Tansy Rayner Roberts
1. With Snow Comes Beginnings.
Part 4 of 4
Kassa shoved the parchment in a pocket and marched back into the tavern, ignoring them all as she headed for the stairs. Up in her cozy little attic room, she read the letter over again.
So that was that. It was time to stop playing around in taverns and take over the family business. It was time to trade in her sequins and silk for a sturdy sword and an eyepatch. It was time to grow up.
Kassa started throwing things at the wall. The pillows were first, followed by half her jewellery collection and an over-stuffed pink teddy bear which she usually hid under the bed. Then she dismantled the bed itself and threw the bits out the window without opening it first. Broken glass rained down upon the snowy ground outside.
Her collection of bawdy song-parchments from exotic locations was carefully shredded and strewn liberally over the floor.
The gargoyle was thrown at several walls, but she didn't even manage to dent the stupid nose.
Kassa had grown up believing that she was going to be a pirate - believing, in fact, that she already was one. But that had been a long time ago, before she had discovered that there was more to life than what could be seen from the prow of a ship.
There was another alternative, of course. No one could blame her if she rejected her father's career to follow her mother's original vocation. But Kassa didn't want to be a witch either. Witches were old and wrinkled, and spent their whole time muttering stupid spells. She knew from experience how dangerous that could be.
Kassa had seen enough magic and enough mayhem to last her a lifetime. She didn't want to follow either path. But now...
Frustratedly, she flung the last pillow at the jagged corner of the broken window. Goose feathers filled the air in a sudden, silent explosion. Kassa Daggersharp stood very still as the white feathers rained down upon her blood-red hair. "I suppose I owe him that much," she admitted to the empty room.
She shook her fist at the gargoyle, which lay accusingly on its side in a corner of the little room. "But I'm not promising anything!" she declared.
Feathers still drifted down from the ragged edges of the broken attic window. Kassa picked a few from her hair, and watched them flutter away into the night. "Bloody pirates," she muttered beneath her breath. "Just when you start taking them for granted, they get themselves killed."
"I remember you, Silversword," said the Lady Emperor, her silken skirts whispering as she circled around him. "You were the best man Timregis had. Brave, skilled, highly intelligent."
"Not loyal, though," noted Aragon.
"Oh, well you can't have everything." Lady Talle smiled like a cat with its claws into something small and furry. "I used to have a poster of you on my wall, you know. The mighty Champion of the Empire." She clicked her tongue. "People looked up to you, once upon a time. People believed in you."
"I'm sorry to disappoint you," said Aragon laconically.
"Oh, you didn't. Not at all. After all, a villain is much more interesting than a hero."
Aragon frowned. This woman seemed familiar, and he didn't know why. Then he remembered. "You!"
Talle frowned, and the tiniest of wrinkles marred her exquisite forehead. "Be careful, Silversword. Do not mistake my courtesy for favour. I can have you back in that cell in a thread of an instant."
He advanced on her, grey eyes gleaming. "I remember you now. One of Timregis' courtesans! Not even his favourite..."
"No," she said acidly. "But I was the most intelligent, Aragon. And the most powerful."
He laughed shortly. "You were a decoration, girl, a bauble on a shelf of ornaments. What makes you think you can run an Empire?"
A snarl flicked across Talle's perfect face. "I can be very, very popular," she hissed. "I have it all now, Silversword. I waited as useless Emperor after useless Emperor went by. None of them had a clue about how to organise things, they just sat back and enjoyed the view until the money ran out. It is my turn now. And I will hold the Empire just as I hold the Sacred Bauble. The city states will pay tribute to me!"
Aragon was intrigued. "It never occured to me that one could take over an Empire from the harem."
"It didn't occur to anyone. That's what made it so easy. Obviously you are not willing to work for me. I am sorry to have taken up so much of your time. I'm sure your cell will be just as you left it."
Aragon put out a hand, touching her wrist. His grey eyes were neutral, an expression very few people have ever fully mastered. "I did not say that I was not willing to negotiate, Talle."
She smiled slowly, a silken smile. "How benevolent of you. Let us discuss terms."
He touched her mouth briefly with a fingertip. "Not quite yet. I want you to tell me something first."
She regarded him, making no move to dislodge his finger. Then she spoke, "What do you want to know?"
His expression flickered only slightly. "What the hell is this sacred bauble you keep talking about?"
Lady Talle's eyes bubbled with laughter. "Oh, that. It was a gift from the late Emperor Timregis. Do you want to see?" She reached down into her bodice, and drew out a transparent ball the size of a small egg. It descended slowly from her fingertips, then bobbed up towards the ceiling and finally descended into her outstretched palm with the grace and speed of a drifting goose feather. Talle slipped it back into her bodice. "Perhaps someday I will tell you what it's for," she suggested slyly. "But for now, let me tell you the first task I have in mind for my Champion."
"She intends to keep the Empire in her bodice," said Aragon Silversword to himself. "An interesting metaphor."
Chapter 1 of Splashdance Silver|
originally published by Transworld Publishers,
September 1998. Appears with the kind
permission of Transworld Publishers and the author.
©1998 Tansy Rayner Roberts