"Kyria! I didn't expect you--but by the gods, I'm glad." He held out his hand.
Crossing the room to lay her fingers in his, Kyria struggled to bring her shock under control and keep him from sensing it. Kell had always been pale and slender, more fit for study than for riding and hawking. Old Lord Aldaran, more liberal than many noble fathers, had not made his son feel that temperament as a defect. Kell had not been bred, after all, for crude physical prowess, but for laran. At adolescence that ability had revealed its raw force, and his family had since waited eagerly to learn what form it would take--both in Kell himself and in the children he would get on Kyria.
Laran--is that what troubles him? Some sort of exercises he and Edric are doing? Sometimes I wish we'd never heard the word! What would it be like to marry for love alone and bring up children without watching them every moment for signs of power--or doom?
Now Kell's skin was not only pale but stretched tightly over the delicate bones of his face. Had he given up food as well as light? His hand, closing on Kyria's, felt cold despite the fire. Her free hand clutched her starstone through its protective silk pouch at her breast. She focused on the lines of force rippling through Kell's body. They looked faint, attenuated, wavering beneath her eyes. He resembled the emptied outline of a man.
"I've missed you, Kell," she said, hoping her voice did not reveal her concern. "Your letters haven't been frequent." That sounded like whining; she hastened to amend the remark. "No doubt finding yourself so suddenly responsible for all this--"
He did not rise to kiss her, nor did he remember to release her hand or invite her to sit. "Yes ... the accounts..."
He waved vaguely at the book open on the desk. From Kyria's angle the cramped letters did not appear to bear on stock-breeding or tenants' fees. "We must have a long talk soon, my love. Edric will be here in a few minutes, and he and I have much work to do. He's training me in the use of my starstone," he said with another half-finished gesture, confirming Kyria's guess. "You remember my cousin Edric?"
She nodded, puzzled at the warm tone in which Kell spoke of the man. In the Tower Kell had been no closer to Edric than she herself had.
"May we watch?" Damrys asked. Kyria jumped, having almost forgotten the other woman's presence.
"Yes, of course. Kyria, I know you'll be amazed by what we've achieved." His eyes glowed with an enthusiasm they had not shown at the sight of Kyria.
"But now I have to meditate and prepare. Come back in a quarter of an hour."
Damrys led Kyria down the corridor to the room she had used on her former visits. Unlike Kell's chamber, the guest room had been ventilated, so that the fire only took the edge off the bracing air admitted by the open curtains. "Accounts, indeed," said Damrys as she tested the heat of the wash water in the bedside basin. "He leaves all that to the coridom and me. That was a book of Edric's he was reading, a compilation of results from questionable laran experiments."
"But what is it they're trying to do?" Kyria asked.
"Better let Edric explain his goals," said Damrys. "I wouldn't want to prejudice you." She paused at the door to add, worry replacing the ironic tone, "And I did tell my brother you were arriving today."
Left alone, Kyria washed quickly, then brushed and rebraided her hair. She was beginning to guess what Damrys had meant by claiming that Kell was "in thrall." The lady disapproved of Edric's influence over her brother. Kyria, too, remembering Edric as an arrogant, unapproachable young man, felt ready to share that disapproval, yet how could Edric be blamed for Kell's choices? Kell was of age and of sound mind. He might well resent Damrys' treating him like a headstrong boy.
Kyria caught herself staring into the fire, twisting her braid around her fingers like a child trying to recall a forgotten lesson. This is a waste of energy--I'll know the facts in a few minutes. She marched down the hall to Kell's chamber.
At his door she met Damrys. Together they stepped inside. Kell was still sitting at the desk, cleared of everything but a lit candle. In the shadows a few paces away stood Edric. He stepped forward to let the light fall on his lean face and the bleached, pale red-gold of his hair. He bowed to Kyria with a brief, tight smile.
"Lady Kyria, it's a pleasure to see you again, damisela."
She returned a silent nod of greeting. He lies. He's thoroughly displeased to have me here. Not because he fears my power; he has nothing but contempt for that. Because I might be a distraction to Kell.
She fixed her eyes on Kell's. "Won't you tell me what this demonstration is about?"
"Edric can explain so much better," said Kell. "All I can say is that he's opened up such depths for me. My love, I didn't know for certain what my laran was until Edric showed me." He cast Edric a glance almost worshipful, waiting for the older man to take over the discourse.