The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 75

“Where is he now?”  Ellen Eth asked, leaning forward.  “Surely he has told you how you could find him.”

“Luftin was eaten by the same bedamned dragon that Lord Caverstorm is looking for.”  Callindra said, savoring the dry bite of the mead.  “It was right after Jorda was killed saving us.  A few of her siblings came with him to avenge her death and there was a huge battle and Cerioth just ate him.”

“Luftin?  I was told your Master’s name was Glarian.”  Ellen Eth frowned and leaned forward.  “Why did you call him Luftin?”

“Turns out he was the god of wind the whole time.  I have no idea why or what a god would want with someone like me.”  Callindra was definitely feeling strange.  She set the goblet down with a frown.  “Why would the gods care about an orphan who never knew her real parents?”

“Why indeed?”  Ellen Eth said, “I know they rarely do anything without a reason, so that makes you a curiosity my dear.”

Callindra couldn’t take a deep enough breath, the bedamned stays were digging into her ribs.  She stood slightly unsteadily and bobbed a curtsey.  “Pardon me Lady ‘Orien, but I feel the need for a breath of fresh air.  I am going to just step outside for a moment.”

Ellen Eth watched her go, a slight but genuine smile on her lips.  This youngling was a puzzle and a prize.  She made a slight gesture and one of her spies slipped from the shadows and followed.  The girl wouldn’t get too far with that amount of the truth telling drug raging through her system, but she wanted to be certain that The Sol’Estin did not get beyond her reach.

Durrak toyed idly with a dagger, spinning it between his fingers and flipping it to catch the hilt.  Lorin had been gone for a quarter candlemark and he was starting to wonder where the blighter had disappeared to.  In any other situation he’d think his friend was off scandalizing the courtesans, but here and now he felt there was cause to worry.

“Hey.”  A low voice interrupted his reverie.  “You don’t look like the rest of ‘em.  I mean cause of the armor not cause you’re a Dwarf.”  A young human dressed in finery that looked out of place despite it fitting with perfection slipped into the chair that Callindra had recently vacated.

“You no do be talking like a court boy.”  Durrak observed with a wry grin.

“Huh?”  He stuffed some of the small sandwiches into his mouth and talked around the food.  “Yeah I ain’t from around here.  I’m lookin for a friend who ain’t from around here either.”

“Who do your friend be?”  Durrak asked, “A certain willful young lady?”

The boy’s eyes narrowed slightly, “Maybe.”

“If she do be Lady Callindra, she did be walking toward the exit less than half a candlemark ago.”  Durrak said, “If I do be seeing her again I do be happy to be giving her a message.”

“Which way’d she go?”  He asked.  When Durrak gestured with the point of his dagger, he nodded, “If ya see her tell her Reed was here and said time to go.”

“Maybe I do be joining you Reed.”  Durrak said, sheathing his dagger and rising from his chair.  “I do be getting bored of sitting anyhow.”

Reed looked at him and chuckled.  “You think I’m actually supposed to be here?  With all that armor you’d give me away in a second.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 74

“If you do be finding Cerioth, your best option do be running.”  Durrak said, “If I no did be a fool, I no would be looking to fight with her.  But she did be destroying Farenholm, killing all my people and taking up residence in the halls of my ancestors.  For that, I do be owning her.”

“She ate my Master.”  Callindra said, “I plan to cut her open and see if he’s still inside.”

With that, she turned and walked from the table.  Lorin watched her go, eyes searching for a hint about what possible danger she thought she could pose to a fly, let alone a dragon.

“Did you be noticing her hands?”  Durrak asked, “She do be a left handed fighter, light blade, fast footwork.  She do be wearing that ‘lady’ disguise well.”

“You really think she’s dangerous?”  Lorin asked, still mesmerized by the sway of her hips as she walked away.  “Beautiful as a naked blade, but other than how she moves, I would never have guessed…”

“Oh, I do be certain, Lorin.”  Durrak took a cigar from his pouch and blew a plume of dull red smoke to curl through the air.  “If there do be one who might beat me to Cerioth, it do be her.  We should be working together, but I no do be knowing if we can be trusting her.”

Abruptly, Lorin stood and hurried in the direction Callindra had gone.  “What the hell, why don’t we ask her?”  He said, giving Durrak a grin.

Callindra was worried about her friends after they hadn’t followed her in, but even more, now that The Order had threatened her in public.  If Ellen Eth allowed this type of behavior at a ball, there was little doubt that worse was to come for guards and servants.  She also wouldn’t be at all surprised if knives in the night were next.

As she walked toward the stairway where she’d come in, a guard stepped forward from an alcove where he had been watching unobtrusively.  “Pardon Lady, but my Lady ‘Orien would like to speak with you.”  He gestured toward a raised dais where she could see Ellen Eth sitting at a low marble table.  The woman was staring at her.

“Of course, I would be delighted to make her acquaintance.”  She said with forced enthusiasm.  “I wouldn’t have thought she would want to meet me personally.”

“My Lady meets with all of her guests personally.”  He said, “She only invites those with whom she wishes to speak.  Lady ‘Orien finds these casual parties to be far preferable to a formal audience.”

“I see.”  Callindra said, “It makes sense to wish to meet informally first.”  It certainly did make sense.  In this setting, most of her potential enemies would be unable to carry a weapon, and if they did, it would be difficult to conceal anything in formal wear.

With a nod to the guard, she made her way toward the dais.  She saw movement out of the corner of her eye, glancing back she saw the Elf Lorin walking toward the guard with a purposeful stride.  If he was following her, she decided to deal with him after Ellen Eth.

Callindra approached the table and curtseyed deeply while keeping eye contact.  “Lady ‘Orien, it is a pleasure to meet you.”  She said as she rose.

“Charmed, I’m sure.”  Ellen Eth said, giving her a smile that did not touch her eyes. “I must say you are not at all what I imagined you would be.”

“We are rarely exactly as expected, Lady.”  Said Callindra with a slight inclination of her head.  “I trust the differences are positive ones?”

“Based on the exploits I’ve heard of the Adamantine Brotherhood and the reputation of battle mages from The Order, I rather thought you would be more martial in both appearance and manner.”  She said, “I was surprised when you did not send Rrayu away and even more so when I heard the reports of your drastic changes in appearance and manner the evening you arrived.”

Callindra hesitated but decided that the truth was as likely to work as anything.  “When my life required me to know how to be a warrior, I became a warrior.  When I had to be a Lady, I learned to be a Lady.”  She shrugged, “Off hand, I would say being a warrior is easier and less dangerous.”

Ellen Eth blinked, the only thing betraying her surprise.  “Ah, well.  I suppose your training to become The Sol’Estin could hardly have included courtly arts.”

A laugh burst from her before Callindra could stop it.  “Oh, gods and demons no.”  Just thinking about Glarian trying to teach her how to wear stays or walk in skirts nearly made her dissolve into helpless laughter again.

“Of course.  Rumor has it that he was a bit of a recluse?”  She gestured, and a servant stepped from the shadows with goblets and a pair of bottles.  “Is it true that The Order disbarred him?”

“I don’t know all the history, but from what he told me, they could not remove him without trial by combat, and none of them had the skill or power to defeat him,”  Callindra said, watching as the servant poured her a goblet of mead.

“Why would he break the bylaws and train a student after being forbidden to do so?”  Ellen Eth mused, accepting a glass of dark red wine from the servant.

“I’m sure he had his reasons,”  Callindra said, taking a sip of the excellent mead.  “But I saw him practicing the Korumn and wouldn’t stop begging him to teach me the Sword until he agreed.”    Her head felt lighter than it should.  She’d never told anyone that before, and it seemed as though she should be thinking more before she answered.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 73

“The Lady do be conversing with me,”  Durrak said, giving the man who had spoken last a stern look.  “I no do appreciate a pleasant interlude being interrupted with rudeness.”

“Stay out of this, Caverstorm.”  He said, all but spitting the words.  “This is not your concern and she is no ‘lady’ at all but an imposter, trained by a rogue mage who defied the-”

Durrak abruptly stood and hurled one of his spiked gauntlets in the man’s face, cutting off his tirade.  “I no do be taking insults to Ladies who do be sharing time with me lightly.”  He said, voice simmering with contempt.  “Be picking up my gauntlet or do be departing after formal apology.”

Callindra paused, left hand reaching into her bag, and waited to see what would happen.  Lorin was leaning back in his chair with a boyish grin on his face, watching with apparent glee, but she could see he had his hand on a knife hilt under the table.  The man stared at Durrak for a moment, ignoring the blood coming from wounds the spiked glove had made on his face.

“We are both Inquisitors of The Order.”  He said after a moment, indicating the woman who stood next to him. “You may not have understood who you were speaking with before you made that challenge.  I understand if you wish to withdraw it.”

The Dwarf began to laugh, a rumble that built until it was a full belly laugh that shook the fastenings of his armor.  “You do be thinking.”  He started, before lapsing back into laughter.  “You do be thinking I do be withdrawing my challenge because you do claim some bloody title?

“Before I do be coming to this place, it did be my life’s work to be taking titles from fools too weak to be keeping them.  Do be apologizing to this Lady and departing with your comrade or do be preparing to fight.”  Durrak folded his arms over his armored chest, a move that emphasized the broadness of his shoulders and the spikes on his armor.

“Lord Caverstorm, please.”  Callindra said, “There is no need to intercede thus.  I would not want you to be injured for making such a noble gesture.”  Although her voice was calm, her eyes flashed with anger.  The Dwarf suspected she wished to defend her own honor.

“A gentleman no do be able to do less.”  Durrak said, “It no do be a gesture; it do be my obligation and my pleasure Lady.”

The entry chime sounded again, and the light illuminated a beautiful woman wearing a simple yet elegant dress of silver.  “The Lady Ellen Eth ‘Orien.”

Her eyes swept the ballroom, occasionally pausing on one group or another until they eventually came to rest on Durrak.  She took in Lorin, Callindra and the Inquisitors in silence, not offering support or rebuke.  Her presence seemed to calm the confrontation down, and the man bowed from the waist to Callindra.

“Lady Sol’Estin, please accept my apology for my behavior.”  He said, his voice perfectly polite.  “I should not have intruded on your private conversation and aired my grievances in front of others.  We shall discuss this later in private.”

“I fear I do not know your name, sir, for we have not been introduced.”  Callindra replied, stiffly formal, “May I please have your name?”

“I am Inquisitor Revchek.”  He said,  “We will speak privately of personal matters soon.”  The two Inquisitors stalked away, backs straight with tension.

“Seems to me that man intends to kill you,”  Lorin said laconically.

“The feeling is quite mutual.”  She said, watching the two as they retreated.  “I don’t think I’m going to give either of us a chance though.  Too much risk for not enough reward, as much as I’d like to see his liver on a stick.”

“You did be saying you no did know him,”  Durrak said, seeming confused.  “Why do you be wanting him dead?”

“I appreciate your chivalrous offer Lord Caverstorm.”  She said, “However, my quarrel with them is only due to the Order’s quarrel with my Master.  Now that he’s gone, I appear to have inherited his debts.”

“The offer do stand.”  Durrak said, “I did make it more for his sake than yours.  That man do be in need of a touch of humbling.”

“I find his arrogance in the face of the end of the world a little refreshing.”  Callindra said with a weak smile, “Or at least I would if I could find room for levity.  Thank you for the conversation and support.  If you find Cerioth tell her hello with that polearm for me.”

“You no do be staying?”  Durrak asked, raising a bushy eyebrow.

“No, I’m afraid this city has shown itself to be as dead as every other place.”  Callindra said, “Despite the people who shelter here, none of them are living.”

She stood from the table with a grace that Lorin now recognized.  It wasn’t the smoothness of a dancer or a Lady trained from childhood to move just so.  It was the litheness of a predator trained to kill.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 72

“Why did I be letting you be talking me into this?”  Durrak asked Lorin, “Look at these bedamned fools in their frippery.  Do they not be knowing there do be monsters from the Abyss feasting on human flesh above their heads?”

“Durrak, my friend, you need to relax and enjoy yourself,”  Lorin said, surveying the crowd.  “There are so many beauties here tonight, how can you focus on the problems of the world above with such delectable butterflies flitting about?”

“How do you be thinking of women now?”  Durrak took a lit cigar from his belt pouch, puffing a cloud of thick blue smoke.

“One has to enjoy things when one can, my friend.”  He smiled over Durrak’s right shoulder, “Like this vision of loveliness for example.”

A woman in a dark green dress with a matching bag incongruously strung on a silver chain that was bound to her wrist was walking purposefully toward them.  Lorin thought her a bit slender, but she moved with grace and confidence that he found alluring.  The only sign of nervousness was the way her hand clutched the bag’s chain.

“Lord Caverstorm?”  She inquired, ignoring Lorin completely and dipping a curtsey to Durrak.  “Might I impose on a moment of your time?”

Durrak chuckled at his friend’s stricken expression.  He grounded the butt of his Gisarme and bowed with a creak and scrape of armor.  “I do be at your disposal, Miss.”

“Apologies Lords, my name is Lady Callindra Sol’Estin.”  She curtseyed to Lorin as well, “Would you care to join me at a table so that we can converse with proper refreshment?”

“For you to be using Mithril, you do be showing much caution or that you do value the contents of your pouch most greatly,”  Durrak said, glancing at her wrist.  “I do be happy to join you Lady Sol’Estin.  This do be Lorin, I do be apologizing in advance for he do be a terrible flirt.”

“Please ignore the crude and uncultured Dwarf, my Lady,”  Lorin said with an elegant bow.  “We would be honored to sit with you.”

Instead of returning to the table she’d shared with a few other courtiers, she led the way to a small table and perched on the edge of a chair.  She signaled to a servant who brought an assortment of small snacks and a tray of wine glasses.

After the servant had left, she smiled at Durrak, but the words that came out of her mouth belied the expression.  “I hear you have an interest in the dragon Cerioth.  If you desire her death as intently as I do, perhaps we can help one another.”

“What quarrel do a Lady have with The Bane of Ignetium?”  Durrak asked, “A gentle lass like yourself no do be having cause to be picking fights with dragons.”

“I’ve killed one dragon already.”  She said, her voice fierce but calm.  “It wasn’t easy, but by all the gods and demons, I intend to do it again.”

“I think we may have misjudged you, my Lady.”  Lorin said, “It seems as though you aren’t a delicate flower despite looking the part almost perfectly.”

“I’m flattered that my ruse worked so well.”  She said, still smiling as though they were flirting or making small talk.  “I fear I’m even less of a Lady that you likely think.  I came here to try and figure out what the most powerful city ever constructed had done to survive the hordes of Taken, and instead, I discover a den of petty idiots pretending that someone’s claim to nobility still matters.”

Realization dawned on Lorin’s face.  “I remember that name now.  It’s not a surname, but a Title from a school of battle magic.”

“It is the Title of a wanted criminal.”  A woman’s voice from behind and to the left Callindra’s chair said.  “A Title that cannot be rightfully claimed by a half trained apprentice.”

“Come along quietly, child.”  Another voice said, this one behind and to the right. “All we want is you to lead us to your Master.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 70

The ‘transport’ had turned out to be a handcart pulled by two burly men, and it was only big enough for Callindra to ride.  Since the rest of her friends were posing as her guards, she thought it was fitting that they walk, regardless of how much Reed grumbled about it.  Besides, there was no way she could have walked that far in the gown and shoes.  Even if it wasn’t so tight she could barely breathe, she would be worried about soiling her hem in the dirt of the street.

Following the winding wooden platforms that connected the dirt and cobblestone streets, they arrived at Ellen Eth ‘Orien’s mansion.  It was three stories tall, each story made of a different color of marble.  The courtyard was paved with gold coins instead of gravel, and guards in matching jet black livery stood at the polished blackwood doors.

Callindra stepped from the cart, gratefully accepting Reed’s hand to steady herself when her bloody skirts nearly tripped her.  Now she understood why Ladies had attendants.  Approaching the guards at the door, she gave them a slight inclination of her head and walked through the door.  The ballroom was so breathtaking it took her a moment to notice her companions hadn’t entered behind her.

A man in black livery with a staff of office stepped from behind a podium, looking at her appraisingly.  “And you are?”  He inquired in a voice that suggested she was dressed in strips of rotting meat.

Her temper flared, and a gust of wind swirled around her before blowing an inkwell over onto a stack of paper before also blowing the documents to the floor.  “Invited.”  She said shortly, gliding past him as he jumped to try and save the parchment.

“My attendants should be joining me shortly,”  Callindra said over her shoulder, and then she had to focus on her surroundings.  The arched entrance led down to a floor inlaid with gold and jade in intricate swirling patterns.  Richly dressed men and women stood in groups, talking and listening to an orchestra playing in a minor key.

As she walked through the archway, a gentle chime sounded, and the assembled folk turned to look in her direction.  A light above illuminated her as she walked down a wide staircase, and a servant in white livery came to offer escort.  A man in a perfectly tailored suit of dark red satin with lace ruffles at the cuffs and collar approached and bowed.

“Delgrin did not introduce you, but I gather you must be Lady Sol’Estin?”  He took her hand and brushed it with his lips.  “I am Count Drake Ardent.”

Callindra took her hand back to curtsey as Rrayu had taught her, “I am indeed, it is a pleasure to meet you, Count Ardent.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 66

With a sigh, she squared her shoulders and led them downstairs.  The eyes of hundreds of people followed them as they entered the common room.  An obviously freshly scrubbed barmaid led them to a table without them having to ask.

“I love the music.”  Trying to soothe the nervous maid as she leaned Shadowsliver’s naked blade against the table.

“Yes, Lady.” She said, bobbing an awkward curtsey.  “Drinks?  Food?”

“Please,”  Callindra replied, inclining her head in what she hoped was a regal manner.  Reed was obviously trying not to laugh.  She pulled a handful of gold coins from a belt purse that shouldn’t have been able to fit her fist, let alone that many coins, and put them on the barmaid’s drinks tray.  “Bring us some of whatever that heavenly roasting scent is, any vegetables you might have, some mead, some ale, and a round for the bar as well.”

This last pronouncement brought a ragged cheer from the patrons close enough to hear her.  She smiled in what she hoped was a magnanimous way.  The barmaid looked at the gold and glanced behind the bar.  Hagar nodded, and she smiled, striding away to a chorus of calls for drinks.

When the food came, it was far better fare than they’d had in months, and the drinks were as good as any they’d tasted.  The music continued, including some dance numbers, which added to the carnival atmosphere.  A few people started to dance and soon first Reed, then the other men at the table were pulled onto the dance floor.  Callindra sat, half wanting to join in and half relieved that she wouldn’t have to.

“If you put up your steel, I’d love a dance, Lady.”  A man dressed in clothes that, although clean, had noticeable wear marks from where armor straps were usually cinched.  He was extending a hand that had clear sword calluses on it.

“Ah, well, that’s not really possible,”  Callindra said, feeling a bit out of place in her fine clothes.  “We’re a bit joined, and I don’t have a sheath.”

His eyes followed the chain on the hilt to her right wrist with interest.  “Why no sheath?  That seems awkward.”

“That would be a long and dull story, why don’t you join me for a drink and tell me about yourself instead?”  She poured him a tankard of something random and gestured to an open seat.

He looked at her with a raised eyebrow for a moment before sitting, his foot moving to kick the scabbard of his longsword aside as he sat.  Callindra blinked; she hadn’t noticed that he was wearing a blade. It moved like it was a part of him.

“Lady Callindra!”  Reed sat down, his face flushed from drink and the exertion of dancing.  “Who’s yer friend?”

“Apologies, I fear I neglected to introduce myself.”  She stood and offered her hand to the man, “I am Callindra Sol’Estin.”

“I know who you are.”  He said, rising himself.  “Perhaps we’ll meet again.”  He spun and moved off into the crowd.

“Who the hell was that?”  Reed asked, “He seemed like a rude bastard.”

“I don’t know.”  Callindra said, “But I’m sure he’s going to be trouble.  He was asking me to dance as a pretext to get me to leave my sword behind.”

“You’re talking even fancier with the fancy clothes on.”  Reed grinned, “But you still get suspicious of anyone who tries to part you from that blade.  I think you’re just getting jumpy, relax and have some fun.”

“I somehow doubt having fun would be seen as very ladylike,”  Callindra said with a sigh, remembering Rrayu’s voice telling her about posture and poise.  “I’m supposed to keep up appearances, you know.”

“You’re carrying a sword chained to your wrist.”  Reed scoffed, “Nobody’s gonna think you’re much of a delicate flower.”

“I can tell you’re not a woman.”  Callindra said, “We’re rarely taken as seriously as we should be, especially when we’re dressed in pretty clothes.”

Reed looked at her, a quizzical expression on his face.  “Damn.  You gotta point there.  Your sword doesn’t look normal, and that chain looks a lot more delicate than it really is too.  I guess most guys would probably think it was just for show.”

“Precisely, young master.”  Callindra picked up her goblet of mead and looked at him over the rim before taking a sip.  “Just as they likely misjudge you due to your age.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 65

“We are what is left of a group of adventurers who went on a mission given by the Gods themselves.”  She quickly sketched out the bare bones of their travels and misadventures, trying to gloss over as many of the finer points as she could.  Rrayu sat quietly and listened, her eyes getting wider as the tale progressed.

“After killing that thrice cursed squid Connor managed to hold the ship together until we could debark and then we made our way here.”  She finished.  “We’re looking for survivors to see if we can gather assistance to somehow turn the tide against the Taken or reverse the magic that is causing the plague to happen.”

“You’re fighting for the Gods.”  Rrayu said, a bit of awe in her voice.  “I thought them all but gone.  Betimes prayers would be answered in the past but with all that’s happened and them letting it happen I’d all but lost hope.”

“It’s not like they’ve been much help to us either.”  Vilhylm said wryly, “Almost more of a hindrance in most ways.”

“You said your swordmaster is Luftin?”  Rrayu asked, looking at Callindra with such an unabashed look of wonder that she began to feel uncomfortable.  “You’ve met him?  And Jorda?”

“Well, I didn’t know who he was.”  Callindra said, “I was pretty awful to him at first and he didn’t seem much like a god.  Jorda was a much different story; she was much more like what one would think of as a goddess.”

“Not everyone looks upon the gods with reverence.”  Vilhylm said with a frown, “We must ask you to keep this bit to yourself.”

“What are you hoping to find here?”  Rrayu asked, looking between them.  “This city is lost, most of the people here are dead, why would you come to a place like this?”

Again they all looked at Callindra and she said for the first time something she had been mulling over ever since she saw Luftin devoured by Cerioth.  She took a deep breath and forced her left hand to relax on Shadowsliver’s hilt.

“An ally told us there was some power center for the Abyss here, I want to find that gods bedamned dragon and get some answers.”  She said, “It ate my Master, it destroyed this city, it has been present at many of the worst moments in this war.  If anything knows what Morde’s plans are it does, and I have heard it comes and patrols Starvale.”

The room fell silent as they all stared at her.  Even her companions seemed stunned by her words.  “We should also look at those spheres.”  She said, pretending not to have noticed their reaction.  “Anyone powerful enough to have created those is likely powerful enough to fight well against the Taken.”

Connor nodded slowly, “I also want to look at those things.”  He said, “Perhaps we can find more information about how they resist the power of the Taken and of that dragon.  Could be that there’s a way for us to harness that protection for ourselves.”

“You’re off yer nut.”  Reed said, “You wanna fight that bedamned dragon?  What do you think we can do that a whole city of mages couldn’t?”

“We can talk more once we’ve had time to think about it.”  Callindra said, refusing to give ground.  “For now I think we need to go be seen if we’re to keep in Ellen Eth’s good graces.”

“You can’t be seriously thinking about fighting that dragon.”  Kain said, “You won’t have a dam to collapse on this dragon will you?  I don’t know if we’ll get that lucky again.”

Rrayu’s mouth dropped open in shock.  “You’ve already killed a dragon?”

“I might have left that part out of the tale.”  Callindra said with a shrug.  She hadn’t wanted to mention Terevelen, since most people wouldn’t understand making an alliance with a necromancer.  “Perhaps that’s a story for another time.  Right now I believe we need to be seen downstairs.”

“I say we give ‘em a show.”  Reed said with a grin, “Enter with style, buy ‘em all a drink and talk a good game.  All we gotta do is get Ellen Eth’s attention, sounds like being flashy is the way to go.”

“Only if you all promise to only tell tall tales about yourselves and leave me out of it.”  Callindra said, “I have enough to deal with trying to be this ‘Lady’ you’ve all talked me up to be.

“Wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise.”  Reed said, not fooling anyone who knew him with his innocent expression.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 64

“One more thing,”  Rrayu said, opening a drawer and removing a small case.  “Sit please My Lady.”

Callindra sat, giving the box a dubious look.  Rrayu opened it and pulled a few small pots and brushes from it.  With careful strokes, she applied subtle shading to Callindra’s face, just a hint of charcoal to her lashes and gentle pigments to highlight her cheekbones.  Although the changes were only minor ones, the effect was striking.

“I don’t know if I like it.  I look so different, like a beautiful, fragile delicate thing.  She smiled ruefully, “I suppose that’s the point.”

“You look presentable.”  Rrayu said, “Barely presentable, but yes, you begin to understand that there’s power in being feminine.  Yes, the clothing and the face paint has changed the way others will see you, but you are like an unpolished gemstone.  You can be beautiful and command the attention of a room while dressed in rags, and I can show you these skills.”

Three polite knocks on the door heralded the arrival of Holt.  He was looking quite dapper in a forest green velvet trousers and jacket with a white doublet underneath.  His hair was braided into twin tails tied off with silk cords. With his beard trimmed neatly, clean and dressed he looked decades younger.  Vilhylm cleared his throat and Callindra realized she’d been just standing there. Holt’s eyes widened slightly in surprise and she realized he’d been staring too.  

“I look ridiculous.”  She said, feeling a slight blush threatening to rise up her cheeks.  “But at least I’m close to meeting the expectations your little performances gave the locals.”

“I think you look wonderful.” Holt said, “But I generally do.”

To her frustration, Rrayu touched her shoulders and her chin, forcing her to a more regal posture.  “A Lady does not stare at her feet when presenting herself. She must be confident and poised.”

“Rrayu says I need to make an appearance for dinner.”  She said, looking over Vilhylm’s typical black attire. It was obviously new but looked very similar to what he had been wearing before albeit clean and not ragged.  Reed was wearing grey tunic and trousers with gold embroidery and Kain looked surprisingly urbane in dark blue, even his Mohawk looking like it fit. “Keep it civil and by the gods and demons don’t do anything to inflate their expectations any more than you already have.”

Reed gave her an innocent look that she didn’t trust for a second.  “Before we go shouldn’t we try and ascertain how to present ourselves?”  He asked.

“Well, we shouldn’t be too obvious about why we’re really here.”  Vilhylm said, “I’m not certain if there are any other groups of survivors here or not, but something tells me if there are they won’t be looked upon with friendly eyes.”

“There are some rumors of other enclaves.”  Rrayu said softly, “I’ve even heard that there have been some attempts to penetrate the floating sanctuaries, but I’m not sure what the results of those were if they actually happened.”

“What methods did they use?”  Connor asked, his eyes sparkling with interest.

“I apologize, Mage Connor, I do not know what methods they employed or indeed if the attempt is more than a rumor.” Rrayu didn’t meet his eyes but kept nervously glancing around the room instead.  “If it’s not too intrusive, may I ask who you really are? I am likely to be associated with you simply because of proximity.”

Callindra crossed her arms and gave her maid a level look.  “I offered to send you away and you begged me not to. Now you’re worried about being associated with us.  Something doesn’t smell right about this.”

Reed moved on silent feet to stand behind Rrayu, also placing himself between her and the door.  Her other companions moved slightly, ready to draw a weapon or line up a spell. If Rrayu tried to run or was something more than she had pretended to be she would be dead in seconds.

“Being sent away would be worse than being your maid.”  She said, talking quickly. “I will not lie, it is my intention to pass at least some of the information I gather from you along to whoever tries to get it from me.  I won’t tell them anything you have specifically asked me not to, but if I tell them nothing they will be certain we are working together toward some nefarious end.

“Please understand, I do not wish to betray you but I must find a balance between keeping your secrets and keeping them satisfied.  This city is not kind to those who displease her.” Rrayu met her eyes, giving her a pleading look.

To her surprise, Callindra saw all her companions turn to look at her.  It was just hours ago that her instructions had been completely ignored, but now they were all waiting for her leadership.  She thought about what Rrayu had done for her thus far and how honest the other woman had been just now. Weighing everything in her mind, she made her decision.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 63

“I could have gutted her by accident.”  Reed said darkly, “Just walking in like that.  Don’t these people know that there’s a war on outside?  A year ago she’d have been bleeding out on the floor.”

“Somehow I think she was a lot more than she appeared to be,”  Callindra said, narrowing her eyes.  “She definitely checked us all out and I’m certain she will be telling her mistress what she observed.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rrayu giving her a considering glance.  The woman who was to be her lady’s maid turned deliberately back to the closet and withdrew a brilliant red garment.  It had wide trouser legs that gave the illusion of skirts but still had the mobility of trousers.  The top was also flowing red silk that overlapped to tie and then be covered by a matching sash. Small vines picked out in an impossibly emerald green twined about the hems with tiny white and gold flowers peeking through.  Brightstar flowers.

“I think this will be an admirable compromise, My Lady.”  She said, laying it out on the bed.  “Now you go so that our Lady may dress in private.”  Reed rolled his eyes but left without dissent.

“You’ve been keeping this in reserve haven’t you?”  Callindra accused, sliding out of the robe and allowing Rrayu to assist her in dressing.  She couldn’t help but admire the feeling of the silk as it slid over her skin.

“Of course, although I was fairly certain I would have convinced you eventually, you must make an appearance in the dining room below.”  She surveyed the effect the outfit had and gave a reluctant nod.  “This will have to do.”

Callindra looked at herself in the mirror and barely recognized herself.  The shoulder-length ragged ends of her hair were now sculpted into a quite stylish and intentional looking cut.  The clothing fit her beautifully, managing to make her whipcord thinness look dangerously feminine like a hunting cat.  She smiled, and turned to Rrayu, giving the other woman a hug.

“You’re a miracle worker!  This looks amazing!”  She stepped back and performed a few lunges and cuts, Shadowsliver’s twin tips whistling through the air.  “And I can still move in it.  Do you really think this is going to make a difference?”

“My Lady is too kind.”  Rrayu said, “The transformation from your travel-worn self to this version should be sufficient to convince most that you have some claim to a title.”

“A title?  But I do actually have a title.”  Callindra said, lowering her sword and looking at her maid.  “I am the Sol’Estin, Master of the North Wind.”

She hadn’t ever spoken those words aloud, gods and demons she’d barely even thought them, but as they left her mouth she realized that they were true.  Glarian was dead, and with his death, the mantle of Sol’Estin was now hers and hers alone.  Even inside a building underground and far from the raging power of the Great Winds, a gust of air rattled the shutters briefly and a tiny zephyr tugged at Shadowsliver’s chain.

Rrayu was looking at her with a shocked expression on her face and jumped when the wind blew.  “Oh!”  She looked around, as though fearing something might step from a corner of the room and whisk her away to gods all knew where.

“My Master had many enemies however, so I think it might not be the most productive thing to spread around.”  She paused and looked at Rrayu.  “Are you alright?  You look like someone just walked over your grave.”

“I just didn’t know you were a …” She trailed off, staring at her feet and swallowing hard.  “That’s a Mage’s Title.”

“It’s much more than just a Mage’s title, but that is part of what it means.”  Callindra said, “Is that a problem?”

“Not with me,”  Rrayu said, still looking down.  “However, it may complicate things with Ellen Eth.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 62

After the bath and half a candlemark of fussing with a pair of scissors, carefully snipping at her hair, Rrayu had shown Callindra a wide variety of different dresses, but she turned them all down.  “I don’t want skirts.  How do you expect me to move in these things?”

“But a Lady does not wear trousers.”  Rrayu insisted, nervously twisting the dark blue silk in her hands.  “If you’re seen wearing trousers it would be most unseemly.”

Callindra crossed her arms, standing in her smallclothes it was surprisingly difficult to face down someone who was fully clothed.  “I hardly think a sword would be seen as ‘seemly’ for a lady either and it’s not like I can put Shadowsliver down.  Nor would I if I could.”  She shook her right wrist for emphasis and his chain jingled merrily.

“Of course that is an impediment to your overall appearance; however a Lady is not excluded from carrying accessories.” Rrayu said, “I can work with accessories.”

“If you can work with a four-foot-long double edge sword chained to my wrist then you can find something that doesn’t have skirts for me to wear.”  Callindra leaned against the bedpost with the air of someone willing to wait for a long time.

Rrayu sighed and turned to the closet.  As she did, the door opened and a washed and dressed Reed walked in carrying a bottle of wine and a tray with assorted bread and cheeses.  Callindra grinned at him and stepped forward to take the bottle.  She took a swig from it and turned to see the maid’s shocked face.

“A man must NOT see you in this state of undress!”  She said, clearly horrified.

“It’s just Reed,”  Callindra said with a shrug.  “We’ve been traveling and fighting together for months; he’s seen me naked and patched up wounds that would have killed me.  Besides, it’s not like I’m worried about my body.  Taken are killing every living thing they can find where the hell are your priorities?”

“I don’t know about the outside, but I know how nobility works.  I know how rumors spread.  I know what people will think already about a single woman traveling with a group of men.”  She gave Callindra a pleading look.  “If you want to maintain your credibility you must not continue to behave this way.”

Callindra took another swallow of wine from the bottle.  “Nobody is in here but us.  Are you going to spread these rumors?”

“My Lady!  Of course not!”  Rrayu clutched the dress she was holding hard enough for her knuckles to turn white.  “But the walls have ears and eyes, servants come and go to clean linens and sweep floors.  If your desire is for Lady Ellen Eth to take you seriously, you must maintain some air of decency.”

With a sigh, Callindra slid a thick robe over her shoulders, almost slicing the sleeve off when she threaded Shadowsliver through it.  She was just tying the belt around the waist when a liveried messenger strode into the room after only two sharp raps on the door.  She stopped and gave a greeting that was half-bow and half salute, fist to heart, completely ignoring the knives that appeared in Reed’s hands.

“Lady Callindra?”  She asked; a skeptical tone in her voice that suggested the ‘lady’ was extremely unlikely.

Rrayu stepped forward with a sharp rebuke.  “Even another woman should not so enter a Lady’s bedchamber without proper introduction or inquiry.”

“There wasn’t a servant outside the door or in the antechamber, and My Liege Ellen Eth wished me to deliver this message posthaste.”  She sounded mildly annoyed, perhaps at not having a scandalous or tawdry scene to report on.

“Reed, this woman is clearly not a threat,” Callindra said briskly.  “Rrayu if you would retrieve the missive, please?  Does your liege require an immediate response?”

The woman gave Reed a subtle but clearly calculated sizing up when he made the blades vanish up his sleeves with a deft motion.  She paid nearly no attention to Rrayu, but was not hiding she was also giving Callindra a thorough once over; her eyes lingering slightly on her bracelets, chain, and sword.

“Send a runner with your response.”  She said, turning abruptly and striding through the antechamber and out the door.