The First Rule

Justice

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The First Rule:

One hundred, fifty and eight seasons ago….

Sage Sandar sat legs crossed in the center of the conservatory. He had forgone the long robes he usually wore, opting to be shirtless and in loose leggings. His long gray hair hung to the middle of his back. His equally gray beard tied in a braid that ended in the middle of his chest. He held a crystal in each of his hands – one a milky white in his left and one black as night in his right. His eyes were shut shielding them from the sun that shone through the intricate crystalline glass work and cross hatching of wooden timbers that comprised the dome of the conservatory.

Beneath him, he could feel the intensity of the intersecting ley lines that had drawn him to this place and were the reason why he’d made his home here. Ever since the discovery of the ley lines and the power they could impart onto crystalline artifacts, conduits had been experimenting with the power.

He had summoned his old friend turned adversary, Desdamona from Valus so that she could witness his latest discovery. To his surprise, she had accepted his invitation. They had not seen eye to eye for some time. He believed she’d become a bureaucrat, quick to make judgments and to stifle ingenuity. He pushed boundaries – and she had warned him that his work was walking a line that once crossed would see her and her colleagues on the jury, rendering judgment against him. As one of the most powerful conduits in all Teiravon a part of him would have welcomed it – a reason to finally set aside pleasantries and to establish once and for all the real pecking order of the conduit hierarchy.

All around him in the conservatory were various plant species that he had collected in his travels. Leafy greens and flowering varieties of all sorts thrived in its light. The air was full of exotic smells and Sandar breathed them in. The power of the ley lines seemed to also benefit the plants of the conservatory. They grew larger than any he had ever seen in the wild. He would use these plants to illustrate his latest discovery. He could feel them already responding to his presence and to the crystals he had in hand.

“Child?” he said, eyes still closed.

“Yes, Sage?” came a small voice from behind him.

“It is time. Be a good girl Mari and fetch the Lady Desdamona and bring her here.”

“Yes, Sage,” Mari said in reply. Sandar could hear the pitter patter of her feet on the stone floor as she ran from the room. The corners of Sandar’s mouth rose as he pictured her scurrying off to do as she'd been told. She was a sweet child and an eager student. He was blessed to have her in his company. One day, all that he was and all that he would ever be, would live within her. She would carry his knowledge forth and it was his hope that she would one day take on a student or bear a child and continue the cycle, imparting on the one chosen to replace her, that which he had bequeathed to her.

Sandar again focused on the crystals in his hands. He could feel the energies below trying to push their way up and through his body and into the crystals. He needed to maintain a balance and a clear mind. He needed to draw on each of the ley lines separately. In his mind’s eye, he envisioned each of the lines, manifesting them and bending them to his will, opening a door for one, while walling off the other. He maintained a shallow but consistent pattern of breathing. He was one with the elements that had the power to shape the world around him.

He sat there for what seemed hours but was only minutes – and then he heard the pitter patter of tiny feet approaching and the heavier footfalls of heeled shoes on the stone.

“Sage Sandar, the Lady Desdamona,” Mari said, trying to sound officious and demure, but failing at both.

“Thank you, Mari. I welcome you Desdamona. Finally, the time has come to show you why I have summoned you here.”

Desdamona was silent for a moment. Sandar thought he knew what the woman was up to. She was no doubt standing straight, head tipped back at an angle; her lips pursed tight, eyes rendering instant and negative judgment.

“Give me a moment, Sandar. This image of you out of your robes…” her voice trailed off.

The image in Sandar’s mind evaporated as he laughed. “A matter of function versus vanity Desdamona, I assure you.”

“Let us hope,” came her snarky reply.

Another chuckle from Sandar.

The prior evening had seen Desdamona’s arrival. She had come in a coach, nondescript from the outside but lavish in its interior. Sage Sandar had met her at the entry to his chateau greeting her with a polite bow. “Your grace,” he said taking her hand and helping her down. She seemed unamused by his forced acquiescence, knowing immediately that it was a mockery. Her dark skin was soft to the touch, something that surprised him. He had made her out to be as hard as a rock in his mind. The moment brought forth a memory of their younger days when they had been closer and kinder to one another. “I hope you’re hungry,” he said leading her into his home.

“I am,” she said.

Her silver hair was neatly pulled back falling over her shoulders. Sandar, regarded her for a moment thinking she had not changed a bit in the many years they had been apart.

“It has been a long journey,” she continued.

“I must confess, I thought it odd that you should choose such a common form of travel,” Sandar said without looking at her. “I would have expected someone with your skills and power to have portaled here.”

Desdamona sighed and said, “My dear Sandar, not all are as quick to showmanship as you. Rare is the occasion when I am left to myself. I used the time to think on things.”

Sandar’s head bowed but did not turn, “I can appreciate such wisdom, and I am sure the jury and all of the duties associated weigh heavy.”

“Indeed,” she said.

“Please allow Mari to take your cloak, your grace,” Sandar said walking through the entry hall to his home.

A small girl that appeared to be nine or ten years of age emerged from a side hall. “If it pleases your grace,” she said with a curtsy, head bowed her arms extended to receive Desdamona’s traveling cloak.

Desdamona undid a clasp at her neck and with a twirl meant to amuse the child, removed her cloak and laid it gently onto Mari’s extended arms. Mari looked up at her and smiled.

Sandar smiled as well and put forth a hand toward the dining hall. “I hope you’re keen to dine on pheasant,” he said as Mari walked off with Desdamona’s cloak. “If the pheasant is not to your liking, I can assure you that the wine is superb.”

Desdamona smiled, “You remembered?”

Sandar tilted his head, “The pheasant or the wine?”

“You maintain your humor Sage,” Desdamona laughed addressing him by his title.

“You may ignore formality within the walls of my home, Lady Desdamona.”

“Then kindly grant me the same courtesy,” Desdamona said. “We are too long at this thing to forget that once we were just children studying the arts together.”

“Good memories, all of them,” Sandar said entering the formal dining hall, Desdamona on his heels. “Please take a seat near to me; I should not like to yell to you at the other end of the table.”

Desdamona chuckled, “We will make your dining hall as intimate as a tavern table.” She took in the grandeur of the room, the ornate woods, and detailed tapestries hanging from the intricate beam work.

“Now there is the girl I remember!”

Sandar drew a chair and offered it to Desdamona. He pushed it in toward the table as she sat. “You’ll have to forgive my lack of formality, my studies occupy my time and rarely do I take my meals here. I keep a minimal staff.”

Desdamona offered a polite nod, “We are all friends here, Sandar,” she said pulling a napkin onto her lap.

Sandar took a seat next to her at the head of the table. He too drew his napkin and placed it onto his lap.

A servant appeared from the kitchen with a decanter of wine in hand and filled each of their goblets. “You may leave that,” Sandar said pointing to the decanter, “and should bring another.”

Desdamona laughed while raising her goblet. “Plying me with drink, Sandar? You leave me to wonder what it is that you’re up to.”

Sandar took his goblet in hand, “No plying, Dee,” he said calling her by a name that nobody had used in ages, “prying. I need to wash away all of your regimented inhibitions so that you might see the reason behind what it is that I have done.” He moved his goblet towards hers and they clanked together. The two of them drank, Desdamona’s eyes never leaving Sandar’s.

“It is good wine,” Desdamona said. “But you should know that friend or not, my duties supersede my relations.”

“Of course,” Sandar said his head nodding as he placed his goblet back on the table.

They spent the next hour dining and drinking. Sandar explained the theories that had brought him to his new way of thinking, and perhaps the wine had worked its charms as designed for Desdamona did not dismiss his ideas out of hand. After much back and forth, Desdamona sunk into her chair seeming exhausted. “Sandar, you know that the rules set by the jury serve a purpose, to protect the conduit, the art itself and the public at large.”

Sandar leaned in, “I do understand and two seasons ago, I would have said that any conduit doing what I will show you tomorrow was sure to be exposed to the stain and corrupted. The First Rule – and to my mind, the only relevant rule put forth by your precious jury…”

Desdamona sighed.

“I’m sorry, you’re right, forgive an old fool his biases,” Sandar said, his tone apologetic. “The First Rule has its place. Young conduits, those not yet attuned to the powers of the crystals and the ley lines, need boundaries. The jury’s commandment that users endow objects with the crystals rather than themselves has merit. We have seen firsthand what comes of those that abandon this rule – but we have projected negativity onto the crystals and the ley lines themselves by making it seem as if there is an intelligent malice buried within the art. I will show you that the ley lines and the crystals themselves have no agenda – and that we as conduits have failed to hone a skill set necessary to capably and safely wield the power.”

“You speak of a skill set, indulge a simple girl; to what are you referring?”

“Focus. Conduits have used this skill as a means to draw power from the ley lines. What they have all failed to understand is that focus is not just about syphoning energies. Focus can also be used to stifle energies and to bind them. A conduit need not be a helpless instrument.”

“This seems a risky endeavor – but I could not help but take notice that you said, two seasons ago you would have believed somebody doing what you intend would have been exposed to the stain. Please tell me you have not been dabbling with crystals without the benefit of staves or other inanimates.”

Sandar said nothing.

“Oh, Sandar. You stubborn fool! Did it not occur to you that you should have reached out to me sooner? A conduit of your power, completely taken by the stain, corrupted – it would take the full power of the jury to stop such a menace.”

Sandar held up his hands, “I relent, but as you can see, my hands are clean despite my wielding crystals without the benefit of inanimates.”

“You haven’t hidden any on your person?” Desdamona asked.

Sandar raised an eyebrow, “An interesting prospect, but no.”

“So then tell me, what have you planned for me?”

“And ruin the surprise? I don’t think so. It’s getting late; I know that I need to retire so that I am rested for the morrow. “

Desdamona permitted the slight. She was both curious and fearful but it was getting late. She nodded in agreement. “Tomorrow then,” she said.

Sandar called for the housemaid, who emerged in an instant. “Please see Lady Desdamona to her chamber.”

The petite steward bowed, “Yes, Sage.”

“You’ll find the accommodations to your liking, Dee. There is a fire burning and a bath prepared.”

“Thank you,” Desdamona said moving off with the housemaid. “Good night.”

And so the moment had come, and they found themselves in the conservatory. Desdamona free of her initial shock at Sandar's lack of dress now took in the fullness of the scene. The brilliant conservatory with its amazing collection of greenery and of course, the two crystals perched in each of Sandar’s hands. She drew in a long breath and steadied herself, this simply was not done. Of course, the crystals were wholly harmless in their current state – but she had no idea what he planned to do with them.

At the entry to the conservatory, the small girl named Mari stood still and quiet seeming more a sentry than a child.

“Doors,” Sandar said.

Mari responded immediately, pulling shut the two large doors to the conservatory.

“So, the child stays?” Desdamona queried.

“She is safe,” Sandar replied. “She has been witness to this from the start. She is a capable conduit in her own right. When we are through I should like for you to see her work the art.”

Desdamona’s head turned and her eyes took in the form of the girl who smiled back at her. “I see,” she said dreading the tedious parlor tricks she would likely have to endure as the child worked through a repertoire of rudimentary skills.

Sandar set about calming and composing himself again. “I would ask for silence now, it is imperative that I maintain full concentration and focus.”

Desdamona’s lips pressed tight together for a moment, but true to form she could not resist making a comment, “Not a peep from me here on out.”

Sandar ignored her, his breathing timed and regular.

Desdamona took note of the way his chest would rise and fall with each of those breaths but more importantly, she counted out the intervals between each breath. She could see the manifestation of Sandar’s focusing as energy swirled around him in the common way it did all conduits. In his left hand, the white crystal began to glow and an audible hum came from it. He was engaging the song, without the aid of an inanimate. To the left of them, the plants trembled with the power and seemed to lean in toward it. Buds on the flowering varieties began to bloom the air permeated with their scents. Vines began to creep and to reach out grasping at anything that would allow them to climb. They crawled up the framework of the conservatory, their ever-expanding leaves starting to shade the room from sunlight. It was a sight to behold. Desdamona looked to Sandar’s hand – no stain.

“I am summoning the power of what I call the vitality ley line that runs beneath this house,” Sandar said. “Can you feel it?”

Desdamona didn’t dare to believe it but she could register a sense of power coursing from beneath her feet. “I can,” she said, wondering if she should have spoken a word at all. She’d just told the fool she would keep her mouth shut.

The plants in the room were growing at an exponential rate that was compounding. Vines with stalks that were as big as her little finger had grown to a size more akin to that of her leg and had woven themselves into the latticework of the conservatory. Desdamona was awash in competing senses of amazement and terror – and then everything stopped. The energy that had been swirling around Sandar ceased to be. The man opened his eyes.

“Amazing, isn’t it? I do fear that I was too long at it this time,” Sandar said looking up at the vines that had grown so large. “Perhaps a bit of that showman you accuse me of being,” Sandar said turning to look at Desdamona. She saw a familiar twinkle in his eye. “No matter, I can set this right. There is another thing I have learned Desdamona. We’ve known the ley lines and crystals combine to allow us to manifest their matter changing properties – but there is something else – there is time.”

“You are full of secrets Sandar.”

Sandar nodded, “And now, I share them with you and the jury.” He closed his eyes and began to focus again. Desdamona could see the energy begin to swirl around him once more. Beneath her, she felt a current of energy that was swelling from deep within the earth. “The second ley line is decay, I could use it to turn everything in this room to dust. Instead, I will use its power to manipulate time and to return these plants to their former states of being.”

Sandar’s breathing became measured, each inhalation and exhalation intentional and considered. The dark crystal in his right hand began to glow and to hum in a way that was completely counter to that of the white crystal. Desdamona could feel her emotional state change, a sense of hostility and anger washed over her. She stepped back three paces and the feelings subsided but did not wholly retreat. The flowering plants and the vines shivered and began to wither. Some of the flowers fell off, others closed up again resuming their former bud state. The vines, however, were the real sight to behold. Their leaves shook as if in a wind and the large stalks began to constrict and retreat. It was then that Desdamona heard a loud creaking, followed by a crack like thunder. A large piece of the timber latticework of the conservatory roof once bound by the large vines tore free above Sandar. There was no time for Desdamona to react and Sandar was too consumed with maintaining his focus. The wood came down hard, hitting Sandar across his back bending his body in a way that bodies should not bend. She thought she heard him scream – but the world around her was fast becoming chaotic, she could not register all of what was occurring – perhaps it was the girl, Mari.

Desdamona ran toward her injured friend. The power that had been swirling around him in an organized pattern was now in disarray. She looked towards the doors to the conservatory wanting to check on Mari. She saw the girl standing in the corner, her eyes full of fear.

The vines and plants in the conservatory were growing and retreating to either side of Sandar – affected by the crystals in each of his hand. He no longer had control of the power. Above them the conservatory’s lattice again creaked and now pieces of the crystalline roof were coming down around them.

“Mari, get out of here!” Desdamona shouted.

Mari looked to Desdamona and shook her head from side to side to signal, no.

“Run! I command it!”

The girl threw a hand out to her side and a stave manifested in a shimmering blue light that formed around her fingertips.

More damned secrets! Desdamona thought. Calling a stave was not something any ordinary conduit could do – surely not a bloody student. The girl was something more than just capable.

Mari wielded the staff now held in both of her hands and a green crystal at its tip glowed brightly. She moved the staff back and forth from left to right sweeping aside debris that was falling around Desdamona and Sandar.

Desdamona put a hand onto Sandar and rolled him over. The energy of the ley lines coursed through her and for a moment time slowed to a crawl. She looked down onto Sandar, his eyes were wide – fear. His jaw was tight - shock. His lips were set in a hideous grimace – pain. Desdamona scanned downward her eyes stopping at his hands which were closed tight and locked to his sides. The crystals he held onto were glowing wildly but this situation was far worse than she had thought – the stain. His flesh was graying, the veins in his hands, wrists, and forearms bulging through the skin. While it had been obvious before, Desdamona had now confirmed that Sandar had lost control of this situation. Desdamona looked to her own hand that was holding Sandar and saw the flesh tighten. Deep set lines in the back of her hand receded. For a moment, she thought she too would be consumed by the power and tainted by the stain. She lunged backward and thrust her right hand out to her side. Energy formed at her fingertips and her staff appeared. The time had come to extricate herself from this situation. She pulled herself back to her feet.

Mari continued to move her staff from side to side, pushing falling debris out of the vicinity of Sandar. “Help him!” she cried to Desdamona.

Help him? Little girl – we’ll be lucky to make it out of this alive.

Vines were now converging around the broken form of Sandar. They wrapped around his legs and then his torso. Desdamona was starting to register terror. The vines were pulling his body from the floor, propping it up. The stain had now traveled up both of Sandar’s arms and his eyes were a pale shade of yellow. “Help me!” The thing that was Sandar bellowed.

I’ll help you by delivering a kind mercy, Desdamona thought. She brought her staff up and energy flew forth from it slamming hard into Sandar. Vines shattered and his body toppled backward again.

“No!” Mari screamed. “What are you doing? You’re hurting him!”

Vines again crawled over the stone floor and began to reassemble themselves around Sandar. Again his body rose up, his broken form worked like a puppet. “Dee!” the thing called out as it came up off of the ground. This time, however, it rose up several feet carrying Sandar’s ensnared body with it. He looked down on Desdamona and smiled. The vines pulled Sandar’s arms from his sides and straight outward making him seem to be a kind of hybrid man-tree. “Now is the time of your judgment!”

Whatever that abomination was – it was no longer Sandar. She wondered if he was trapped inside of it, staring out of those vacant yellow eyes, a captive audience to this moment. You poor bastard. The stone floor cracked beneath Sandar and the power of the ley lines coursed unimpeded from the ground and directly into the crystals that were held outward.

There’s no time for this – and the girl will not come willingly. Her staff adorned in several crystals came to life in her hand as she began to sprint for the doors to the conservatory. She spun the staff round in a circular pattern that warped the air around her – and as she approached Mari she threw an arm outward grabbing the girl pulling her through the portal with her.

They did not go far, there was still work to do and Desdamona could not allow that – thing, to continue to use Sandar for whatever purpose. Mari had spilled from the portal and was down on the ground. Desdamona stood over her.

“Why?” the girl asked her face soaked in tears.

“Child, I cannot take the time to indulge your stupid questions and more importantly, I cannot have you undermining what it is that I need to do. Are we clear?”

“Yes.”

“That thing is not your Sage,” Desdamona said. “That thing is not my old friend. It is corrupted and it must be stopped here and now.”

A sniffle and a nod was Mari’s reply.

“I need your help. I can’t do this alone.”

Mari nodded again and reached for her staff. Desdamona put a foot down on it holding it fast to the ground. “I need to hear you say you understand.”

“I understand. It’s not him. We have to stop the bad thing.”

Desdamona removed her foot from Mari’s staff, “Good girl. Now we must set about righting this wrong. This is the burden of the jury and the burden of every good conduit. This will be the first and hopefully the worst lesson you will ever learn by my side.”

Desdamona turned to look back on the house of Sandar. Thankfully, the servants had left the building. They were assembled in the carriage court staring dumbly at the glowing conservatory. I do hope you have the sense to run when the work starts.

Desdamona brought her staff up, “Now child, we’re going to bring the conservatory down on that thing. Can you manifest earthen anvil?”

“Yes.”

Vines were starting to grow out of the holes in the conservatory’s roof and were making their way down the exterior walls of the dome.

“Good. I will bring down pillars of fire first, to weaken and burn away the vines. Then while I focus to regain my strength, you will rain earth onto the whole of that structure. Do you think you can do it?”

“Uhmmm hmmm,” Mari said with a nod responding in the way a child would but wielding a power no child ever should. Damn you Sandar.

While time was short, protocol demanded that she speak the words. “I, Lady Desdamona of the Jury Arcanum, by right of my title do hereby render judgment on you, Sage Sandar Mordrin. The sentence for your corruption is the mercy of death.” She whirled around, her staff cutting paths and formations in the air around it. She was willing the world around her to change. The crystals at the top of the staff and along its shaft came to life in a frenzy of light. The sky around the conservatory began to shimmer in a rising heat and then fiery pillars began to descend from the sky. The swirling pillars rained down with a force and might that shattered the crystalline glass of the portions of the conservatory that still stood and obliterated the vines which had emerged. As bad as the fire would be, the whirlwind of heat would be worse. The Lady kept at her work for some time. Sweat glistened along her hairline a few beads running crooked paths down her face. There was a sound like a scream coming from the conservatory. At first she thought it her imagination, but Mari shivered beside her and she knew the child had heard it too. The conduit continued her work and the screaming went on with it. After a time, Desdamona stopped casting and breathed in large gulps of air. “Put that sound out of your head child, remember, that is the scream of the corrupted,” she said between breaths.

The conservatory was aflame, the timbers of its once magnificent dome burned to ash and whatever was beneath it scorched in the fires of her fury. Still, she knew that within those flames Sandar and the power that held him were trying to recompile what remained into a useful instrument; she shuddered to think of what her old friend looked like now.

“Your turn, Mari,” she said bending over at the waist her hands on her knees. She was exhausted but she needed to focus and to regain her strength – the girl might not be able to do what was needed.

Mari stepped forward, Desdamona for the first time taking the full measure of the girl. She was so petite and sticks thin. She might have blown away on a swift breeze, scattered like a pile of leaves, but those dark eyes hinted at a will that was unbending. There was a determination buried deep within this girl that few adults could muster, but here it was on full display in the frail form of this child. The previous evening she had worn a simple gown, now she was dressed in a non-descript brown dress that may have once been a burlap sack used by a potato merchant to sell his goods. Yet there was a power emanating from her that cast her in a brilliant light that Desdamona had rarely seen outside of the members of the Jury Arcanum. The girl wielded her staff as if it were a great shovel heaving it hard toward the earth and then thrusting it high towards the sky. Her motions were practiced, Sandar’s lessons readily apparent.

With each of these movements, large chunks of the earth rose up and into the air and then Mari would bring her staff down with a terrible force, the flying bits of rock and dirt following with the speed of her motion. She didn’t need to exert this kind of force, the earth would have fallen just as well if she had simply released it, but again that terrible determination made itself known. She didn’t simply wield the power; she embraced it and commanded it. This was not just a tool. This was a rage to unleash.

This child’s ambitions will need to be tempered.

Huge pieces of debris rained on the charred remains of the conservatory's domed structure the whole work caving under the weight of her assault. The timbers snapped like twigs beneath her might, the force with which she brought down the earth magnified by her movements. At first, the screams they had heard became muffled and then disappeared altogether, a mound of savaged earth making a huge funeral cairn of a sort. The thought made Desdamona queasy.

Having carved out a huge swath of land between the conservatory and where they stood, Mari seemed to starve not for focusing energy but for more earth to heave at the conservatory. It was then that she did something that hinted at the level of insight and intellect that the girl carried along with her great power. She began to tear up swaths of the conservatory’s outer foundation using the stone piled onto that earth as a great weight that compacted the dirt and debris she had heaved onto the conservatory. What remained of the walls of the conservatory caved in on themselves, further compacting the huge earthen mound. Their work was done. Whatever Sandar had been, whatever he had become was buried deep. The ley lines power and that of the crystals themselves were made dormant beneath the insulation of the world.

Desdamona grabbed hold of Mari’s staff, “Enough,” she said. She could feel Mari tug hard at the staff as if unaware. “Enough,” she said again, this time putting the back of her free hand against the child’s cheek. Mari, turned her eyes to Desdamona, and for a moment the woman thought the child would not cease her work – but then a flicker of recognition – and she felt the resistance vanish. Mari put her head down, staring at the ground beneath her feet.

“You did well,” Desdamona said moving her hand to beneath Mari’s chin. She forced the girl’s head up making the child's eyes meet hers. “You have learned an awful lesson today. Did Sandar ever speak of The First Rule with you?”

Mari moved her head from side to side.

“Then let this be our second lesson and the one that you hold most keenly in your mind. There is a danger in the art that we employ. We put something between us and the power that we wield in order that we are not consumed by it. This is The First Rule. Do you understand?”

Mari nodded.

Desdamona looked back toward the chateau. The house proper stood, but half of the roof had caved in where it joined with the conservatory. She considered burning the rest of the place to the ground but was overcome by a feeling of melancholy that sapped her resolve. The members of Sandar’s small staff had been smart enough to move away from the house and were standing around her coach which the driver had moved out of harm’s way. The maid that had served them dinner the evening before stood with her hands to her mouth weeping. A couple of men stood behind the coach conversing with one another and shaking their heads. The coachman just looked to Desdamona and dropped his chin in acknowledgment.

Desdamona moved away from Mari and walked back to where the coach and the staff stood. She looked back to Mari, the girl unmoving. Mari lingered staring at the shattered conservatory. Desdamona could feel a command to follow rise within her, but she let the words catch in her throat. The girl would need to come to terms with these events in her own time. She must come to accept what has happened and move on from it. As she walked she thought about how reckless she would have been as a child if she could have wielded power with such ease. Her emotions could make her a dangerous threat. I must tread lightly.

At the coach, Desdamona gathered Sandar's servants around her. "I am sorry for these events, but there was no alternative. None of you may enter that space. Nothing you left behind may be retrieved. You will wait here. I will send a wagon master to fetch you and bring you to Valus. Once there, I will see to it that you receive the coin necessary to replace all that you have lost. I will also secure you new work through my contacts with The Consortium. There are houses across this land that need good help and each of you will carry my letter of recommendation."

The housemaid bowed, "We are most grateful, Lady Desdamona. We will remain here and you need not worry about us entering that damned place."

"Though your words sting, I am pleased by them. One question before, I depart. What is the full name of the child?" Desdamona asked.

"The child is Mari Annette Trinit. She is the daughter of an ealdorman from a small farming village. That is all I know, m'lady."

Desdamona nodded and opened the door to her coach. "Take me to the girl," she said to the driver. "She will ride with us back to Valus."

"Yes ma'am."

Desdamona entered the coach and shut the door. Inside and out of view, she finally let herself feel the emotions of the day and the loss of her friend. Hot tears welled in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks, it was all the mourning she would allow herself. She sniffed in hard and rubbed at her skirt trying to straighten it. Order - it was all she ever knew.
 
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