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Chapter 7: Blue Holiday

The morning after the Pwi adopted Tull, Theron Scandal tore out the side wall of his inn and rolled a three-thousand-gallon beer keg into the street. Wisteria Altair watched the show from an open window of her father’s mansion, just up the hill. She promised herself that she would not go downtown and stare like the gawking Neanderthals, yet curiosity drove her to watch.

The giant keg had been a fixture at the back wall of the inn for thirty years. It served primarily as decoration, for Scandal never brewed his beer in the giant keg. Instead, he filled it, as occasion required, from smaller barrels. Yet many a drunkard had admired the keg over the decades, lost in pleasant thoughts of drink.

Rumors had circulated all week that the barrel was half full of beer, and that Scandal would be giving it out free. As if to give credence to those rumors, Scandal had dropped the price of beer in half several days earlier, in order to more quickly drain the legendary barrel.

So when a dozen men managed to move the counters in the inn, tear out the nearest wall, and roll the barrel into the street, anticipation swelled.

The entire town showed up, humans as well as Neanderthals, and the occasion became festive.

Tull climbed on top of the barrel and pried the hatch open, then pretended to stagger drunkenly at the potent odor of the beer.

Scandal laughed and shouted, “Put a few serpents in there, and they’d have a party, that’s for sure! They’d be floating ass-backward within an hour.”

“Ayaah,” Tull hollered, and with that, a dozen men rolled the barrel so quickly that Tull had to jump for it. The men tilted the barrel and opened all three of the spigots. People rushed forward with cupped hands to get at the beer.

Scandal’s steward, Valis, shouted to the crowd, “Stop! Stop!”

“Oh, let them drink!” Scandal said loud enough for everyone to hear. “In fact, bring them some mugs, and let them drink proper. No sense in spilling good beer!”

To that, the town raised a cheer, as if Scandal were some great hero of legend, but soon serving wenches came spilling from the inn with mounds of hot sausages, salt bread, melon slices, and great wedges of goat cheese. The beer was free, but the food was not. The abundance of the fare showed that Scandal had been planning ahead for days.

That is just like Theron Scandal, Wisteria thought. The man has a great heart, but he never lets it interfere with his desire to make a profit.

The scent tempted Wisteria down from her father’s home to see the celebration. She came in a cream-colored dress of fine silk, with a white parasol to keep the sun off.

As she threaded into the crowd of sweaty Pwi, Tull stared at her like a lovesick pup, and she saw no harm in smiling back at him. It had been five years, since she’d last talked to him. Five years since her father had sent her to school in South Bay. Though she’d been in town now for six weeks, she hadn’t approached him even once.

Yet as she purchased some of Scandal’s legendary sausages in mustard sauce, along with a slice of honeydew, Tull drew close.

The nearness of him made her heart thrill. He had grown in the past few years, and now stood much taller than she remembered. His chest was full and strong, his eyes inquisitive and gentle.

“How have you been?” Tull asked softly when he was just an arm’s length away. “I know you’ve been back for a while. I’ve been hoping to see you, but I was away in Hotland. You’ve grown. You’re more beautiful.”

“Not beautiful,” she objected. “Taller, maybe.”

He nodded, as if to confirm his assessment of her beauty, and peered into her with such depth that it felt as if he weighed her every breath.

“No,” he said. “Your curves have filled out. You were a girl when you left. Now you’re a woman. There is kindness in your eyes, and sorrow. You’re stronger now, too, and lithe, like a dancer.”

Wisteria didn’t want to hear this, didn’t want to speak to him, for she felt certain that news of this conversation would get back to her father. Yet she found herself craving his praise.

Tull had grown in other ways in the past five years. There was a hard edge to his muscles, a definition he hadn’t had back then.

But the greatest change was in his yellow eyes, which had grown so … intelligent. When he was young, he’d been like a beast to her, lost in a world of his own making. Neanderthals did that at times, when overcome by pain. Something inside them seemed to flee into a world where pain could not touch him.

Tull studied her just as she studied him, and she saw that he still had an animal intensity, moving to his own private rhythm, yet there was something new—a hawk’s gaze that she could not escape.

“I had to study dance in school,” Wisteria said, trying to explain where she’d found her strength and grace.

“A thousand miles is a long way to go to dance,” Tull said. “What did you learn?”

“At Lady Devarre’s School of Merchantry?” she asked. “I learned to shoot a pistol, and how to eat a formal dinner in Craal. To balance a ledger, and how to screw my competitors while retaining my virginity—all the things a lady needs to know in business.” She laughed quaintly, and realized she was trying to seem worldly to him. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“Sorry for what?” Tull asked.

“I … I just meant … nothing.”

“Have things changed much here in town?”

She looked around, “I don’t know. I always felt so small and powerless here, invisible. I was so intimidated by everything here when I was a child. Now the town seems smaller, and all the people I was afraid of have shrunk and grown old.”

A small gust of wind kicked up, blew her long chestnut hair into her face. She combed it back into place with one hand. She was being perfectly honest with him, more candid than she wanted. “You’re not the only one around here that has grown.”

He stepped in close, so close that she could have lifted her chin and kissed him with no effort. He towered over her, and for an instant she was small and frightened, a child again.

“Will you be staying in town?” Tull asked.

“Why? Do you want to start where we left off, in the alley?” She realized she was trying to sound sophisticated again. She’d often dreamt of Tull, of the afternoon they'd kissed, of his warm hands cupping her neck, his lips on hers, her body pressed against him.

“Yes!” Tull said with such intensity that she stepped back and laughed. Her attempt at seduction had cost Wisteria her self-respect, her family. When her father had learned of it, he shipped her off that same day. He’d beaten her and cursed at her. He had plans for his daughter, after all, and they didn’t include a Tcho-Pwi.

“I think I’d better stay away from you,” she teased, “or my father will send me back to school for another five years.”

Wisteria retreated from the crowd a few paces, and Tull followed. Why shouldn’t I love him? she wondered. Tull had always been the kindest young man in town, and one of the strongest and handsomest, too.

But there was the matter of his birth.

Wisteria suddenly felt defiant toward her father. She shyly grabbed Tull’s hand, pulled him up the street. Everyone in town would have seen what she’d done. She told herself, I don't care.

She clenched his hand more firmly. The sun was bright, and the hill above the inn was full of people sitting in the shade of redwoods. She headed uphill, looking for shade, and Tull limped beside her.

“Did you hurt yourself when you jumped off the barrel?” she asked, but then remembered how he’d limped when young, how it came and went with the weather. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’d forgotten.”

Wisteria felt guilty. She felt that way whenever she thought of Tull. It was a cruel thing to pretend to love a Pwi, and Wisteria wasn’t sure what she felt for Tull. Love? That was a difficult thing to peg down. Certainly she felt attracted to him. She’d even desired him. Sometimes she dreamed of being with him, just to see what it was like.

But if she ever did show him such affection, she knew she’d earn a lifelong slave, someone who would love her unconditionally for the rest of his life. Every Pwi was in bondage to the person he had the misfortune to love.

From under the shadows of a tree, a thin Pwi woman rose as if to address Wisteria. She had leathery skin, and strawberry-red hair turning to silver. For a moment, Wisteria didn’t recognize Tull’s mother, but the woman edged past Wisteria and grabbed Tull’s arm.

“Last night, you struck your father!” she shrieked in Pwi, as if informing him of something he wouldn’t remember. Wisteria struggled to understand her words.

“You said I was dead to you! I heard! I held the words in my heart all night! You should not have said such a thing. You stabbed me with words. How can you be so angry?” Tull’s mother clutched his arm—fingers digging in and out, in and out—just as a cat will do to someone it loves.

Tull tried to pull away, but his mother clung to him and she fell forward a step. Wisteria could tell from the woman’s voice that she was sincerely ignorant, that she didn’t understand why Tull was mad at her. Yet Wisteria recalled how Tull had always come out of the house in the morning with cracked lips and a bloody nose, recalled how a man named Feron Howse had once pulled Jenks off Tull when Jenks was drowning Tull in a watering trough. Jenks had vehemently denied that he wanted to hurt the boy, but the furor in town had not died down for months. The white scars from the shackles still marked Tull’s ankles for all to see. Wisteria wondered how the old woman could have forgotten the abuse.

“Jenks is evil,” Tull said. “He hurt me when I was small. Now he hurts Wayan, while you just sit and watch.”

Tull’s mother bit her lip and studied him from under deep-set brows. She had no chin, and it made her face look like a sheet twisted into a knot. Tull waited for her to deny the accusation, to say something.

“You’re right,” she finally said. “But I don't know what to do. When you were a baby, I tried to give you to my sister. But Jenks got so mad, I thought he’d beat me to death, and he kept you. I think he loves you, as best he can.” She looked down to the ground helplessly.

“When did you try to give me away?” Tull asked in astonishment.

“When you were small enough so I could cradle you on my forearm. And Jenks scared me so bad!”

She put her hands up to hide her eyes and wept, but the tears came only from the kwea caused by the memory of her fear. There was regret in her voice, but no recognition of guilt. Tull touched her shoulder, a Pwi caress, but given only from a stranger to a stranger.

It was his way of saying, “I hurt for you, but I do not know you.”

Wisteria couldn’t understand how the woman could weep for herself when Tull had taken all the beatings. How could she have been so weak? Wisteria imagined she’d have handled things differently.

“You are not dead to me,” Tull told his mother, as if to apologize. “Only Jenks. Jenks is dead to me.”

Tull’s mother wiped her eyes and looked up into his face. “Jenks and I are one,” she said. “He is my beloved. So we must both be dead to you.” She turned and walked down the street, shaking like an aspen leaf that trembles in the smallest wind.

Tull cursed under his breath.

Wisteria glanced at others on the hill, realized that she was still standing next to Tull, and though she’d hoped for a private conversation, everyone was staring at them. The humans had watched Tull and his mother in amusement. Here and there people reported the gist of the conversation to those who did not understand Pwi. Ayaah, they came for a show, she thought, and by God’s lolling tongue, they got one.

She felt that she needed to talk to Tull, try to explain away what had happened five years ago in the alley. At the same time, she wasn’t sure yet if she wanted to push him away, or pull him closer. She squeezed his hand.

A shout from downhill interrupted her plans. “Phylomon!” someone shouted. “Phylomon of the Starfarers has come to our town!”

The name of Phylomon was a legend.

Several people began pointing to the south, and Wisteria peered toward the bend in the road by the redwood bridge. From here she could see the warehouse district and Pwi Town across the river, but she couldn’t spot the renowned blue man. Children ran toward Pwi Town.

Everyone knew of the blue man—the last living child of the refugee Starfarers who had terraformed Anee. Phylomon had wandered the planet for well over a thousand years, outliving his brethren by centuries, kept alive by ancient technologies. Everyone had heard the legends of how he’d led the attack that decimated the holds of the Pirate Lords at Bashevgo. Phylomon’s wisdom was famous. Every adage that sounded as if it had a ring of truth to it was attributed to him.

A man stepped from the shadows of a pine tree onto the redwood bridge. He was tall, nearly seven feet, and willowy slender, as legend said all men were in the days of the old Starfaring race. His skin was blue, the color of a robin’s egg.

His face looked eternally young, like that of a twenty year old. He wore a knee-length breechcloth made of buckskin, and his naked chest was crisscrossed with heavy leather straps and bangles—a strap for his quiver, a strap for the long narrow sword sheathed on his back, a strap for his packsack. In his right hand he carried a bow of onyx-black dragon horn.

He wore a necklace with pale silver medallions on it, each made from glowing metal unlike anything native to the metal-poor planet Anee. He had no hair on his head or chest, nor on his arms. He could have been a salamander his skin was so smooth.

Wisteria began running toward him, but the blue man raised his hand to ward people back, and the entire town seemed to stop at once. The blue man eyed the mayor’s pet stegosaur, and everyone in town watched to see what Phylomon would do.

The mayor’s stegosaur had wandered down from feeding in the hills and walked underneath someone’s clothes line. The bony plates running the length of the stegosaur’s back had snagged a dark green dress, and it waved in the breeze like a flag. The stegosaur stood in the roadway scratching its belly by rubbing against the wheel of a wagon. A cowbird fluttered above the stegosaur’s back, as if angered at being pushed off so comfortable a resting place.

The dinosaur was only three years old, no heavier than a huge bull. The wagon it scratched against creaked as if it would shatter.

Ancient laws made it illegal for the creature to be here.

But Mayor Goodman had eight brothers, and people in town had long since learned to look the other way when the mayor’s pet monster tore up a wagon or accidentally speared a dog on its tail. “Someday that thing will grow up and trample a child!” all the women in the neighborhood would say. “And then it will have to go!” But, so far, the children had managed to keep from under the stegosaur’s feet, and no one dared to demand that the mayor get rid of the dangerous beast.

The mayor’s hounds began barking, and the stegosaur quit scratching its belly. Many people opened their windows and doors to see the last Starfarer, for the blue man had not visited this part of the world for fifty years. Yet, strangely, few people spoke. There was a hush over the crowd, rife with expectation.

Phylomon walked softly across the redwood bridge and up the dirt road toward the stegosaur. The beast turned its side toward the blue man, began twitching its spiked tail in warning, and pulled its head beneath the bony plates along its back.

Phylomon reached into his quiver, drew out an arrow, fitted it to the string of his bow. He studied the stegosaur a moment. Wisteria had often heard men tell of their exploits to Hotland. They all said it was hard to kill a stegosaur. The stegosaur’s skull is very thick, making the walnut-sized brain a poor target. Besides, even if the blue man were to hit it, it is the hind-brain on the stegosaur—a thickened portion of the spine—that controls the lashing of its deadly tail, and the hind brain was hidden beneath heavy hide and armor plating. Phylomon crouched and fired an arrow into the monster’s throat, severing the carotid artery.

The stegosaur jerked twice and its tail whipped to the side, striking the wagon’s front wheel. The wheel splintered, and the wagon dropped. The stegosaur’s tail lashed back and forth. For a moment it looked as if the spikes would bury themselves in the planks of the wagon bed, but the planks shattered instead.

The monster opened its mouth at an extreme angle, and blood pumped from its throat in great gushes. Its eyes glazed over almost instantly.

The tail seemed to be working on it own, striking again and again at the wagon, as if glad to have a target. Blood spouted from the stegosaur’s throat into the air. It kicked its legs as if it might outrace death, then it rolled like an alligator, thrashing its tail as it turned.

Phylomon went to the wagon, pulled a length of rope from its bed, made a loop, tossed it over the stegosaur’s spiked tail, and cinched it tight. The monster thrashed, unaware of Phylomon, and he tied the beast to a tree so it wouldn’t knock down the walls of nearby houses in its death throes.

The Pwi came running, shouting the tale of the demise of the mayor’s beast to newcomers, and the humans dashed out from their houses, curious about this man who appeared so seldom. The Pwi crowded round Phylomon, and some of the bolder children even reached out to touch him.

Phylomon straightened his back, and his head bobbed above the crowd. People were shouting to one another, and he asked a question so softly that Wisteria couldn’t hear him. She’d stood still while he killed the beast, but now she jogged toward him again.

No one answered the blue man’s question, but several people glanced up toward the mayor’s house. Phylomon looked up at the house, and trudged toward it, kicking up dust. Obviously he was going to confront the mayor. People were still talking loudly, and over the din Wisteria heard Caree Tech shout clearly, “Careful—the mayor has eight brothers!”

Phylomon nodded at Caree. A man with so many kin in a small town has great power. Phylomon approached the house, then saw the Dryad sitting in her cage in the beating sun.

Phylomon approached the cage and said with infinite gentleness, “What are you doing here, Aspen Woman?” His voice was very soft, and did not carry well—as if his vocal cords had become atrophied after living for years in solitude. He reached through the bars of the cage to stroke the girl’s silver hair.

The bars of the cage were made of mottled aspen—the tree she’d been created to nurture. Her genetic programming would not let her try to break the bars, even to escape. She was young, just developing her breasts—near the time when her kind were driven into a mating frenzy.

“You are a great danger to the people here in town,” Phylomon said. “You should be with your sisters in the mountains, tending your trees.”

And for the first time since reaching Smilodon Bay, words flowed from the Dryad’s mouth. Her voice had a musical quality that reverberated like the song of a flute. “The Mayor keeps me caged,” she said. “He plans to sell me to slavers in Craal.”

Several people gasped at the startling beauty of her voice, and perhaps also at the accusation of slavery. Phylomon tilted his head like a robin studying a worm. “So,” he said quietly, “first your mayor defies the old laws by bringing a dinosaur to our land, and then he begins selling slaves to boot.”

With that Mayor Goodman appeared in his doorway, a large man in girth, with more muscle than fat. “I’m not a slaver,” Goodman said. There was only a trace of fear in his voice, and he carried a tone of authority that the blue man did not equal. “The Dryad is in my care.”

“You mean she’s in your cage.” Phylomon held the mayor’s eye, drew his sword, and sliced at the wooden bars of the Dryad’s cage, cutting it as if it were a potato. The Dryad pushed at her bars and began wriggling out.

The mayor blustered, “Sir, I meant no harm. Why, I raised that dinosaur from an egg,” he said, nodding toward the stegosaur. “The Pwi bring eggs from Hotland every year—and no one ever knows what sort of beast will hatch from them. Why, every boy in town has had such an egg at least once. It’s great fun to see what will hatch—but the dinosaurs always die come winter. Only a freak of chance let this beast make it through the winters. And, as for the Dryad, why, she’s not human. It’s not as if I were selling a human. She cost me a great deal—And I’ve fed her these past three months hoping to get a decent price from her!”

Phylomon listened to the mayor’s blustering without watching him, then turned a questioning eye. Wisteria looked at the mayor and tried to imagine him as Phylomon must see him. Goodman was a large man, and strong. Not the kind to be easily withstood. And the lines in the mayor’s face were hard and secretive.

“I will gladly buy the Dryad,” Phylomon said calmly. He reached down to his belt and pulled out a small bag, loosed the string that bound it, and dumped the bag’s contents into his palm. Diamonds, sapphires and pearls gleamed. The whole town gasped. “Take whichever stone you think fair.”

The mayor eyed the stones and concentrated. Sweat began to break out on his forehead. Obviously he did not want to appear greedy—for greed is the father of sin. Wisteria knew the girl was not worth even a large sapphire.

The mayor took a diamond. A medium-large diamond. A diamond that could have bought a ship.

Greed had overpowered his common sense.

Phylomon smiled at the mayor, as if pleased with his choice. “What town is this?”

“Smilodon Bay,” the mayor said, suddenly distant, fearful. He thrust the diamond into his pocket.

“And if you went to war tomorrow with Thrall pirates, how many men could you muster?”

Without hesitation, Goodman answered, “Eighty-six men of war. More, if you want old ones or young.”

“Then have a hundred men of war down at the docks at dusk. Have them bring their weapons,” Phylomon said, “for I will address them.”

Most of the town stood within hearing range of Phylomon’s words, and the rest of the people seemed to be coming.

Wisteria watched the mayor intently. Lady Devarre had taught her girls to try to read a competitor’s thoughts just by the way he held his head, the way the nervous lines crinkled near his eyes, the timbre of his voice.

Mayor Goodman obviously knew that there was no threat from pirates and he feared to gather the town. Phylomon could be plotting to turn the townsmen against him.

“As you wish,” the mayor conceded with false courage.

“I have often heard good report of the inn of Scandal the Gourmet,” Phylomon said, “Is this the town where it lies? Could someone tell him that I'd like a room for the night?”

Scandal’s high, bellowing voice cut through the crowd, “You can tell me yourself!” he said, and the townspeople laughed a false, nervous laugh.

“I’ve heard you have a bed in one of your rooms—a very special bed, guaranteed free from vermin,” Phylomon said softly as Scandal shoved the crowd aside, making room for his belly to squeeze through. “Is that room available?”

Ever the showman, Scandal played to the crowd, answering loudly so that everyone could hear. “Well, a bed is only as free of vermin as the man who’s sleeping in it. If you want my special bed, you’ll have to hike up your breechcloth and let me check for fleas, just like every other customer!”

Phylomon grinned at the game and pulled up his brechcloth, exposing his muscular legs. Scandal grunted and bent over, making a great show of scrutinizing the blue man’s skin.

“I hereby declare this man to be totally free of vermin!” Scandal announced, laughing. “And therefore worthy of my finest room—free of charge!” Several people cheered, while others just laughed.

Phylomon said, “Then show me to your inn.” Phylomon took the Dryad’s hand and helped her rise. Together they made their way across town and up the hill.

The crowd began to disperse.

Wisteria felt unsure of what to make of the blue man’s appearance, and wanted to ask her father about it, but she didn’t see him in the crowd. She rushed home to the large house on the north end of town.

Her mother was quietly preparing dinner in the kitchen. Her father sat in a large upholstered chair in his study, reading The Sayings, a book of wise words purportedly spoken by Phylomon over the centuries. Wisteria had never seen her father read the book before.

So, she thought, he is preparing to meet him.

Her father, Beremon Altair had graying hair and bright blue eyes. He was a learned man, knowledgeable about arcane mathematics and physical theories that let the Starfarers travel faster than light, a man who’d made a fortune backing shipping ventures in dangerous waters. A man others feared because he, himself, was a rare genetic throwback to the Starfarers—Beremon Altair was a Dicton, one of the few humans left on Anee who carried the extra pair of genetically engineered chromosomes that were the Starfarer’s greatest legacy. Beremon could calculate nearly any mathematical problem instantly, and from birth he had known every word in the ancient, universal trade language of the Starfarers, a language from Earth itself, called English.

As a Dicton, Beremon was marked from birth to become a man of power, and he’d lived true to his promise.

Shipping on Anee could be a dangerous gambit. Because of the extreme gravitational pull of the gas giant Thor, Anee’s tides could fluctuate by a hundred feet in a few hours. During raging storms, a strong gravitational wind could send a sailing ship a thousand miles from its destination overnight and leave it smashed against a rocky coast.

By applying his knowledge of mathematics to calculate the shifting tides, and finding the precise moment when the gravitational winds would surge, Beremon had reduced the risk to his own ships. Over the years he’d expanded his hold on the shipping industry until, by age forty, he’d become the most powerful shipping magnate and financier in the Rough.

“Father, Phylomon the Starfarer is in town!” Wisteria said loudly. He did not look at her, and showed no surprise.

Beremon said, “I heard the shouting.”

“Why would he come here?” Wisteria asked.

“He often travels from continent to continent, studying animal and plant populations, doing what he can to keep nature regular. If he had skin the color of any other man’s, we’d think him a vagabond. We’d let him stay in town a day or two, watch our clotheslines and gardens to see what he steals, and the mayor would finally sic his mastiffs on him and send him on his way.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Wisteria said. “I mean, what is he doing here, in this town, now?”

“He doesn’t visit towns often,” Beremon said. “He tires quickly of us short-lived people who can never attain a mental caliber equal to his. He is a man of great intelligence, and he lives alone, and when men like him live alone, their thoughts begin to travel in strange, eccentric paths. Who am I to guess what he might be thinking? Perhaps he has heard of Scandal’s quest? The innkeeper has made no secret of it. Or perhaps his visit is coincidental. I’ve heard from sailors that he’s been in Craal the past few years.

“Down south in Benbow two years ago, he caused quite a stir. It seems that he’s taken aback at how slavery has become a fad in the past century. He’s begun to enforce some of the laws of our ancestors. If you have time, you might persuade a few friends to begin cutting wood for funeral pyres.”

Wisteria’s stomach tightened. She’d feared as much—he’d come to kill the mayor and the other people she suspected of being slavers. She feared to speak her next words even more. “Will he kill you?”

Beremon looked up from his book. He smiled weakly. “You think so little of me?”

“I’m sorry,” Wisteria said. Yet she knew he was a slaver. When she had been a child, her mother had feuded for several months with a neighbor woman named Javan Tech. Javan had accused Wisteria’s mother, Elyssa, of stealing some nails, and no matter what Elyssa or Beremon did to clear their good name, Javan kept trying to prejudice others against them.

Finally, in desperation, Beremon caught Javan and tied her in their basement for a week until he could persuade the mayor to help stash her in the hold of a departing ship. Wisteria herself had helped feed and water the woman.

“Sorry?” Beremon asked. “Don’t be sorry. I made one mistake when I was young. Carting that bitch Javan out of town and selling her to Craal seemed a good idea at the time. A fun idea. We got rid of a problem and made some pocket change in the bargain. I still think it was a fun idea. But remember, my Apple, it was only once.”

Only once that Wisteria knew of, and once was all that it took. She’d never trusted her father after that, despite the fact that she still loved him. She felt as if a snare was tightening around her own foot.

“I saw Tull today—we talked,” Wisteria said. “We didn’t kiss. We didn’t hug. I wanted to tell you, before you heard it from others.”

“I’m not surprised that he found you. The Pwi are like dogs that way, always sniffing at the source of joy. You will not see him socially, of course,” Beremon said. “You are the daughter of a Dicton, and if you are lucky you might give birth to a Dicton. Your body is a great asset, and you should marry only into the finest family. I will arrange for a suitable marriage shortly.”

“I’m sorry,” Wisteria said, backing out of the study. She was not sure if she felt sorry for seeing Tull or sorry because she would be forced to marry a stranger. Talking to her father like this was always unbearable. The look of disgust on his face when he’d learned of her fling with Tull, the guilt she’d felt when she’d fed Javan, the powerful, passionate love she felt for Beremon, her own father, all became so jumbled in her mind that she could not think straight while in his presence.

“Sorry?” Beremon asked. “Sorrow does no one any good. You will, of course, stay away from Tull?”

Wisteria remembered her training at Lady Devarre’s School of Merchantry. Her father was offering a good marriage, power. Tull could never give her that. She straightened her back and nodded. “Of course, Father, I will stay away from Tull. I'm sorry.”

She closed the door behind her and stood outside the room a moment, letting her pounding heart calm. “Oh yes,” she heard Beremon say to himself, “you're always sorry. I fear that you’ll be forever sorry.”

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