This is the final part of my short story Daughter of the Righ, set in the fantasy world Righar where my novels Color Mage and Sword of Jashan take place. For more information on the novels, see the links at the bottom of this section or follow the links on the sidebar to the right. Here’s a link to Part One and Part Two. Enjoy the story!
Daughter of the Righ, Part Three
by Anne Marie Lutz, ©2014
After the servant left the parlor, Hira hurried to stand with her back to the papered wall to one side of the great carved doors.
The embers in the fireplace snapped at her as if they were alive. Outside in the entry hall, voices murmured. She heard the hollow sound of boot heels on the wooden floor, coming closer.
The great door swung open. A familiar voice began: “Lady Hira – ”
Hira swung out away from the door, which had concealed her, and leaped at Laikon. Her arm held strong as she aimed the dagger at his neck.
The sharp edge glanced off the gold Collar. Her wrist wobbled upward, the knife scraping Laikon’s chin before his hand grasped her wrist. Then her hand with the weapon was being borne down with iron strength.
Laikon flung her away. A shield like a skin of swirling color sprang into existence around him as magery sparked from his hands.
Hira felt a chair against the backs of her knees. She had been thrown back almost to the other side of the room. A muscle in her neck twanged in pain. She took a step away from the chair to face Laikon and the mage shield that enclosed him.
The knife felt slippery in her hand, as if she had drawn blood after all. She pushed back her shock and examined him. His neck was undamaged – she had missed the narrow span of skin that was unprotected by the Collar – but blood dripped from a cut on his chin. If it scarred, it would merely add to his rakish look. That was all the damage she had done.
Laikon’s breath was coming short. He raised his hand to daub at the cut on his chin. “Rather a disgrace, are you not? All that will change when you are my wife.”
“Why? If I disgust you so much?” Hira held on to the knife. The image of Brecon rose in her mind. She had failed to avenge him, who had lost his life for her. His killer stood before her in silks and jewels, unreachable behind his mage shield.
“Oh, you do not disgust me.” Laikon took a step forward.
Hira could not help herself – she stepped back until the chair hit the backs of her knees again.
The Collared Lord smiled. “You are fierce, and defiant, if misguided. Your spirit will make strong righ sons – color mages all. Also, you will not bore me in our chambers, I think.”
Hira forced down a shiver of fear. “I will not marry you.”
“All your objections simply make me more determined.” Laikon leaned back against the closed doors. There was no way out. The front windows opened upon the drive, but Laikon had guards there watching for Southern incursions. They would be equally happy to apprehend a runaway fiancee, she was certain.
“I won’t marry you. You killed my friend.” She heard her own voice and realized it sounded nothing more than petulant.
“I admire your loyalty. And your fire. But my girl, the weight of the world is arrayed against you in this. And you will breed fine sons, I think.”
Hira did indeed feel the weight of the world against her. The knife hilt still felt hot and slippery in her clenched hand, but she knew she could not reach him with it.
And if she killed him – what then? Laikon was a Collared Lord, a man at the highest peak of the nobility. If she killed him, the King would spare no resources to have her tracked and killed. Then he would strip her father of his lands and maybe even his Collar, dooming Harkold to a painful death.
She had no power. Just as Brecon had no power, slain for a fault he did not even commit. Just as Laikon’s cast-off concubines had no power, or families with influence to protest their deaths.
The wash of colors in Laikon’s mage shield blurred his features. His dark eyes, which had seemed so covetous before, now seemed to weigh her with curiosity.
“You could make me marry you, I suppose.” She admitted it. “Or I know His Majesty can force it, even if I somehow managed to convince my father. But will you keep that shield up at night, when we’re alone? Even in our bed?”
“I’ll tie you to the bed,” he snarled. “I need heirs from you, nothing more.”
“You can’t always be on guard.” She saw her opening and held the knife up before him. “I’m not a silly debutante, afraid to protect myself. Let me go.”
“You think I cannot keep a chit like you safe locked up?” Laikon smiled.
“So you plan to imprison me?” She thought she saw the way out. “Is this the way a daughter of the righ is treated?”
He shrugged. “I would prefer it otherwise, but I will do what I must.”
“My father won’t stand for it.”
He gave a bark of laughter, with no amusement behind it. “Your father, that weak gray man still in thrall to the memory of his dead wife? He is eager to be rid of you, my dear. He will not raise a hand to see you released from me. You must give up this misguided rebellion. It will not be so terrible, to be the wife of a Collared Lord.”
“But he will most certainly not put up with the daughter of that same dead wife, held in prison! Are you ready for war, my lord?”
There was an arrested look in the man’s eyes. The corner of his mouth drew downward. A war between two Collared Lords was not unheard of in Righan history. But such a war threatened the security of the kingdom. The King would do all in his considerable power to defuse such a conflict and make sure his mage lords were doing their bound duty of looking outward to protect against magical attack.
It was well within the King’s power to nullify a marriage.
“My lord,” she said. “I am more trouble for you than I’m worth. Let me go.”
“And show myself so weak that a girl like you can overcome me?”
“Is it weak to show human concern for the daughter of your righ neighbor? Is it contemptible to respect her, and release her when she requests it? I think showing a bit of human sympathy will earn you respect.”
He sighed, and did not speak for a moment. The shield shimmered and faded, energy retreating back into his hands. Hira twitched at the man’s sudden vulnerability, but forced herself not to move. He could destroy her with a thought, she knew.
“I see what you want me to do.”
“Your life will be a misery if you do not.”
“I see that.” A glimmer of humor sparked like color magery in his eyes. “You are indeed a Fury. I must admit I prefer not to do battle with my wife every day and night.”
“If you let me go now, I swear you’ll never see me again.”
“What, not even to avenge the merchant’s son?”
“I see it’s beyond my ability to reach you.” Hira took a breath and closed her eyes for a second, praying forgiveness from Brecon. “There are other ways to honor his memory.”
Laikon’s eyes narrowed. “I am to trust your word, I suppose.”
“It’s up to you.”
He raised his eyebrow. “So it is, then. I will send word to your father I have released you. What will you do? Go back and play loving daughter to a man who doesn’t want you around him?”
“What do you think?”
Laikon smiled. “I think you will not be seen anywhere around here again. I hope your lord father does not demand some kind of recompense for your loss.”
“You have won, then.”
“Is that what it is? With my home lost to me and my oldest friend dead?” Hira swallowed the urge to weep. “You have an odd idea of winning, my lord.”
“I suppose. I am a Collared Lord, after all.” Laikon gestured toward the door. “You may go. You may be satisfied in whatever odd place you end up, that you have earned my respect. A rare thing for any woman.”
“It will be no comfort,” she tossed back at him. “Respect is only valued as well as the one who gives it.”
Laikon smirked. “Ah. You had better go, quickly. I could still change my mind.”
Hira cut a wide circle around him as she went to the door.
“Goodbye, my lord. Do not forget the message to my lord father.”
“I will not. I am eager to see his reaction,” Laikon said. The smile that twisted his face then was not a pleasant one. “Now go. Your horse is still out front. You may tell the groom I allowed you to leave.”
Hira slipped out of the room. She ran down the wide front steps to where the groom held her horse.
“My lady,” the groom said. He looked nervously up at the parlor window. “Should you be leaving? Should I – ”
“You should take this,” Hira said, slipping a coin into his hand. “All is well. My lord has allowed me to go.”
“But you should have an escort,” the man said. “Lord Harkold would not permit you to go unattended.”
Hira accepted a leg up into the saddle. The pack she had put together that morning sat on the mare’s rump, loaded with supplies.
“Thank you, but no,” she said. She gathered the reins and nudged the horse forward with her heels. The mare tossed her head as Hira guided her down the lane. The dark woods in the distance beckoned, unknown and dangerous. There were no righ in those woods, and no protection. Hira’s hand felt for the dagger strapped to her belt. Her heart lifted as she rode into the wilderness.
Color Mage and Sword of Jashan are available from Amazon and other online booksellers. Here’s a link to the Kindle editions: Color Mage and Sword of Jashan. Hira Noh appears in Sword of Jashan, which takes place about twenty years after the events of this story.
The image used throughout this story is ©Elizabeth Lutz, used with permission.