am blessed with a
wonderful family,” he said, heading for the front door and his own house. “Now if only
there were more grandchildren. Ah’din, thank you for breakfast. Ah’rane, lovely young
wife of humble farmer, attend, if you please.”
“We’ll see you children in a bit,” she laughed, kissing the top of Ardenai’s head and
giving Io a pat on the shoulder, before hugging Ah’din and hurrying after her husband, who
was whistling himself away to the ancient tune of the Wind Warriors.
“And this day we shall meet them,” Ardenai said quietly. Picking up his sire’s tune he
sang softly,
“‘Ghostly horsemen, riding by,
Pallid death on hooves of night.’
What will they be like, I wonder? In any event, I must go and prepare. Teal, may I speak
with thee first a moment?”
From the corner of his eye he saw Io give Ah’din a subtle thumbs-up, and resisted the
urge to laugh, even as he turned to glare at her. “I can do things myself, you know,” he said,
and paused a moment, and sent up a prayer, thanking the Creator Spirit that he didn’t have
to. “I would beg a most great boon of thee, my trusted friend … away from these scheming
women,” Ardenai said, winked at his wife, and bowed his kinsman through the archway to
the main hearth.

*******

“If there is anything else we need to ask, to explore, to clarify in this first meeting, it
escapes me,” Ardenai said, catching the circlet with its seven chevrons into the tuck of his
braid and reaching for the first of the gold bracelets. “We shall forgo the forearm knives, I

think. They don’t exactly smack of hospitality, and this is our home.”
“And you did kill their arrogating Firstlord with one of them,” Io chuckled, and
immediately regretted the grimace of pain it caused. “I … shouldn’t have said that,” she
murmured, six years old again, squirming under Ardenai Teacher’s look of strained but
infinite patience. She concentrated on trying to hide the tips of her ears under her hair
while she recovered her adulthood and present status. “Anyway, we had best get out there,”
she said briskly. “Ah’krill’s shunt will be here any minute.” She looked at her husband in
the reflector, and was not encouraged by the lines in his handsome face. “Are you feeling
good enough to do this, beloved? You’ve only been out of bed a few days …”
He silenced her with a smile and kissed the tips of her ears, which had promptly
reasserted themselves above her mass of curls. “I’m well on the road to recovery. Remind
me not to get drawn into the dancing and I’ll be just fine. This won’t be all that long a
palaver. We’ll get acquainted, and get comfortable and talk a bit, and then spend time eating
and visiting. Can you imagine what stories they’ll have to tell? We’ll be wishing they’d
stay longer. Krush is so excited he can hardly stand it.”
“Him, I’m not worried about,” Io muttered. She took a deep breath and said, “Truth be
told, I’m more worried about your dam and my sire and some of the other senators you
invited than I am about the Telenir. They’ll come as a delegation. They’ll go as a
delegation. The others, may linger like a bad pot of phaselus, despite what Krush or any of
the rest of us can do.”
“Charming image,” he chuckled. He finished rubbing the water marks off his
armbands and bent to kiss his elfin consort. “Please see to the greeting of our guests. I want
a word with Teal, and I’ll be out to join you.”
Io’s eyebrows knit with worry. “He did say yes, didn’t he? He did say he’d be on the
advisory council?”
“Yes,” Ardenai soothed. “Please … do as I ask and see to our guests, Fledermaus… and
for heaven’s sake, quit clucking.”
She nodded obediently, fastened her long cape with its gold dragonhorse clasp, gave
herself a quick last appraisal, and went toward the area flagged for the landing of shuntcraft,
waving to Gideon and Pythos as she hurried across the freshly washed pavers. She
wondered how the morning’s procedure had gone, and resisted the urge to turn aside and

ask.
Ardenai left his chambers and strode toward the big central hub of the house, calling
for his kinsman. He ran into Teal just coming out of the wing he shared with Ah’din, and
seized him, steering him into the kitchen and away from the distraction of the first shunt’s
landing. “May I speak with you a minute?”
“Of course,” Teal frowned. “Is everything all right? Are you well enough to do this?”
“Et tu?” Ardenai snorted. “I’m fine. I just wanted to make sure … you haven’t
changed your mind. I would have you introduced today as one of my advisors, but I know
how much you love your position as Master of Horse, and I’m beginning to feel like I
popped this on you ….”
“I love being Master of Horse. I’m actually enjoying being Captain of the Horse
Guard, but I love you more. I will join you. I said I would, and on that matter I have not
changed my mind.” He sucked his cheeks and glanced sideways at his sober kinsman.
“Besides, the thought of having all that power … makes me feel quite mad. How easily I
could become another Sarkhan.”
Ardenai scowled at his brother-in-law. “You’re not going to regret this haste?”
“Oh, probably, from time to time, but that is the nature of politics, and of kinship, is it
not? If you are content to have me serve thee, Dragonhorse, I am content to do so.” Teal
flashed his good-looking grin, and Ardenai pulled him into a quick, back slapping embrace.
“Thank you,” he said. “I shall try to make it worth your while.”
“Just try to make it through this without collapsing,” Teal muttered, and steered him
out through the front door and around the corner of the house into the bustle of the gardens.
“I was right in having this here rather than at the Great House, wasn’t I?” Ardenai
asked, and Teal’s arm came around his shoulder as they walked.
“You’re fussing like an old mare with a new foal, Ardi. You know perfectly well it’s
best that you don’t travel right now, though you’re too stubborn to admit it. And the Great
House … while beautiful and symbolic and all of that … can be intimidating. I think it was
kind of you to invite them here, to your home. It certainly demonstrates a willingness to be
friends, or at least allies.”
“Actually, it’s our home,” Ardenai corrected, and glanced at the tall, handsome man
striding beside him – as tall, more powerfully built than the Firstlord himself – and, in

Ardenai’s studied opinion, at least as worthy of the office. Right now, he wished it had gone
so. “Now that I am Firstlord, I worry that our private lives may suffer. I would understand
if you … took your wife and went to Upland keep just to get away from the hubbub.”
“Would you like me to take my wife and move to Upland keep? No hard feelings if
you do.”
Ardenai looked stricken, and Teal pursed his lips in annoyance. The man just was not
well enough recovered from his illness for this. Every minor vexation was a shock, every
twist in the thread of conversation a Gordian knot. But would he postpone this? Would he
rest like he was supposed to? Of course not. He was Ardenai Firstlord of Equus, the
Thirteenth Dragonhorse, and the hardest head on the planet. “Forget I mentioned it,” Teal
said, and his hand closed more tightly on the Firstlord’s shoulder. “You couldn’t survive a
day without your sister’s flatwraps, and you and I both know it. Besides …” he thought a
moment and discarded what he was going to say about Ardenai’s duties holding him in the
planetary capital, or, like many of his predecessors on some faraway planet that needed
subduing. Ardenai loved his home. He didn’t need to be reminded that he’d be gone a good
deal of the time. “Besides … Upland keep already sits empty, awaiting whichever one of our
children desires it. Ah’din and I are happy here, and we’ll need to stick together as an
extended family, or Sea keep, as well as Canyon keep, will go to wrack and ruin, despite all
Krush can do. He needs us, and as he gets older, he will need us and our sons even more.
Most of all, we must consider Krush and Ah’rane. She will need our wives and our
daughters. We are bound to this place, and to those good people. Of all our sacred duties,
the greatest is to the land and to our elders, you know that.”
“Yes,” Ardenai agreed. “To the land, and the children who will grow up here in this
beautiful place.”
They paused a moment to survey the activities, and Teal added quietly, “You have
done exactly the right thing. Look about you. Look upon this commanding scene that you
have engineered. Trust yourself as much as the rest of us trust you.”
It was, indeed, impressive. The dragonhorse of Equus raced across the brilliant sun of
the Equi flag, while purple banners emblazoned with the seven chevrons of the Firstlord
fluttered in the late morning breeze. A huge round table of finest Calumet mahogany sat
gleaming in the center of the largest courtyard, with comfortable chairs arranged around it

for the twelve Telenir they were expecting, as well as the eight Equi representing the Great
House, the two Seventh Galactic Alliance representatives, and the two senators representing
the affined worlds – a total of twenty-four to be present at table – but all of Equus was
invited. The table’s seemingly solid surface was imbued with voice projection molecules,
just like the balustrades at the Great House, needing only to be activated to project what was
being said, not only to the audience, but to anyone who chose to watch by cosmoscope. The
image, too, was being sent, bounced off several imagers set discreetly at different levels
about the garden. A canopy had been set high above to protect the participants from the
brightness of the sun off the tabletop as well as any Oporens squalls which might blow up
from the sea to bring a brief drizzle, and several dozen seats had been arrayed out from the
table for various pages, family members and observers.
The musicians from the Great House were beginning to play, and Ardenai strolled over
to greet them, humming the traditional ballad they were warming up with. Perhaps he’d get
a chance to sit in with them a bit later on. That was an inviting thought. He’d had no time
for any of his instruments since he’d been sick, and it would be good to make music again.
He was diverted by hails from several of the ambassadors from the affined worlds, and
was changing directions to greet them when Dominus came gliding up the canyon and
settled onto her landing pods. Ardenai growled softly, half to himself, and half to his
kinsman, who rolled his eyes in sympathy. “I’ll take care of the ambassadors,” Teal
murmured, and hastened away.
“No time at all to enjoy the music,” Ardenai sighed, and strode resolutely forward,
hands extended, to greet Ah’krill and her retinue. The Firstlord veiled his thoughts, took her
heavily bejeweled hands in his own, and bowed respectfully over them. “Mother,” he said,
and received a gracious nod. Interested, but devoid of any real warmth.
“Firstlord,” she replied respectfully. “I trust you are recovering from your ordeal.” It
was not a question, it was an expectation. She smiled ever so slightly and added, “We are
pleased to hear that the generative capabilities of the Thirteenth Dragonhorse have not been
compromised. We trust they will soon be demonstrated to the enrichment of the Great
House.”
Their eyes met for an uncomfortable moment and Ardenai realized for the dozenth
time, the hundredth, that he would never be able to think of this woman as his mother. His

dam was Ah’rane, wife of Krush. She of the unadorned, hard-working hands – she who had
given him suck as an infant, and succor for all of his hundred years. This woman, was a
political opponent, perhaps even an enemy. Most certainly worthy of respect, but not
someone he could love on a personal basis.
How sad, he thought, to discover that the High Priestess of Equus was his birth mother
and have it be nothing more than a mild annoyance. He wondered with some amusement if
she felt the same way. The cocking of her finely chiseled head and the slow blinking of her
draconian eyes told him she just might.
The fact that she was accompanied by priestess Ah’nis – very tall, very blonde, and
exceedingly chilly – reminded him with all the delicacy of a bludgeon that, despite her
words on Calumet, his mother wasn’t pleased with his choice of a mate. It was Ah’nis, who
had been his mother’s choice for him, and he knew … mating with her would be inevitable.
From the look on her face, Ah’nis was no more pleased with the prospect than he was,
but like Ardenai, she, too, served at the pleasure of the Great House. She would grit her
teeth and with her usual stare of longsuffering arrogance she would dutifully allow him to
mount her, and dutifully bear him children, purebred, High Equi princes and princesses;
Ah’krill would see to it. She’d probably sit in on the mating to make sure Ardenai did what
was expected of him. And he would do his duty as Firstlord, though the thought of touching
the woman made him cringe a little inside. He knew he’d have to mate with at least six
different women to perpetuate the line of the Great House, and he’d been hoping fervently
that she wouldn’t be first. With her appearance here this morning, that hope was beginning
to fade.
He glanced at her, but she was watching the SGA shuttle land, and didn’t catch the
look. Perhaps when she was in heat he’d find her a little more attractive. In any case, he
knew Ah’krill was going to fawn over those children, and she’d let him know in a dozen
different ways, some more annoying than others, that these were the purest of the pure, the
noblest, the most worthy, and they’d be insufferable because of it. His mouth twitched at
the corners, thinking about Io, and the little fruit bat babies she’d promised him; the ones
who were going to wreak havoc in the royal apartments of the Great House. He bowed
again, partly to break his chain of thought lest Ah’krill tune into it, and partly to dismiss the
women, who were growing restive under his scrutiny.

Jilfan, who was beside Ah’krill as usual, nodded politely to the Firstlord, then walked
Ah’krill to a seat at the table. He found a place for Ah’nis and himself under the myrianotus
tree and sat obliquely studying Ardenai while appearing to look at everything else. Ardenai
wondered if the boy, always so solicitous to Ah’krill, had taken time to speak to his own
dam. Another gulf to be bridged. Another skill to be learned, being a stepfather to
someone who didn’t want a stepfather. Ardenai chuckled humorlessly and turned back to
his duties as host.
Gideon caught his eye with a smile and a wave, and Ardenai’s spirits rose as they
always did at the sight of him. The boy was escorting Marion Eletsky and Oonah Pongo,
and with them, was Kehailan. “All three of my sons here today,” the Firstlord said aloud to
no one in particular. “The one born to me, the one chosen, and the one my wife bore, who
doesn’t want a thing to do with me.” Ardenai went with a smile to embrace them, before
turning to greet Abeyan, with Io on his arm.
They, at least, seemed to have made their peace with one another. It was awkward,
Ardenai thought, suddenly having one’s lifelong chum as a father-in-law. It was awkward to
go from teaching tiny children one minute, to being the absolute ruler of the most powerful
planet in the SGA the next. It did leave one quite … what was the word he wanted, baffled?
Breathless? That was it, breathless. Ardenai drew in the air he lacked and squared his
shoulders. Any weakness on his part would be observable, and noted. One thing he did not
wish to convey to the various factions at this meeting, was weakness.
Soon, he promised himself, he could sit down and take a cool drink of water to steady
himself without being obvious. Teal had been right. His mother Ah’rane had been right,
and his father, and his sister and his wife … and Gideon … he really wasn’t up for this. But
Nik would be. He could lead the conversation, and Ardenai could sit back and look sage
and hope everybody else was comprehending better than he was, and then he’d apologize to
his family when nobody was around, and admit they’d been correct, and pick their collective
brains for anything he’d missed, and then go back to sleep for a couple of days. The
musicians began to play, and Ardenai smiled to himself and nodded. An auspicious day for
Equus – a new day of peace and understanding.
The Imperial Equi Clipper Regence, carrying the Telenir delegation was the last to
glide up the canyon and settle on its pods next to the SGA vessel. It was Commander of the

Secondary Squads Tarpan, who stepped out, and offered his hand to the elderly gentleman
who alighted first, followed by three women, two younger men, an old couple who looked
thoroughly confused and more than a little hostile, a young couple, and last, a stunningly
beautiful, very frail, middle-aged woman. Ardenai recognized her immediately as
Ah’davan, Konik’s wife.
He knew Konik had married his sexual trainer, a woman more than fifty years his
senior. He was completely and publicly devoted to her, which added to his image of the
perfect Equi nobleman. That thought, juxtaposed with the image of Konik as Telenir, made
Ardenai chuckle. He paused a moment, waiting for Konik to appear. He did not, and the
questioning expression on Ah’davan’s face as she searched the crowd, sent a chill of
premonition up the Firstlord’s spine.
He shot Teal a look and a thought, Teal gave Marion a subtle punch in the thigh, and in
a moment one of them stood on either side of the Firstlord. “Welcome to my home,” he
said, approaching the first gentleman with a cordial nod and the ancient gesture of greeting.
“Ahimsa, I wish thee peace. Pardon so abrupt a question on so historic an occasion, but
where is Senator Konik? I was looking forward to his company in this. He is not ill, I
hope.”
Ah’davan’s face went from puzzled to pale in a heartbeat, and she brushed past the
others to stand in front of Ardenai. “He is not here? You sent … he said he got a message
from you to join him here a day early. He should be here!”
Ardenai’s eyes widened, and he gave his head a brief shake. “Ah’davan, I sent no
such message.” She swayed with shock and he reached quickly and caught her by the
elbows to steady her. “Did you see this message? Did any of you?” he asked, including all
of them. “Who brought it? How did he get it?”
“I don’t know!” she moaned, and began to sob.
By then Io was beside her, offering her a hug and a place to sit, and Ardenai dropped
his voice under the rising cacophony of questions and speculation. “Tarpan, I want all these
people put under my personal protection immediately. You need, all of you, to tell Tarpan
exactly who is in your family, and where they are right now. We need to secure your
personal safety before we pursue this any further. Captain Abeyan, attend if you would be
so kind.”

When the Captain was close beside him, Ardenai hissed, “Get everybody out of here
and back to the Great House, now. Personally escort my mother and deposit her in her
chambers with a guard at the door.”
Abeyan cocked his head and studied the Firstlord’s face. “You fear for her, or you
suspect her?”
“Yes,” Ardenai replied. “Please get her out of here now, and leave Jilfan with Krush.
If someone is going to try to pick us off, I want the child out of the middle of it.”
Abeyan nodded, spun on his heel, and hurried over to Ah’krill. Ardenai didn’t want to
focus enough to actually figure out what was being said, but he gathered it was both
confusing and unpleasant. Rather than going to her shunt, Ah’krill swept toward him, and
her eyes were hard when she spoke.
“How can you suspect me of treachery when it is the leader of the Wind Warriors who
is missing?” she demanded. “It is he whom you should suspect. He’s probably sitting on
one of these rocks or up in one of these trees, getting ready to throw bolts at us all.”
“Be consoled,” Ardenai replied, glancing sideways at Abeyan, who shrugged and
looked puzzled, indicating he had said nothing. “I am most concerned for your safety, and
you will go.”
“I wish to remain,” she said firmly. “I want to hear this story they tell, to decide for
myself if there is treachery afoot.”
Ardenai returned the gaze, took her firmly by the left elbow, and steered her away
from the ears of the Telenir. “I do not have time, and will not make time, to argue with you,
Priestess. You disobeyed me once, and came to Calumet when I asked you not to. The
results were disastrous. You know it and I know it. Now, go to your shunt and go home,
and when I look for you, I expect to find you EXACTLY where I’ve sent you. Captain
Abeyan, please see to my mother’s comfort, if not to her wishes. Carefully screen anyone
she sees, lest they bring further danger upon her most holy person.”
“Yes, Firstlord,” Abeyan said, took her opposite elbow, and propelled her away.
Ardenai returned to his Telenir guests with a palms up gesture of frustration and
apology. “I am so sorry this is happening,” he said. “Is there something more I can do? Is
there something I am missing, something I should know?”
The elderly gentleman who had first alighted gave Ardenai a tight knot of a smile and

shook his white head slowly from side to side. “I fear that those of us who spoke of peace,
will die a lonely and dishonorable death. Those of us who spoke not at all, will simply
disappear, and those of us who failed in our treason, will be executed, and there is nothing
you can do to stop it. We were foolish, all of us, to think that a mission of conquest could be
turned into one of diplomacy, simply because a handful of diplomatic people willed it. We
have failed, not because we failed to kill you, but because we failed to pay attention. None
of us, not a one, not even Sarkhan’s own parents,” he jerked his chin at the elderly couple
clinging to one another nearest the shunt, “knows how to communicate with the Wind
Warriors, I’m sure of it, though Saremanno claims he can. Sardure claims it as well, but we
have seen no proof, and he refused to come today. We cannot tell them what we are doing,
what are our motives, what is our thinking. They see only betrayal.”
“See from where?’ Marion asked, opening his arms to the sky. “If they can see, they
can hear. It only makes sense. Something is going on here that we do not understand, and
obviously it’s closer to us than we ever suspected.” He glanced at Ardenai, and saw him
nodding in agreement.
“Things are not what they seem,” Ardenai said simply. “I am sorry for what has
befallen you. It is my earnest desire that nothing worse yet comes upon you. Please, place
yourselves in Tarpan’s capable hands. My wife will assist you as well. Let us gather what
you need, and make you as comfortable as we can. Sir …”
“I am Taki.”
Ardenai nodded in respect of his age. “Lord Taki, how many of you are there? Have
you a firm count?”
The old man shook his head. “Nothing about this was ever firm. All was nebulous.
All was mystery.” He sighed. “As far as I know, there were eight hundred and sixty-three
of us. Now, apparently, there are eight hundred and fifty-nine.”
Almost, Ardenai asked who the other was who’d gone missing, before he realized Taki
was including Sarkhan in the count. “I have no intention of taking from you anything which
you have earned, none of you, not lands, nor goods, though for the time being, I must take
your freedom. I have a few places in mind which will hold your numbers, and in safety. I
must split you up to protect you properly until we can figure out what’s happening. Do not
allow yourselves to be separated from your loved ones, as that is not our intent. Stay calm,

hold out hope, and hold up prayer.” He gestured his wife to one side and murmured,
“These, who were the delegation, take with their families and such personal goods as are
most precious to them to Mountain hold.”
Io looked astonished, then whispered, “Mountain hold has been closed since Kehailan
Firstlord died.”
Ardenai raised a black eyebrow and murmured, “Open it. You’re a smart girl. And the
fewer people who know, the better. Marion Eletsky is correct, something’s very wrong here.
It's been wrong from the very start. I just hope when we find Nik he’s still in one piece and
breathing.”
Within an hour they were standing alone – Ardenai, Teal, Pythos, Marion and Oonah,
Gideon and Kehailan. Krush had taken a rather sullen Jilfan in to keep Ah’din company. Io
had quickly changed clothes and gone with Tarpan. The other shunts had left with their
human cargo. Even the table was gone, and the graceful canopy with its seven silver
chevrons and purple banners. The music, had ended as quickly as it had begun, and Ardenai
had not gotten a chance to play.
“Rather an unpleasant turn of events, given the effort that went into these
preparations,” Teal groused, looking around the abandoned gardens.
“Doesst thee get the ssensse that thee iss in danger here?” asked the physician, flicking
his long tongue into the uneasy salt air blowing in on the wind, and rolling a hooded yellow
eye in the Firstlord’s direction.
“No, Pythos, I don’t,” Ardenai replied. He was standing with his palms up, head back,
eyes closed. “I’m not getting a sense of anything. Not a thing, and it’s not for lack of
trying. It’s as if someone just … dreamed this. Are you sensing anything?”
“No,” the old dragon hissed, and narrowed his eyes to slits. “There iss … nothing.
There iss … not enough.”
Teal shook his head and folded his arms across his broad chest. “You know,” he said
unwillingly, “there is the possibility that your … that Ah’krill, is right, Ardi. Konik could
have staged this. He could be headed for Telenir. He could be watching and laughing. He
could be thinking absolutely anything, doing absolutely anything. He told us a dozen times,
‘I am a loyal Wind Warrior.’ Maybe we should have believed him.”
Ardenai dropped his arms and turned with an exasperated sigh. “He also told us a

dozen times he was a loyal Equi. No. He is not the instigator. I … spent a little time with
Ah’davan’s thoughts earlier … just as a precaution. She’s genuinely terrified for him. She
doesn’t have a clue where he is. He never hinted to her in any way that this might be going
to happen, and he had no reason not to.”
“Of course he did,” Kehailan said. “He had you. Nobody knows better than he does
what a powerful telepath you are. He’s not going to tell his wife something that’s going to
pop into the front of her mind the second he goes missing. He may love her very much, but
he may also love the Wind Warriors. I think Teal may be right.”
“No,” Ardenai said. “Ah’davan has … what your mother had.” He shuddered
momentarily, remembering the disease which had taken Ah’ree from him. “All Konik could
think about was getting home to her. Being with her. He would not shock her in such a
manner, and he would never leave her.”
A sudden thought struck Marion Eletsky, and he reached into the inner pocket of his
dress uniform jacket, saying, “Speaking of shock, in all the excitement, and then all the
confusion I forgot that Moonsgold sent this for you, Ardenai.” He extracted an envelope
and handed it to the Firstlord. “He said it was a bit of a shocker.”
Ardenai opened it, read it – scowled, not with anger but with puzzlement – read it
again and muttered, “As if this wasn’t confusing enough as it is …” there was a pause while
he glanced over the two sheets again. One was figures, one was findings. “Those samples
we sent with Doctor Moonsgold, blood, tissue and bone from Konik, Sarkhan and the
others? He tested them. Had several other people test them.”
“And?” Marion said, edging closer to get a look.
“And,” Ardenai grimaced, “They are Equi, and Anguine. Nothing more.”
“Not unexpected,” Teal said. “It has long been suspected that the Telenir may be close
relatives.”
Ardenai released the corner of his bottom lip from his teeth and handed the papers to
Teal. “No,” he said again. “They are from this homeworld – back at least a hundred
generations. Konik may have lived on Anguine II, but he was born here. There is not a
single planetary adaptation in a single one of his chromosomes. None of the rest ever left
Equus or her two sister planets – ever. They are Equi, just like us. The farthest Sarkhan
ever traveled, is Calumet.”

Kehailan’s face was a complete blank for several moments and his words, when they
came, were spoken with great effort. “So … what does that mean? No Telenir? No …
planet somewhere in the great unknown? Have we gone through all of this … for nothing?”
Ardenai just stood shaking his head, staring at the pavers as though trying to read
something in the ancient stones. “It … is beginning to rain,” he said at last. “If we are cold
and hungry none of this will make any sense – not that it will anyway, but my sister and my
mother have been cooking for two days, we might as well go in and enjoy it.”
He turned momentarily south, toward the vast grasslands of Viridia, and stared at
something only he could see. “I hoped, I really did, that the foolish games had ended with
the death of Sarkhan on the wargrounds of Calumet, and that this would begin a new era of
diplomacy and peace. I was wrong. It seems we have yet another puzzle to solve, and
somehow … I don’t think … it’s the one we thought it was at all. This is an enigma, like Nik
himself, and we have got to find him.”
Kehailan’s eyes swept the familiar surroundings, and there was an uneasiness in his
action. “We still don’t know who, apparently, but where, is suddenly gaining an alarming
clarity.”
As they ducked in out of the rain, Marion chuckled humorlessly and said, “One of the
most famous quotes from Old Earth, long before we were Terren and a tribute world of
Equus, goes like this: We have seen the enemy, and he is us. Could that be the case?”
“It could,” Ardenai sighed. “Right now anything is possible. We prepared for this for
a very long time, and in most ways we were right. We did head off a usurpation … of some
kind, and we have made a good start. Every bit of information adds to the solving of this
puzzle. I am confident we will solve it.”
“Do they know, I wonder?” Oonah said quietly, sipping her tea and looking around the
table, “the ones we saw today – the old people – the old gentleman who spoke. Do they
really know they are Equi, or do they really think they are Wind Warriors?”
“What I’m wondering,” Ardenai mused, leaning back in his chair and staring into the
depths of his wine glass, “is if they’re both … or neither … and where is Nik, because every
fiber of my being tells me he is in terrible trouble right now, and it has everything to do with
being Telenir and nothing to do with being Equi.”

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