(Note: Not a deleted scene per se, but yet another sister story, that is a twin to another one where I wrote a story, decided it didn’t work, and started with the same premise all over again. “Night of Their Conversion” and “Pigs and Feaches,” “Ice” and “Lonely Cries The Winter Wind” are two sets of sister stories. This one and a story called “Reparations,” which was published in Romance and Beyond Magazine, start out with a same basic premise and opening scene: a woman in big trouble.)
The Lady Cietu Blackara found herself in an uncomfortable position.
Her wrists were chafed raw under the shackles that bound her to the damp cell wall. She hung listlessly from the chains, her dark curly hair falling over her face and her breeches and shirt tattered and soiled.
At the sound of scraping on stone, Cietu looked up at the ceiling of her prison. Bits of mortar rained down as a few bricks were pulled away, revealing a patch of twilit sky.
“Is that you, Oord?” she whispered weakly.
“None other!” he called back cheerfully. “We’ll have you out in two shakes, darling!”
She grinned, hope giving her new strength, just as footsteps on the stairs alerted her.
“Hsst! Oord! Someone’s coming!”
Cietu pretended to slump defeatedly as Morrit, head of the King’s special forces, entered the cell. Behind him loomed Captain Goshawk, his second-in-command. If he has the eyesight of his namesake, we are sunk, she thought.
“Why Lord Morrit and Captain Goshawk, what a pleasant surprise,” she said politely.
“Hardly that, Lady Blackara–or should I say, Lady Blackheart?” As always Morrit’s voice grated.
“Goodness, sir, is that what the balladiers are calling me now? I don’t know whether to be insulted or flattered.”
Goshawk coughed into his fist, and not very convincingly either. Cietu decided that she liked him for that.
Morrit merely grunted snidely and motioned to the guards. “Unchain her.”
The shackles fell open with a tiny snick, and tears sprang to her eyes as she was finally able to move her arms. Goshawk waved back the guards, courteously allowing her to rub life back into her shoulders.
“May I ask where you are taking me?” she asked lightly, trying to disguise her discomfort.
“To the executioner, Lady Blackara. Just a short stroll up the stairs.”
He nodded curtly at the door. Stalling, Cietu smiled sweetly at him and waited. Morrit took the hint even as Goshawk moved restlessly. Must have Tamu in him, she thought, he can tell something’s wrong. With compressed lips Morrit offered her his arm, just in time for Oord to come crashing through the ceiling in an avalanche of bricks and mortar and land on him. A rope, attached to a harness at his waist, snaked through after him.
“Grab the rope!” Oord shouted and she groped for it, holding on tight. To her astonishment they were both drawn into the air with a jerk and then pulled smoothly up along the wall.
Goshawk recovered his presence of mind.
“Catch them! Stop them!” he shouted, and he and the guards darted forward. The captain caught her foot and she kicked him square in the nose. He yelled and fell back, and she was yanked willy-nilly through the barely-wide-enough opening in the ceiling. Morrit, from the floor, was screaming,
“Sound the alarm! After her! Onto the roof! At once!”
The guards fouled each other as they plunged through the door, and the last thing the fugitives heard was Lord Morrit’s incoherent screaming in rage and frustration.
Oord pulled her through the opening and hoisted her to her feet. He shrugged out of his harness just as a golden fireball exploded, sending up shards of tile roof. They half-jumped, half-fell onto the next level of roof and rolled out of range.
“It’s an adept!” she gasped. Despite her bravado, her ordeal had left her weak and dizzy. “Which way?”
Another fireball, this one a vivid green, sailed over their heads. Reflexively they ducked.
“Over here,” Oord said. He slid down a peaked roof and she followed, praying she could brake before she plunged over the side.
A shout rose up to their left, and they could see a trio of guards silhouetted against the twilight sky. Swords in hand, the soldiers minced gingerly across the precarious roof.
Breathing hard, Oord and Cietu reached the north face and climbed onto the crenelated wall. At the fifth gargoyle he reached down.
The rope that came up in his hand had been cut about three feet below the knot.
“Cornered,” came a voice behind them, dripping with satisfaction. They turned to look as the adept, a straw-thin figure in the fading light, raised his hand for the final blow.
Oh dear, Cietu thought distantly and threw herself backward, even as blue light flickered around his fingers and gathered itself into a ball. The energy exploded from his hand, and for an instant she teetered frantically, arms windmilling as she struggled for balance.
Then Lady Cietu Blackara, and Oord, for company, plunged into the moat twenty feet below.
“Did you find them?” Captain Goshawk asked, his voice temperate and controlled. Morrit, his throat raw from screaming, had left him this mess to clean up. No doubt I will have to tell the King too, Goshawk thought bitterly. The adept and the officer looked at one another and swallowed.
“Well, sir, not exactly. But it’s a hard fall, sir, and she was weakened by her imprisonment.”
Goshawk looked out his study window at the market below, the shops closing up for the night and the torchlight coming out like nearby stars.
“How do you know this?” he asked politely, still looking out the window.
“Sir?” the officer said fearfully.
“That she was weakened by her imprisonment. Did she tell you?”
“Well, no sir, but–you saw her, sir! She was weak. Sir.”
The adept stepped forward.
“Captain Goshawk, I assure you, my fireball struck her squarely. She could not have survived the blow from the light energy. That, more than the fall, should have killed her.”
Goshawk swung around.
“Should have! But did it? If it did, why have we found no body in the moat? And if there is no body, why are you telling me Lady Blackara is dead?”
He planted his hands on his desk and glowered at the two men.
“Bring me the body of Lady Blackara, gentlemen, and don’t tell me she is dead until you do so.”
A fish jumped in the deserted moat beneath the castle’s wall, and frogs croaked rhythmically from the reeds. The sound of water lapping at the stones was unnaturally loud in the darkness. The splashing resolved itself as two bedraggled figures pulled themselves from the moat and lay exhausted on the bank. The frogs ceased their music for a moment, then the chorus began once more.
Lady Blackara rolled over and nudged Oord.
“What now?” she asked. He groaned and sat up.
“Hmmm. They were supposed to meet us at the north wall. It complicates things.”
“Didn’t you have a contingency plan?”
“Awww, darling, that’s bad luck. That’s like saying you expect to fail the first time.”
She frowned at her manservant, an indistinct form in the darkness.
“Oord, stop calling me darling. Well then, if we’re lucky we can make it to the harbor by dawn. Unless Reith and the others managed to scry our location.”
“I don’t think so,” Oord said. “None of ‘em have Tamu powers that I know of, and since I’m captain, they would have told me.”
Cietu got to her feet and looked down at Oord.
“When did you become captain?”
“After you got taken. Reith said it fitted me best.”
Cietu grinned dryly. Reith, a pensioned foot soldier, hated officers.
“Was Reith the one behind that rope trick?”
Oord’s answering grin could practically be heard in the darkness and he clambered to his feet.
“Me ‘n him, darling. We figured it out.”
“You can explain it to me when we reach Samerra.”
A thin strip of red highlighted the horizon in the east when they limped their way over cornfields to the harbor. The silhouettes of fishing boats crowded cheek by jowl with fat-bellied merchantmen. Farther out, anchored proudly alone, a King’s warship waited, spiky masts poking at the sun.
“Damn!” she whispered. “Where’s the Lady Karr?”
“Anchored in a cove near the Five Islands. Awaiting word from you, darling.”
She frowned at her henchman. The wiry, little man with the weathered face and sandy hair waited expectantly. The day had brightened enough to let her take in his soiled, damp, bedraggled appearance. He was spotted with green algae. I must look much the same, she thought, and smell worse–she brushed back her tangled brown hair. “How long will they wait?”
“Three days, no more. I said I’d have you back by then.” He chewed his lip worriedly.
Even that was too long; every hour the ship remained anchored they risked detection.
“Oord, listen. We need to get there by tonight or send word to set sail. If they’re captured everyone will be hanged before breakfast.”
He shook his head, matted locks bobbing damply.
“They won’t leave without you, Lady.”
But they had to. She thought of the Tamu outcasts waiting to sail to freedom. Cietu shook her head and started toward the waterfront. First order of business–hire a boat to take her out to the Five Islands.
The waterfront was thronged. Cietu and Oord waded through the crowd much as they breasted the water of the moat, keeping together with difficulty. He had produced a dress for her, stolen from the wash line of a conscientious farmwife, which she wore over her breeches and shirt. So they were disguised after a fashion, if no one looked too closely at her matted hair and slightly green-streaked complexion.
“Where are we going?” she asked. Her voice was almost lost beneath the fishmongers’ cries and the shouting of the wharfmen.
“The Drunken Oyster,” he said into her ear. “If there’s a boat to hire, we’ll find it there.” He dropped something round and hard into her hand and she looked down discreetly. Her father’s signet ring, a dark ruby carved with the family’s coat of arms, winked up at her.
“It’s all we have in the way of cash,” he said, troubled. Cietu fumbled it loosely onto her thumb. She smiled a little.
“It’s all right, Oord. He would have approved.”
For answer Oord squeezed her hand, deftly drawing off the ring and making it disappear in his coat again.
“You take after him, darling.”
She didn’t reply; instead only stared at the disturbance in the crowd ahead. A squad of soldiers thrust through the mob, swinging indiscriminately with the flat of their swords. Behind them, scanning the crowd from his seat on a spiritless hack, was the skinny adept who had knocked them into the moat the night before.
Cietu looked around wildly, then tugged Oord’s hand, drawing him with her into an alley between stalls. The smell of rotting fish entrails almost made her lose the previous night’s gruel. Water lapped at the dock under their feet. Glancing around for observers, they slipped into the water and under the dock. Her skirt belled up around her and she beat it down with one hand, holding onto the rough boards of the dock with the other. The water was freezing and filthy.
As if to underscore their misery, a fishwife dumped a full chamberpot over the dock into the water. Oord and Cietu looked at one another.
The soldiers’ bootsteps thudded down the dock. Indifferent to the shrill hostilities of the fishwife, the soldiers tipped over casks and dumped counters at every stall along the dock. Fish slid everywhere.
At length, the hubbub died down, and the soldiers moved on. With curses, shouts, and a few thrown fish heads, the fishmongers began to clean up their stalls. Oord and Cietu began to pull themselves along board by board beneath the dock. It was cold, hard work. When they finally judged they had found a quiet spot to emerge, Cietu’s fingers could hardly grip the rough wood. Oord pulled himself and then her onto the surface, and they flopped there for a moment, dripping. The stalls were abandoned here, for the crowd was following the soldiers. Cietu clambered to her feet and twisted water out her skirt. They began moving away from the crowd, casting back anxious looks, and sloshed as inconspicuously as possible toward the Drunken Oyster.
They froze at the shout, then turned, ready to run. A farmer’s wife, market basket on her arm, was staring at them with red-faced fury.
“That’s my dress!”
How her voice rose above the settling crowd, now drifting back from its interest in the soldiers, was a matter of mystery. But it caught the attention of the adept. Cietu could see him twist in the saddle and stare at them, and even at that distance she could feel his eyes burning a hole straight through her forehead.
“Run!” She picked up her skirts, cursing their pointless weight, staggered a few feet, and then fell. A binding fell upon her, a deadly weight that caught her wrists and ankles and pinned her to the ground. She arched her back against invisible restraints, to no avail. “Run, Oord!” she commanded one more time. Another binding dropped over her mouth, and she could only hope he obeyed.
Mute, furious, she looked up at the inverted face of the adept when he rode back to his captive. His narrow face grinned with satisfaction.
“The captain wants you dead and your body as proof,” he said to her. “I’m sure I can think of something to do with it in the meantime.”
Goshawk pulled up and dismounted in a flurry, tossing the reins to the soldier at the tavern door.
“Where is she?” he demanded. The soldier saluted.
“The graycloak’s got her, sir. He took her upstairs.”
The shock and unease was evident in his voice and Goshawk understood what he left unsaid. Triumph turned to fury. He pushed past the soldier and bounded up the stair to the second floor. Indiscriminately trying doorknobs and kicking in doors, he made his way to the end of the hall.
She was huddled on the floor, eyes closed, the adept standing over her with his arm outstretched and his fingers making an odd shape. He looked up at Goshawk’s sudden entrance.
“Captain!” the man’s voice rose an octave.
“Get out!” Goshawk said.
The adept fled, face as gray as his cloak. Goshawk knelt and hoisted her into a sitting position. She opened her eyes woozily.
“Oh. It’s you,” she said.
“Did the graycloak hurt you?” he asked, dreading her response.
“Not–in the manner you mean.”
But as bad, he thought, judging from the hurt, angry, shamed expression on her face.
“Lady Blackara, you are under arrest for–”
“Treason, calumny, aiding and abetting fugitives from the King’s justice,” she chorused along with him.
“And evading arrest,” he finished. “You just don’t give up, do you?”
“The Tamu are harmless people, Captain. They do not deserve to be hounded from their homes, callously murdered…”
“The Tamu are hotheaded troublemakers who have willfully declared allegiance to their own God and will stop at nothing to sow discord throughout the country to further their own agenda, which is nothing more than toppling the throne.”
“Yes, well, I beg to differ.”
She pushed herself to her feet and angrily shed her stolen dress, ignoring his shocked expression. As she emerged, still fully clothed, she said bitterly,
“Is there still time to make the execution?”
Before he could answer, a grappling hook sailed through the open window and caught on the bedpost.
“Oh, no,” Goshawk said, grabbing for her wrist as the sound of footsteps against the outside wall clumped closer to the window. “Not again, my lady.” He began pulling her toward the door. Cietu gritted her teeth and dug in her heels, giving Oord and the others time enough to pull themselves into the room.
Goshawk never stood a chance. They swarmed over him and had him trussed in an instant, helpless on the floor.
“Quick, my lady, down the rope!” said Reith, and he gave it two quick tugs. She swung over the windowsill and made her way to the ground, followed in quick succession by her men.
Someone had procured horses; the fugitives mounted and galloped off for the Five Islands.
“If you hadn’t interfered at the tavern, this never would have happened,” the adept said primly. They were in Goshawk’s office at the city fortress along with Morrit. He sat at Goshawk’s desk; the Captain stood rigidly at attention in front of him.
“This isn’t like you, Goshawk,” the man said reprovingly.
Goshawk forebore explanation. “I know, sir.”
The man turned to the adept. “Can you scry her?”
“It’s not my area,” the adept protested virtuously.
It was not an invitation. The adept flashed a furious look at Goshawk. Scrying was the most difficult of the dark arts; its aftereffects could be debilitating. Training and practice mitigated that to some extent, but Goshawk knew that the adept preferred throwing fireballs to practicing the farsight. He would pay for his neglect. The captain kept his delight to himself.
The adept sat reluctantly on the floor, eyes closed, and halfheartedly began to chant. Morrit caught Goshawk’s eye and jerked his head toward the door. They left the man to his meditation and waited in silence in the hall.
Goshawk found himself wondering about his elusive fugitive. The eldest daughter of the renegade Lord Blackara had not been a familiar presence at court, though that was to be expected if she followed in her father’s troublemaking footsteps. She was strong-featured and plain with brown hair and brown eyes, nothing flashy like some court ladies, he thought. And he suspected that her nature tended toward shrewishness, which he, as a soldier who despised any pettishness, personally disliked.
Probably the only thing that could stop her tongue was a kiss, he thought, disgruntled, and then he flushed, wondering why he had thought such a thing of a woman he did not like and was adamantly not attracted to–and who was a traitor to boot.
Mercifully his unsettling thoughts were driven away when the door opened and the adept crept out, practically doubled over in pain.
“Five Islands,” he muttered, and groaned. “They’ve set sail for open water.”
The Lady Karr plowed through the waves, the dark green waters completely submerging the bowsprit and sending foamy spray onto the deck. The sails popped briskly in the wind. Off to starboard the first of the Five Islands made a dark shape on the horizon. It was another sight, however, that captured the attention of the Lady Karr’s crew and passengers, as well as her nominal commander, Lady Blackara.
The royal warship flanked them, and was using the wind to good effect to block their escape to open waters. Cietu’s expression was stonelike.
“Can we outrun them?” she asked Reith. He shook his head grimly. The Lady Karr, though stoutly built, was a pleasure yacht. She was no match for a ship of the line. The leader of the Tamu came forward, his lined face sorrowful.
“I did not mean for it to end this way, Lady Cietu,” he began, and she held up a hand, her expression softening.
“We all knew the risks, Shan.” She looked at Reith. “What can we expect?”
“Cannon. No doubt an adept or two with fireballs or lightning bolts.”
The irony of it was, the Tamu had more power than all the guns of the King’s fleet, with the meager powers of any number of adepts thrown in. But equally as strong as their magic was their vow to never injure or kill, even to save themselves. No one understood that, Cietu thought sadly. Despite her family’s taking up the Tamu cause, and her father dying for it, the Tamu remained persecuted, because all anyone else saw was the power, not the vow.
“Is there any way–” she began, but the look on Shan’s face made her subside.
“We could drop off longboats,” Reith said. “Let them row to the islands, scatter there while we distract ‘em in the Lady Karr. No warship can drop anchor in the archipelago. They’d run afoul on the rocks.”
“Once they dispatched us, they could send in boats at their leisure, finish everyone one by one,” Cietu said. But a niggling plan was coming to her and she frowned at the islands. “Shan,” she said suddenly, “Can we make them think we’re going to try that ploy?”
“My lady, our vow–”
“Good lord, Shan, this won’t hurt anyone! A simple sleight of hand, no more. An illusion.”
They all looked at her, puzzled, even her crew and officers. Except one.
“What are you saying, darling?” Oord said, his eyes wide with delight, and she grinned back at him in relief, her expression lighting up.
“What I’m saying, sweetheart, is an image, to let our friends think we’re letting off longboats, and behind that image, us, sailing for Samerra.”
“It’s not easy,” Shan warned. “And it won’t last very long. We will have to be well away before the glamour fades.”
“The Lady Karr won’t fail us,” she said, bubbling with relief. “You’ll do it, then?”
The Tamu looked at one another and nodded.
The families crammed together in the belly of the ship, connected by a web of clasped hands. The ship rose and fell, swaying and creaking, and the darkness gathered over the Tamu until even the wee bit of light let in through the hatch was shut out by its heaviness. Cietu, peering at the hatch, was disturbed by the darkness taking place below decks. A strange power rode the air, like the sparks given off by a cat’s fur, and it prickled the back of her neck.
What have they set in motion? she thought, and swallowed.
“Look!” he whispered, and pointed. Boats rode the seas toward the islands, their spidery oars pulled by the indistinct forms of men.
“It’s working,” said Reith, nodding his chin at the warship, which had come about.
They waited in tense silence as the warship let off boats of her own to chase down the phantom craft, and the Lady Karr fled for the open seas. Cietu’s cheeks were whipped red by the wind and her hair flew about her face wildly. There’s more to this than just wind, she thought, as the brave ship crashed through the waves. How long can they hold it up?
Even as the thought crossed her mind, the darkness at her feet gave a little, and she could see the edges of the hatch again. A longboat winked out, and then another. The wind slackened until they were running before a normal breeze, and the Lady Karr seemed to slump with relief.
With ponderous grace, the warship set sail after them, but it was clear her quarry had slipped the noose. All on deck of the Lady Karr let out a sigh. Cietu knelt and wrestled open the hatch.
“Here. Help me get them out.”
The Tamu were stirring themselves weakly. Cietu helped draw them up, blinking and weeping, into the daylight.
“You did it. You’re safe,” she told them over and over. When Shan emerged she pulled him up and gave him a quick hug. “Thank you,” she told him. He nodded, looking away. Guilt pricked her and she thrust it away with anger. You broke no vow, she thought stubbornly, but she knew better than to tell him that.
One of the Tamu, staggering over to the rail, cried out in horror.
“Look!” he cried. “She founders!”
The captain of the warship, in his haste to cut them off, had sailed too near the outermost island, and the treacherous rocks had caught the ship. She listed sideways, her sails flapping. The sailors gave a cheer, but Cietu’s heart sank. She gripped Shan’s hand.
“Shan,” she said tightly. “We have to keep going.”
He was calm. “No. That is not our way.”
“This isn’t our doing! If they had not set out after us–if they had not hounded you, persecuted you, imprisoned you, killed you, this would not have happened! They have reaped this!”
“You know that isn’t true, Cietu. It was our illusion that caused this.”
“We’re almost free,” she said. “You’re almost free.”
“That’s a bigger illusion than those longboats. Cietu, ask yourself. If we Tamu are resigned to our fate, why can’t you be? Is it because you fight for us, or because you are fighting something else?”
“Someone has to fight for you!” she snapped back. “Look at you! All that power, and no courage to use it! If you won’t fight, I will!” She turned to Reith. “By the spirit of my father, do not change course.”
“That’s not what your father would have wanted,” Shan said.
“You don’t know what my father wanted,” she said, her voice shaking. “You never knew. He fought for you, and you couldn’t even return the favor.”
“He fought for our way of life, Cietu. He fought for our right to live in peace in our ancestral lands. This exile was your idea. You convinced us. And now all it leads us to is death.”
She was unable to keep up her anger in the face of his calm and looked out at the empty sea, her eyes brimming.
“I just wanted to continue his work as I promised,” she whispered at last.
He reached out and took her hand.
“You honor us and him,” he said. “But the only help we need is to let us be who we are. Or else you obliterate us as surely as our enemies would.”
Oord put his hand on her shoulder.
“We’ll stand with you, darling,” he said, his kind eyes anxious, and she thought of all the people she was condemning to death, no matter the decision she made. She closed her eyes, despair washing over her, taking a deep, shuddering breath.
“Reith,” she said. “Drop the boats for the Tamu–and me. You and the others set sail for Samerra.”
She looked at Shan.
“I got you into this. I will see it through to the end,” she told the Tamu leader.
“No,” said Reith. He set his mouth in the face of her resolve. “I’m not handing you over by yourself.”
“We’ll come too. Take our medicine with the rest.”
“Reith, I can’t let you do that.”
“While we’re talking, they’re drowning,” Oord said, jerking his head at the sinking ship. “Best get moving, darling.”
For a moment Cietu held Shan’s gaze, and then she dipped her head tightly.
“Man the boats. Let’s rescue who we can.”
They put her in a different cell and she was guarded round the clock. Cietu learned to ignore the young guards, who seemed nervous. My reputation precedes me, she thought. If she had the energy to laugh she would have. Lady Blackheart was no more. All that was left was Lady Blackara.
The cell door opened. She didn’t look up, just kept her eyes closed.
“Lady Blackara,” said Captain Goshawk.
She raised her head with difficulty as he went behind her and unlocked her manacles.
“I’m here to take you home,” he said. “After learning of your bravery — and the Tamu’s — in saving the men of the warship, the King commuted your sentence to house arrest. The Tamu are being sent into exile, but to Obis, where they can be kept an eye on, not Samerra.”
She closed her eyes.
“And my men?” she asked at last.
“They have each been sentenced to ten years in prison.”
She covered her face with her hands.
“All this for my foolish, stubborn pride. The Tamu asked me what I was fighting for. Oh Captain, please don’t let it be only for this!”
Goshawk had no answer for her, no comfort. He shifted awkwardly, clearing his throat.
“All I wanted was to continue my father’s work,” Cietu went on. “But I never stopped to think what the Tamu wanted.”
“You did what you thought was right,” Goshawk said. “A leader has to act. And you led us a merry chase for a while there.”
She looked him straight in the eye.
“The Tamu are a good people, Captain. They aren’t harmful. They simply want to live in peace. My merry chase, as you called it, did nothing but make them a laughingstock and damaged their case with the king. I don’t know how I will ever make amends.”
“I’m just a soldier, Lady Blackara, but it seems to me that speech makes a good start. Sometimes apologizing gives you a second chance.”
“Ouch,” she said ruefully. “I think hanging might be easier.”
“Then don’t apologize for your own sake. Do it for your men — and the Tamu.”
Goshawk was at her side, ostensibly as her jailer, when she went before the King, begging pardon for her men though her pride made a bitter mouthful. He was also there when Oord and the others were pardoned and released. Oord hugged her unabashedly.
“I knew ye’d speak for us, darling,” he said.
“It’s wonderful what a few well-chosen words can do,” she agreed, thinking of Goshawk’s. “I suggest a new tactic, Oord. Let’s give Lady Blackara a turn, and retire Lady Blackheart. Her methods were, ummm, less than persuasive.”
Oord nodded judiciously. “But just between you and me, darling, I think I’ll miss the old girl.”
Cietu laughed ruefully. “I think I will too. But maybe now we can get some real work done.”
She let Goshawk take her arm, and, ignoring the significant looks cast among Oord and the others, they left the prison behind.