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The Dame
The Dame
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Author(s): Salvatore, R. A.
ISBN No.: 9780765357458
Pages: 464
Year: 201006
Format: UK- A Format Paperback
Price: £7.35
Status: Out Of Print (Not available from Oakleaf Books)

P R O L O G U E Brother Pinower hooked a finger inside the collar of his brown woolen robe and jerked it back and forth, suddenly feeling uncomfortably warm. And itchy, so itchy, as if a thousand little insects were crawling across his skin. But it wasn''t the sun or the wind that had this young and healthy rising voice in the Abellican Church squirming. He knew that he should leave the wall immediately to report the dramatic and troubling sight before him, but he found that his legs would not answer his call. He couldn''t turn away but was mesmerized, as were the other brothers of Chapel Abelle who were working on the main wall this day, by the long lines of ghastly wounded men. Ghastly wounded and with many dead along the road behind the lines, no doubt. "Someone inform Father," another dumbfounded monk managed to remark. The sound seemed to break Pinower''s paralysis.


"Set them up in the courtyard," he instructed his many juniors. "Gather servants with blankets and fresh water and brothers with all the soul stones we can muster." He cast a pensive glance down the long slope to the southeast, to the seemingly endless line of casualties. He tried not to think about the many excruciating deaths he would witness that night. When he climbed down from the wall, the horrible vision mercifully lost to him, Pinower found his footing and his purpose, and he sprinted across the wide courtyard, past the lower buildings of the gigantic chapel complex to the main keep and the office of Father Yurkris Artolivan, the oldest man in the Order of Abelle. Artolivan looked every bit of his more than eighty years that day, slumped behind his desk, his skin sagging, his eyes dull and weary. Even his sparse, white hair seemed thinner and lifeless. He glanced up, as did his attendants, when Pinower rushed in unannounced.


"Wounded arrive from the battles," Pinower said, gasping for breath. "Many." Artolivan exchanged concerned looks with his attendants. "The rumors of the fighting in Pollcree?" one of those younger brothers remarked, for indeed they had heard only a few days before that two great forces were closing in on the small village from opposite ends and were sure to meet in bloody battle. Pollcree wasn''t far from Chapel Abelle, barely a day''s hard ride, and if these reports were to be confirmed by the arrival of the wounded this day it would mark by far the closest any of the heavy fighting had come to Chapel Abelle. "Many?" Father Artolivan asked. "More than all of those wounded we have seen cumulatively," Brother Pinower replied. He could not be certain if that was technically true, but it certainly seemed so from the view on the wall.


The old man rubbed a hand across his weathered and wrinkled face and with great effort pulled himself up from his chair. The nearest attendant brother offered an arm of support, but the proud Artolivan brushed it away and moved from around his desk. "If there are men of Pollcree among their ranks, it would not do to keep them here," Brother Pinower reasoned. "I know our agreement, but they are too close to home. I would fear retribution or attempts at escape." Artolivan paused and nodded, flashing a yellow smile at young Pinower. "You look better since you were put in charge of handling the prisoners," he said, a rare compliment from the man known as the father of the Order of Abelle. "Some of that paleness is at last retreating from your cheeks.


" Pinower shifted uneasily from foot to foot, not even beginning to know how to respond. "So, too, have you realized a confidence to speak of such policy in a room full of your superiors," said Artolivan. Brother Pinower''s shoulders slumped, fearing that he had overstepped his authority here. He glanced around at the older monks, all of whom were staring at him. "We need such confidence in these dark times, Brother Pinower," said Artolivan, and several of the others cracked smiles that put Pinower at ease. "I have watched you grow beyond my expectations through this time of crisis." Pinower felt his face blush fiercely. "Crisis," Artolivan repeated, suddenly sounding like he was tired.


So very tired. Artolivan and the warring lairds had worked out a compromise to allow the various chapels of the Order of Abelle, particularly the im mense Chapel Abelle, to be used by both sides in the ongoing and escalating war between Laird Delaval and Laird Ethelbert as a neutral repository for the many prisoners taken on the field and, of course, as a point of medical care for all the wounded of either side. That was the best role for the Order of Abelle, Artolivan had rightly decided, a way to bring some manner of order and peace to a land ravaged by continuing war. Thus, Chapel Abelle had become a dumping ground for prisoners from both the warring lairds, Ethelbert of the southeasternmost Holding of Honce, Ethelbert dos Entel, and Delaval, the most prominent and powerful laird in all the land, who ruled the strategic and fortified city at the southernmost navigable spot on the great river, the Masur Delaval. Scores of prisoners, hundreds even, had come into the increasingly vast complex of Chapel Abelle over the last months. Brother Pinower had been the one assigned to oversee them, to heal their wounds, to put them to work, and to ensure that this encampment of opposing sides had remained secure and peaceful. His work had earned him praise from Artolivan and many of the other older brothers, and the young Pinower had felt as if his contribution here had been in the truest spirit of the tenets of Abelle. He used those thoughts to bolster his courage at that moment, for he knew that this day would be different.


Of the prisoners who had come in before today, few had been seriously wounded. The battles had been so far- off that any soldiers grievously injured had not survived the long and arduous journey. Thus, before today, most coming to Chapel Abelle had suffered only minor wounds or no wounds at all. They were simply prisoners, who, in return for their lives, had taken an oath that their stake in the fighting had ended and they would serve out the end of the war in hard labor. Instead of killing their Honce brothers who happened to be fighting on the side of the other laird, Delaval''s men would toil for the monks and their never- ending construction on this, the greatest chapel, perhaps the greatest complex, in the known world. "Which banner, Ethelbert or Delaval?" Artolivan asked, his voice slurring, as if he had been drinking. He had not. "I could not discern, Father.


But likely both, I believe, by the sheer number of men involved." Artolivan and the senior brothers exchanged looks again, but this time of doubt. Someone had won and someone had lost, and while many of the wounded would no doubt be men of both lairds, the prisoners who would remain behind in civil captivity would be of one faction or another. On the ball of one foot, the small and lithe brown- skinned woman slowly pivoted. She stayed in perfect balance, ultimate grace, as she brought her other leg up teasingly, knee bent at first, but then straightening to become perpendicular with her body. At the same time, the soft, silken robe she wore slid away from her smooth flesh, revealing her delicate foot and calf, her smooth thigh all the way to her hip. Though deeply entranced in her dance, moving with the precision of a warrior and the discipline of a Jhesta Tu mystic, Affwin Wi still managed to glance from the corner of her large, dark eyes at the old man sitting and watching. The septuagenarian, Laird Ethelbert of the southeasternmost Holding of Honce, gave a great sigh at that alluring turn and revealing movement of the woman''s soft clothing.


Affwin Wi smiled a little bit outwardly and a great deal inwardly. She heard the longing and the love in the old laird''s sigh, the wistful dreaminess in his still sharp eye. She entertained him, but she was no harem piece, no subservient or helpless creature. She was, or had been, Jhesta Tu. She could outfight any man or woman in Ethelbert''s army, and he knew it. She carried great power and great in de pen dence, and she was here, dancing before him, because she chose to be and not because he had ordered her. And that gave her power. She danced on and on, to one sigh after another from the man who wanted to consume her in passion but no longer could.


Gradually, Ethelbert''s eyes closed, a look of great contentment on his face. Affwin Wi danced over to him and slid down onto the arm of his throne beside him, hugging his face against her small breasts until he began breathing in the deep rhythms of pleasant sleep. Smiling still, Affwin Wi left the room, to find Merwal Yahna, young and strong, his virility shown in his hardened warrior muscles and exaggerated by the imposing profile of his shaven head. He wasn''t large and bulky like so many of the greatest Honce warriors, who required such brawn to swing their gigantic swords and axes, but lithe and taut, a warrior of the desert and the fighting arts favored there, where speed and precision overcame bulk. "I do not like that you dance for him," said the man, whom she had trained in the ways of the Jhesta Tu, her finest student. She laughed dismissively. "He loves you!" "He cannot make love to me," Affwin Wi reminded as she reached up her hand and gently stroked Merwal Yahna''s chiseled shoulder and upper arm. "He desires it but is too old.


" "But you would let him if he could," the man accused. "Your jealousy flatters me," Affwin Wi replied playfully. "And excites me." She moved toward the man alluringly, but he grabbed her by the upper arms and pulled her back to arm''s length. "You would!" Merwal Yahna growled.


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