From the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Margaret Weis is the co-author (with Tracy Hickman) of the bestselling Dragonlace Chronicles & Dragonlace Legends series, as well as the co-author (with Robert Krammes) of the Dragon Brigade trilogy of novels. She also publishes role-playing games, including major franchises such as Firefly and Smallville.
Read an Excerpt
CALANDRA QUINDINIAR SAT AT THE HUGE POLISHED SCROLL DESK ADDING up the last month’s earnings. Her white fingers darted rapidly over the abacus, sliding the beads up and down, muttering the figures aloud to herself as she wrote them in the old leather-bound ledger. Her handwriting was much like herself: thin, upright, precise, and easy to read.
Above her head whirled four plumes made of swans’ feathers, keeping the air moving. Despite the suffocating midcycle heat outside, the interior of the house was cool. It stood on the highest elevation in the city and so obtained the breeze that otherwise was often lost in the jungle vegetation.
The house was the largest in the city, next to the royal palace. (Lenthan Quindiniar had the money to build his house larger than the royal palace, but he was a modest elf and knew his place.) The rooms were spacious and airy with high ceilings and numerous windows and the magical system of flutterfans, at least one in every room. The living rooms were on the second floor and were open and beautifully furnished. Drawn shades darkened and cooled them during bright hours of the cycle. During stormtime, the shades were raised to catch the refreshing, rain-drenched breezes.
Calandra’s younger brother, Paithan, sat in a rocking chair near the desk. He rocked lazily back and forth, a palm fan in his hand, and watched the rotation of the swans’ wings above his sister’s head. Several other fans were visible to him from the study—the fan in the living room and beyond that the fan in the dining area. He watched them all waft through the air and between the rhythmic flutter of the wings and the clicking of the beads of the abacus and the gentle creaking of his chair, he fell into an almost hypnotic trance.
A violent explosion that shook the three-level house jolted Paithan upright.
“Damn,” he said, looking irritably at a fine sifting of plaster1 that was falling from the ceiling into his iced drink.
His sister snorted and said nothing. She had paused to blow plaster off the page of the ledger, but did not miss a figure. A wail of terror could be heard, coming from the level down below.
“That’ll be the new scullery maid,” said Paithan, rising to his feet. “I better go and comfort her, tell her it’s only father—”
“You’ll do no such thing,” snapped Calandra, neither raising her head nor ceasing to write. “You’ll sit right there and wait until I’m finished so that we can go over your next trip norinth. It’s little enough you do to earn your keep, idling about with your noble friends, doing Orn knows what. Besides, the new girl’s a human and an ugly one at that.”
Calandra returned to her addition and subtraction. Paithan subsided good-naturedly back into his chair.
I might have known, he reflected, that if Calandra’d hire a human at all the girl’d be some little pig-faced wretch. That’s sisterly love for you. Ah, well, I’ll be on the road soon and then what dear Cal doesn’t know won’t hurt her.
Paithan rocked, his sister muttered, the fans whirred contentedly.
The elves revere life and so magically endow it on nearly all their creations. The feathers were under the illusion that they were still attached to the swan. Paithan, watching them, thought that this might be a good analogy for their entire family. They were all under the illusion that they were still attached to something, perhaps even each other.
His peaceful reverie was interrupted by the appearance of a charred, singed, and disheveled man, who bounded into the room, rubbing his hands.
“That was a good one, don’t you think?” he said.
The man was short, for an elf, and had obviously once been robustly plump. The flesh had begun to sag lately; the skin had turned sallow and slightly puffy. Though it could not be told beneath the soot, the gray hair standing up around a large bald spot on his head revealed that he was in his middle years. Other than his graying hair, it might have been difficult to guess the elf’s age because his face was smooth and unwrinkled—too smooth. His eyes were bright—too bright. He rubbed his hands and looked anxiously from daughter to son.
“That was a good one, wasn’t it?” he repeated.
“Sure, Guvnor,” said Paithan in good-humored agreement. “Nearly knocked me over backward.”
Lenthan Quindiniar smiled jerkily.
“Calandra?” he persisted.
“You’ve sent the kitchen help into hysterics and put new cracks in the ceiling, if that’s what you mean, Father,” retorted Calandra, snapping the beads together viciously.
“You’ve made a mistake!” squeaked the abacus suddenly.
Calandra glared at it, but the abacus held firm. “Fourteen thousand six hundred eighty-five add twenty-seven is not fourteen thousand six hundred twelve. It’s fourteen thousand seven hundred twelve. You’ve neglected to carry the one.”
“I’m surprised I can still reckon at all! See what you’ve done, Father?” Calandra demanded.
Lenthan appeared rather downcast for a moment, but he cheered up almost immediately.
“It won’t be long now,” he said, rubbing his hands. “That last one lifted the rocket above my head. I think I’m close to discovering the proper mixture. I’ll be in the laboratory, my dears, if anyone needs me.”
“That’s likely!” muttered Calandra.
“Oh, ease up on the guvnor,” said Paithan, watching with some amusement as the elf wound his way vaguely around the assortment of fine furnishings to disappear through a door at the back of the dining area. “Would you rather have him the way he was after Mother died?”
“I’d rather have him sane, if that’s what you mean, but I suppose that’s too much to ask! Between Thea’s gallivanting and Papa’s idiocy, we’re the laughing stock of the city.”
“Don’t worry, Sister dear. The people may snigger but, with you scooping up the money of the Lords of Thillia, they do so behind their hands. Besides, if the guvnor was sane he’d be back in the business.”
“Humpf,” snorted Calandra. “And don’t use that slang talk. You know I can’t abide it. It’s what comes of hanging around with that crowd of yours. Idle, time-wasting bunch of—”
“Wrong!” informed the abacus. “It’s supposed to be—”
“I’ll do it!” Calandra frowned over her latest entry and irritably went back to add up her figures again.
“Let that … that thing there do the work,” suggested Paithan, motioning to the abacus.
“I don’t trust machines. Hush up!” Calandra snarled when her brother would have spoken.
Paithan sat quietly for several moments, fanning himself and wondering if he had the energy to call for the servant to bring him a fresh glass of vindrech—one that didn’t have plaster in it. But it was against the young elf’s nature to be silent for long.
“Speaking of Thea, where is she?” he asked, peering about as if he expected to see her emerge from under one of the antimacassars.
“In bed, of course. It’s not winetime yet,” returned his sister, referring to that period late in the cycle2 known as “storm” when all elves cease their work and relax over a glass of spiced wine.
Paithan rocked. He was getting bored. Lord Durndrun was having a group over for sailing on his treepond and a picnic supper after, and if Paithan was planning to attend it was high time he set about getting dressed and on his way. Although not of noble birth, the young elf was rich enough, handsome enough, and charming enough to make his way into the society of the gently bred. He lacked the education of the nobility but was smart enough to admit it and not try to pretend he was anything other than what he was—the son of a middle-class businessman. The fact that his middle-class businessman father happened to be the wealthiest man in all of Equilan, wealthier even (so it was rumored) than the queen herself, more than made up for Paithan’s occasional lapses into vulgarity.
The young elf was a good-hearted companion who spent his money freely and, as one of the lords said, “He is an interesting devil—can tell the wildest tales …”
Paithan’s education came from the world, not from books. Since his mother’s death, some eight years previous, and his father’s subsequent descent into madness and ill-health, Paithan and his elder sister had taken over the family business. Calandra stayed at home and handled the monetary side of the prosperous weapons company. Although the elves hadn’t gone to war in more than a hundred years, the humans were still fond of the practice and even fonder of the magical elven weapons created to wage it. It was Paithan’s job to go out into the world, negotiate the deals, make certain that shipments were delivered, and keep the customers happy.
Consequently, he had traveled over all the lands of Thillia and had once ventured as far as the realm of the SeaKings to the norinth. Noble elves, on the other hand, rarely left their estates high in the treetops. Many had never been to the lower parts of Equilan, their own queendom. Paithan was, therefore, looked upon as a marvelous oddity and was courted as such.
Paithan knew the lords and ladies kept him around much as they kept their pet monkeys—to amuse them. He was not truly accepted into higher elven society. He and his family were invited to the royal palace once a year—the queen’s concession to those who kept her coffers full—but that was all. None of which bothered Paithan in the least.
The knowledge that elves who weren’t half as smart or one-fourth as rich looked down on the Quindiniars because they couldn’t trace their family back to the Plague rankled like an arrow wound in Calandra’s breast. She had no use for the “peerage” and made her disdain plain, at least to her younger brother. And she was extremely put out that Paithan didn’t share her feelings.