Shan and Priscilla Ride Again
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Pelthraza Street, Solcintra
Chapter the Second
The house was crowded. Her house.
Priscilla smiled, hugging the thought to herself. How strange, after so many years of having had none at all, to suddenly possess two homes, equally dear, equally new, equally wondrous.
Riches beyond all counting. Thanks be, Mother.
Thanks be, too, for those that filled the tiny gather-room, spilling out into the cramped city-house garden.
Goddess, I’m a wealthy woman.
A stir at the entranceway: Teyas ushering in a group of late-coming guests.
Priscilla started forward to perform the host’s duty — and her grin broadened.
Four distinctive individuals were following the butler into the hall: the women as unalike each other as the men. Yet one could not deny they were a family.
Anthora, dark-haired, plump, and silver-eyed, come in on the arm of her eldest sister, Nova, a slyphlike symphony of golden hair and serious amethyst eyes. Behind them, young Val Con, tipping his head back to address some comment to the tall, white-haired man at his side. Priscilla’s smile softened at the sight of the stark, wing-browed face and she lengthened her stride.
“Priscilla!” Anthora was laughing. “What a lot of people! We left our gifts in the hallway with the others, since you weren’t there –“
“For which she is not to be chided,” Nova frowned. “We are at fault, for arriving late.”
“Shan’s at fault,” Anthora corrected spiritedly.
“I beg your pardon? I’ll inform you, young lady, that I cut business short today in order to be home in good time –“
“And then spent hours dressing!” she retored hotly. “Truly, Shan-brother, one would have thought you bound for contract-troth!”
Shan considered her from under astonished brows before turning to the silent man at his side.
“As much as it must naturally grieve me to say such a thing, brother, it occurs to me that sister is a blatherskite.”
“No, do you say so?” Val Con turned a bright green gaze upon Anthora. “What’s to be done, I wonder?”
“We might,” suggested Shan very seriously, “drown her.”
“It seems extreme,” the younger man commented thoughtfully. “How if we simply refuse to allow her in company?”
“She might then wither away to dust,” Nova chimed in unexpectedly. “Kinder to drown, I think, brothers.”
“We do,” Shan allowed, “owe kindness to our kin.”
Priscilla felt anger rising in Anthora as the younger woman grew more embarrassed. Carefully, lest the other take it amiss, she extended a tendril along the inner pathways: warm welcome heavily laced with calm. Anthora relaxed visibly. Made a small, not completely ungrudging bow.
“Forgive me, Shan-brother. I t was not my intent to discomfort you.”
“Well, that’s certainly a relief!” he said, but at the same time proffered his own touch of affection, leaching any sting from the words. “Why don’t you hoodlums make your bows to the host and then leave us in peace for a moment?”
They did so as if they were biddable children, which they emphatically, Priscilla thought, were not. Val Con augmented his very pretty salutation with an upcast flash of smile that was absurdly unsettling.
“Shall I give you an introduction to my brother, Priscilla?” Shan teased her in soft Terran.
“Thank you,” she replied composedly. “Pat Rin has already done so.”
“Cheated of what little service I might render!” He cried in mock anguish, so that Lady yo’Lanna’s head turned toward them. His emotive pattern, familiar and dear, sparkled mischief, and affection, and desire —
And Priscilla laughed — at him, at herself, at the two of them. Slipping an arm through his, she steered him toward the refreshment table.
“You look perfectly miserable without a glass in your hand. Let’s at least take care of that. Then we can find a more or less quiet place and you can tell me what I can do for you.”
“As obvious as that? A glass of the red would be delightful — it is the red Nova sent from our cellar, isn’t it?”
“It is. At first, I couldn’t understand why she would provide wine for a party where she was an invited guest. But then I realized that it must be that you were only making sure that there would be something drinkable here, rather than trust my judgment of wine.”
“I’d trust your judgment in anything, Priscilla,” he said softly. “There’s no need to beggar yourself for the affair, necessary as it is. yos’Galan’s cellar is full.” He poured himself a glass and raised it, saluting her with a smile. “Much better. Do you like being part of Liaden society?”
“Everyone’s been very kind.”
“What an extraordinary thing to say! Especially of Liadens. Out here, perhaps?” He led the way to the window and Priscilla followed him ’round the small patio to a corner thick with jazmin blssoms and shadow. The sounds of the party were suddenly distant. She sat on the low stone ledge and looked up at him.
“How may I serve you, Thodelm?”
“By listening as my good friend — and as my First Mate.”
Having said that, he fell silent, sipping wine and staring at the pale jazmin flowers. Abruptly, he came and sat next to her.
“I had a pinbeam from my Uncle Richard — Gordy’s grandfather.” He paused.
Priscilla nodded. Gordon Arbuthnot had been cabin boy on the last voyage of the Dutiful Passage, Priscilla’s first trip.
“It seems,” Shan was saying, “that we did him more harm than good. The situation with the stepfather has not improved. In fact, it’s my uncle’s opinion that Gordy is less patient of the man than ever before.”
“That happens,” Priscilla commented. “It’s part of growing up. Gordy was a member of the crew on the Passage, not a — not a little boy. . .”
“Precisely,” Shan murmured, and was quiet again for a heartbeat or two.
“Katy-Rose — Gordy’s mother — is caught between the two,” he said eventually. “Worn to a frazzle, according to Uncle Richard, and ready to walk away from both. Morgan — again, according to Uncle Dick — is a good man, but a trifle narrow. Gordy’s seen the wide Universe.” He sighed.
“In short, Uncle Richard would like us to have Gordy back.”
Priscilla considered it.
“He’s a good boy. Intelligent. Showed some talent for the trading, too, I thought.”
“I think it’s possible. But I do need the First Mate’s opinion on the subject.” He hesitated. “It’s as if the Passage is a clan, Priscilla, with the Captain as delm and the First Mate as delmae. Uncle Richard is asking us to take a fosterling into the clan, likely for more than this one trip. Gordy is ripe for halfling. . .”
She thought about that. Gordy was what? Twelve Standards? A changing time, in any case. And if his heart’s desire was set aside now, with all the other changes. . .
“I see no reason,” she said serenely, “why Gordy Arbuthnot should not be fostered as a son into our clan.”
A jolt of — something — from him, and the look he turned on her was more passion than delight.
“Oh, Priscilla. . .”
Her grip on the crystal cup was dangerous. She loosened it and drew a shaky breath.
“Are the reasons still good?”
“Good. . .” He sighed. “Merely difficult.”
A sudden laugh.
“Gods, how wise I’ve become!”
He touched her hand.
“About this other thing, Priscilla. Will you come with me to Uncle Richard? It might set Katy-Rose’s mind at rest if she sees what a fine, upstanding and calm person I have as my First Mate.”
“Certainly, I’ll come,” she told him, beginning the sequence to slow her racing heart. “When do we leave?”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
It would have been really cool, having made such a point about how much time Shan took with his toilette, to actually see what he was wearing. Oh, well, maybe we would have thought of that during the second draft.
It would have also been nice if we had unzipped this a little further, to recap the point at issue between Priscilla and Shan. Which is that they have agreed to run the Passage together for an entire trade trip before they allow themselves to become lovers. At least we managed to remember to tell people who Gordy Arbuthnot is.
Also? We see Shan pour a glass of wine for himself, but he doesn’t seem to have poured one for Priscilla, which is unexpectedly boorish of him, but apparently doesn’t actually matter, because she’s miraculously come up with a glass on her own sometime during their discussion in the garden.
“Wing-browed” has got to go.
Val Con does seem to be flirting rather pointedly with his brother’s girlfriend. I’d wonder what’s with that, exactly, except that we’ve already read the outtake chapters. Now I wonder if we forgot to remove the build-up to a scene that no longer exists, or if we Had a Better Idea.
April 26, 2015
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