At Syrtis they turned off the Great North Road and took the road which curved away eastward into the foothills of the Kilghard Hills. Hilary Castamir had never believed she could be so weary of riding. At the very best of times she was not much more than an indifferent horsewoman, and this was hardly the best of times. She had been in the saddle for almost three days now; the road from Arilinn was long and rough to her horse's feet.
She was eager to reach home and to see her mother and father, not to mention her brother and the little sisters, one of whom had been born since she left home for the Tower, where she had gone when she was only ten years old. She was now seventeen, though she looked younger--a slender sickly-looking girl, painfully thin. She might have been pretty had she looked a bit more healthy.
But now everything, even the anticipated sight of her parents, had slipped away in her weariness. She dearly wished to be out of the saddle and to rest somewhere; but in this company, of course, it would be unseemly to show signs of weariness or fatigue. A Keeper, she reminded herself, must always be the perfect model of the decorum of the Arilinn Tower. Then, painfully, she reminded herself: but I am a Keeper no more. She had been sent away like a parcel of unwanted goods, disgraced--
No, she told herself firmly; not in disgrace. Leonie had written to her parents last month and made it very clear.
Hilary had dwelt in the Arilinn Tower for over seven years and Leonie, who had chosen her for Keeper, had no fault to find with her. It was only that her health had failed and she had had to be dismissed, at last, to avoid a complete breakdown. For this reason Leonie had not arranged a marriage for her, as was usually done on the infrequent occasions when a maiden was dismissed from the Tower. Her parents might choose to do so when she had recovered her health.