Read The Lady of Han-Gilen Online

Authors: Judith Tarr

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The Lady of Han-Gilen

The Lady of Han-Gilen

Avaryan Rising: Volume II

Judith Tarr

www.bookviewcafe.com

Book View Café Edition
June 25, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61138-268-6
Copyright © 1987 Judith Tarr

Dedication

To my agent, Jane Butler

For performance above and beyond the call of
duty

ONE

“Elian! Oh, Lady! Elian!”

The Hawkmaster paused in mending a hood and raised an
inquiring brow. Elian laid a finger on her lips.

The voice drew nearer, a high sweet voice like a bird’s.
“Lady? Lady, where
have
you got to? Your lady mother—”

Elian sighed deeply. It was always her lady mother. She
bound off her last stitch and smoothed the crest of feathers thus attached to
the hood: feathers the color of fire or of new copper, rising above soft
leather dyed a deep and luminous green. Flame and green for the ruling house of
Han-Gilen: green to match her much-patched coat, flame no brighter than her
hair.

She laid the hood in the box with the others she had made
and rose. The Hawkmaster watched her. Although he was not mute, he seldom spoke
save to address his falcons in their own wild tongue.

He did not speak now, nor did she. But his eyes held a smile
for her.

oOo

In the mews beyond the workroom, the hooded falcons rested
on their perches. The small russet hunters for the ladies and the servants; the
knights’ grey beauties, each with its heraldic hood; her brother’s red hawk
shifting restlessly in its bonds, for it was young and but newly proven; and in
solitary splendor, the white eagle that came to no hand but that of the prince
her father.

Her own falcon drowsed near her brother’s. Though smaller,
it was swifter, and rarer even than the eagle: a golden falcon from the north.

Her father’s gift for her birth-feast, a season past. It had
been new-caught then; soon it would be ready for proving, that first, free
hunt, when the bird must choose: to come back to its tamer’s hand or to escape
into freedom.

She paused to stroke the shimmering back with a feather. The
falcon roused slightly from its dream, a tightening of talons on the perch, an
infinitesimal turning of the blinded head.

“Lady!"

The mews erupted in a flurry of wings and fierce
hawk-screams. Only the eagle held still. The eagle, and Elian’s falcon, that
opened its beak in a contemptuous hiss and was silent.

The Hawkmaster emerged from his workroom, followed by his
two lads. Wordlessly they set about soothing their charges.

The cause of the uproar paid it no heed at all. She fit her
voice admirably well, plump and pretty, wrinkling her delicate nose at the
scents of the mews and holding her skirts well away from the floor. “Lady, look
at you! What her highness will say—”

Elian had already thrust past her, nearly oversetting her
into the mud of the yard.

oOo

The Princess of Han-Gilen sat among her ladies in a bower
of living green, her gown all green and gold, and a circlet of gold binding her
brows. A delicate embroidery lay half finished in her lap; one of her ladies
plucked a soft melody upon a lute.

She contemplated her daughter for a long while in silence.
Elian kept her back straight and her chin up, but she was all too painfully
aware of the figure she cut. Her coat had been her brother’s; it was ancient, threadbare,
and much too large. Her shirt and breeches and boots fit well enough, but they
stood in sore need of cleaning. She bore with her a faint but distinct odor of
the stables, overlaid with the pungency of the mews.

She was, in short, a disgrace.

The princess released Elian from her gaze to stitch a
perfect blossom. Once the most beautiful woman in her father’s princedom of
Sarios, she remained the fairest lady in Han-Gilen. Her smooth skin was the
color of honey; her eyes were long and dark and enchantingly tilted, with fine
arching brows; her hair beneath its drift of veil was deep bronze with golden
lights.

Her one flaw, the chin that was a shade too pronounced, a
shade too obstinate, only strengthened her beauty. Without it she would have
been lovely; with it, she was breathtaking.

At last she spoke. “We have been searching for you since the
morning.”

“I was riding.” In spite of all her efforts, Elian knew she
sounded sullen. “Then I had an hour with the Hawkmaster. Will you be keeping me
long, Mother? The embassy from Asanion will be arriving today, and Father has a
council just before. He bade me—”

“At your insistence.” The princess’ voice was soft but
unyielding. “He is the most indulgent of fathers. Yet even he would not be
pleased to see you as you are now.”

Elian battled an impulse to straighten her coat. “I would
not attend council in this state, my lady.”

“Let us hope that you would not,” said the princess. “I have
heard that you have done so in garb but little more proper. Breeched and booted,
and at your side a dagger.”

The princess continued her embroidery, each word she spoke
as careful and as minutely calculated as the movements of her needle. “When you
were still a child, I suffered it, since your father seemed inclined to
encourage it. There were some who even found it charming: Han-Gilen’s willful
Lady trailing after her brothers, insisting that she be taught as they were
taught. You learned fighting and hawking and wild riding; you can read, you can
write, you can speak half a dozen tongues. You have all the arts of a Gileni
prince.”

“And those of a princess as well!” Elian burst out. “I can
sew a fine stitch. I can dance a pretty dance. I can play the small harp and
the greater harp and the lute. I have a full repertoire of songs, all charming,
all suitable for a lady’s bower.”

“And some scarcely fit for a guardroom.” The princess set
down her work and folded her hands over it. “My daughter, you have been a woman
for three full years. When I was as old as you, I had been two years a wife and
nigh three seasons a mother.”

“And always,” muttered Elian, “a perfect lady.”

The princess smiled, startling her a little. “Nay, daughter,
I had been a famous hoyden. But I had not so doting a father, nor so lax a
mother. With the coming of my woman’s courses, I had perforce to put on a gown
and bind up my hair and accept the husband my family had found for me. I was
fortunate. He was scarce a decade older than I; he was comely; and he was kind
to me. The man chosen for my sister had been none of those things.”

Elian’s hands were fists. She kept her voice level with an
effort of will, so level that it was flat. “I have another suitor.”

“Indeed,” said the princess with unruffled patience. “One
whom you would do well to treat with something resembling courtesy.”

“Have I ever done any less?”

The princess drew a slow breath: her first sign of temper.
“You have been . . . polite. With utmost politeness you rode
with Lord Uzian the Hunter, and brought back two stags for his every one, and
slew the boar that would have destroyed him. You saved his life; he remembered
an earlier betrothal and departed. When the two barons Insh’ai would have
dueled for your hand, you offered most politely to engage each one and to
accept the one who bested you. You defeated them both, and thus they lost you
with the match. Then I call to mind your courtesy to the Prince Komorion. Lover
of scholarly debate that he was, you engaged him in dispute, demolishing him so
utterly that he retreated to a house of the Grey Monks and forsook all claim to
his princedom.”

“He was more than half a monk already,” Elian said sharply.
“I had no desire to wed a saint.”

“Apparently you have no desire to wed at all.” Elian opened
her mouth to speak, but the princess said, “You are the daughter of the Red
Prince, the Lady of Han-Gilen. Hitherto you have been permitted to run wild,
not only because your father loves you to the point of folly; I too can
understand how sweet is freedom. But you are no longer a child. It is time you
became a woman in more than body.”

“I will wed,” said Elian, speaking with great care, “when I
find a man who can stand beside me. Who will not stalk away in a temper when I
best him; who will be able, on occasion, to best me. An equal, Mother. A king.”

“Then it were best that you find him soon.” The velvet had
fallen aside at last, baring steel. “Today with the embassy of Asanion comes
the High Prince Ziad-Ilarios himself, heir to the throne of the Golden Empire.
He has sent word that he comes not only to propose a new and strong alliance
with Han-Gilen; it would be his great pleasure to seal that alliance by a union
with the Flower of the South.”

Elian had never felt less like a flower, unless it were the
flameflower, that consumed itself with its own fire. “And if it is not my pleasure?”

“I encourage you to consider it.” The princess raised a
slender hand. “Kieri. Escort my lady to her chamber. She will prepare herself
to meet with the high prince.”

oOo

Elian stood stiff and still in a flutter of ladies. They
had bathed her and scented her. Now they arrayed her in the elaborate gown of a
Gileni princess.

A tall mirror cast back her image, mocking her. She had not
been a pretty child: awkward, gangling, all arms and legs and eyes.

But suddenly, as she grew into a woman, she had changed. Her
awkwardness turned to a startling grace, her thinness to slenderness, her
angles to curves that caught many a man’s eye. And her face—her strong-jawed,
big-eyed face, with her mother’s honey skin and her father’s fire-bright
hair—had shaped itself into something much too unusual for prettiness. People
looked and called it interesting; looked again, much longer, and declared it
beautiful.

She glowered at it. Her gown dragged at her; a maid weighted
her with gold and jewels, while another arrayed her hair in the fashion of a
maiden, falling loose and fiery to her knees. Gently, with skillful hands, a
third lady began to paint her face. Rose-honey for her lips, honey-rose for her
cheeks, and a shimmer of gilt around her eyes.

A low whistle brought her about sharply, winning a hiss of
temper from the maid with the brushes.

Elian’s glare turned to laughter and back to a glare again
as her brother fell to his knees before her. “Ah, fairest of ladies!” he cried
extravagantly. “How my heart longs for you!”

She cuffed him; he swayed aside, laughing, and leaped to his
feet. He was tall and lithe, and as like to her in face and form as any man
could be. Unlike most men of the Hundred Realms, who reckoned their beards a
deformity and shaved or plucked them into smoothness, he had let his own grow
to frame his face. It made him look striking, rakish, and more outrageously
handsome than ever.

“And all too well you know it,” said Elian, tugging at it.


Ai,
woman! You
have a hard hand. And you so fair the god himself would sigh after you. Are you
setting yourself to melt the hearts of Father’s whole council?”

“If Mother has her way,” Elian said grimly, “I’ll win a
better prize than that. Prince Ziad-Ilarios is coming to have a look at the
merchandise.”

Halenan’s laughter retreated to his eyes. “So I’ve heard. Is
that why your anger is fierce enough to set me burning even in my lady’s
chamber?”

“Little help you need there,” she said.

He grinned. “I find marriage more than congenial. Even after
five years of it.”

“Don’t you?” She thought of his two sons, and of his lady in
her bower awaiting in milky calm the advent of their sister.

A love match, that had been, and it had startled most of
Han-Gilen; for his bride was neither a great lady nor a great beauty, but the
broad-hipped, sweet-faced, eminently sensible daughter of a very minor baron.
That good sense had taken her quite placidly from her father’s minute holding
to the palace of the Red Prince’s heir, and kept her there through all the
murmurings of the court, as the high ones waited in vain for her handsome
husband to tire of her.

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