Terrilian #4: - The Warrior Challenged

Chapter One

I sat on the carpet fur among the cushions, my eyes closed, feeling the faint, unimaginative sadness brush at me. As sadness it was no more than mild regret, about as compelling as having missed that dull meeting you had decided to go to but then forgot about. I sighed at the thin-bloodedness of the sadness, then shook my head.

"That wouldn't be enough to get a blink out of a chronic hysteric," I told him without opening my eyes. "Try it again, and this time make me cry."

A surge of annoyance and frustration daggered through the weakling sadness, strong enough to make me flinch if I hadn't been guarding against it, and then he made a sound that was half growl and half vexation.

"Should it be your wish to weep, wenda, there are other means of achieving that," he said in that dangerous, deep-voiced way of his. "As my efforts in this manner fail to please you, it shall likely soon become my duty to fetch a switch."

"Threatening the teacher isn't allowed," I answered with a laugh, finally opening my eyes to look at him. Tammad lay stretched out on the carpeting not far from me, one big leg bent comfortably at the knee, the rest of his giant body not as relaxed as it should have been. His swordbelt was conspicuous by its absence, leaving him nothing but the green haddin he wore wrapped around his loins, and his leather wristbands. His blond-haired head was crammed full with feelings of rebellion and resentment, feelings he wasn't used to experiencing without being able to do something about them, and his blue eyes said his threat had been only half joking. Tammad was getting impatient with his progress - or lack of it - and was having trouble controlling that impatience.

"If this isn't working out it's only because you're not trying hard enough," I told him with pretend calm. Tammad loved me, I knew he did, but if he decided to look around for something to punish me for, he would not have to look very far. I'd only gotten my empathic ability back a couple of days earlier, but I'd spent a good deal of that time experimenting with the changes I'd noticed. Tammad didn't like the idea of my experimenting, and if he found out about it I'd really be in for it.

"If this isn't working out, it's only because you're not trying hard enough," I told him as his pretty blue eyes looked annoyed; I was trying to sound firm and teacher-like instead of nervous. "And if you're scandalized over being taught by a woman instead of another man, you have only yourself to blame. Len was perfectly willing to put you through these exercises, but he couldn't do it with his head splitting apart. Which was your doing."

"A doing which I truly regret," Tammad said with a sigh, accepted-guilt now flowing through his mind. "To give pain to one attempting to aid you is not an action of honor, even should that action be involuntary, as mine was. I continue to have no understanding as to why it should have occurred."

"That's because you can't see yourself from the outside," I said, immediately soothing the ache I could feel in him as I pushed the skirt of my gown aside so I could crawl to him. "Your entire life has been aimed at being better than the other men around you, toward making yourself their leader. A leader dominates, always, and that's what you were doing to Len when he tried to teach you. He can do something you can't, but you weren't about to allow that to keep you from being denday over him. Len isn't strong enough to block your output without shielding, and if he shields he can't teach you. If he doesn't shield - well, he ends up with the kind of headache he did end up with. He knows you weren't doing it on purpose, but he also knows that doesn't make any difference. He doesn't have the strength to fend you off and teach you at the same time, so you're stuck with me."

"A wenda who does indeed have the necessary strength," he murmured, putting those big hands to my sides to pull me down closer to him. "For teaching as well as other, more pleasurable pursuits."

"Indeed, hamak," I murmured in Rimilian, Tammad's language, putting my hands to his face. "This wenda shall ever have strength for her beloved, for he is her sadendrak, the one who gives meaning to her life in all things. Perhaps a short rest would now be advisable, to conserve the strength of one who learns, for other, more pleasurable pursuits."

I leaned down to put my lips on his, feeling again that I would never get enough of him no matter what, and he wasted no time putting his hand behind my head and returning the kiss. I could feel the growl of desire beginning in him, just as it usually did when he looked at me or put his hands on me, but then the heavy calm swirled into his mind, the calm he used as both a shield and a control over his own emotions. He took full pleasure out of the kiss we shared, but when it was over he simply lifted me away from his chest.

"As this one must learn, best would be that we continue with the lessons," he said, his light eyes showing the calm behind them, his mind firmly made up. "As I must depart soon to join the Chamd Rellis for a meal, we must leave other things for another time. For what reason were you displeased with my efforts?"

"If you had made the effort, I wouldn't be displeased," I muttered, staring at him darkly from where I sat on the carpeting, hating the way he could ignore me as I'd never been able to ignore him. "Does Rellis mean more to you than I do?"

"The Chamd Rellis is our host, wenda," he answered gently with only the hint of a grin in his eyes, one hand stroking my arm. "To refuse the invitation of one's host to a meal or even to appear later than the appointed time, is to give insult to one who has given hospitality. That you find great joy in squirming beneath me is known to me, yet were you given such joy when we awoke and will be given the same again later. Might Rellis not be given a small portion of the attention which is rightfully yours, in return for the welcome we have had in his house?"

The grin had by that time spread to his face, most likely due to the way I was blushing. I wouldn't have described my enjoyment quite the way he had, and it was enough to make me back off in embarrassment just the way he'd wanted me to do. I was learning that he didn't have to hand out orders to make me obey him, and the revelation was less of an interesting discovery than a nasty surprise.

"I'm thinking about hating you," I stated as I leaned both arms on his chest to look straight down at him, trying to put a growl in my voice. "I'm also thinking about raping you."

"Should you find it possible, you have my permission to do so," he came back with a broadened grin and a chuckle, his eyes shining. "I am now aware that you would find the first as difficult to achieve as the second. Are you prepared as yet to discuss the reason for your displeasure with my efforts to learn?"

"I'll be glad to discuss my reasons," I agreed with annoyance, wishing I could find a way to rape that big hulk of a warrior. "Your efforts were unacceptable because they didn't have any - " I quickly lowered my face to his shoulder, sank my teeth into it hard enough for him to feel, then raised my head to his startled outrage and finished, " - bite."

"Perhaps, woman, it would be best if I were to fetch a switch after all," he growled angrily. The look in his eyes hardened as he began projecting that deadly-promise effect, but I'd been expecting it and was already shielding.

"There, that's what you were missing!" I pounced, my pointing finger startling him out of the anger. "You have enough strength to project any emotion you like, but the only ones that get that strength are the emotions of violence. You have to learn to push behind the others just as you do with anger and outrage, otherwise you're wasting your time."

"I dislike your manner of evoking the reactions you seek," he grumbled, bringing one hand up to rub at his bitten shoulder, his eyes still displeased with me but lacking that you've-had-it outrage which usually means I'm in trouble. "How am I to put strength behind those feelings which normally have no strength of their own?"

"All emotions have strength of their own," I retorted, leaning down again to kiss the place where I'd bitten, at the same time using pain control. There hadn't been that much pain to begin with, but kissing-it-to-make-it-better takes on new meaning when a Prime empath indulges in it, something that made Tammad chuckle again.

"An emotion doesn't have to be strong to have strength," I continued, looking down into his eyes as I toyed with the blond hair on the unbelievably broad chest I rested against. "What you gave me for sadness was this," and I replayed the faint regret, "when you should have given me this."

I reshaped the emotion and brushed him with it, the feeling of loss that one has been expecting yet nevertheless deeply regrets.

"Or this," I added, making the loss unexpected and moving, the sort to bring tears to your eyes. Then I changed it to an opportunity gone that might have been more than worthwhile if it had been acted on, and the broad body under me squirmed in discomfort, the swirling calm trying ineffectively to block me out.

"When you're sending an emotion, don't try to imagine it, feel it. Let it touch you before sending it on its way, even if it's an emotion a l'lenda doesn't usually allow himself to feel. If a person doesn't believe the emotion you're projecting he won't feel it the way you want him to, so you have to make it real. The more real it is to the two of you, the more it will be felt."

"There are no emotions a l'lenda refuses to feel," he corrected, reaching up to brush a strand of hair from my shoulder. "Should a man refuse to allow himself to feel, soon he will become no man at all. Merely do I find difficulty with this - sending - you attempt to teach."

"You're not finding difficulty with it," I corrected in turn, producing a sharpened look in the blue eyes watching me. "When someone says they're having trouble with something, that usually means they're trying but not making it. You, on the other hand, are not making it because you're not trying. You think what I'm teaching you is dishonorable."

"Indeed do I feel it dishonorable," he grudged, not happy with the admission but not wanting to lie. "I continue to feel that to invade the being of another is completely lacking in honor, yet was I given this - gift - without having been consulted. I must learn the control of it so that I do not intrude without being aware of it."

Only two days earlier, when I had regained my empathic abilities after thinking they were gone forever, my brother empath Len Phillips had discovered that Tammad, the man who had banded me, was a strong, natural empath himself. Tammad was trying to hide the bitterness he felt, the deep down despair that something like that had to happen to him, and I knew exactly how he felt. Asking why me? had filled a large portion of my self-dialogue in the months just past, and knowing it had to be someone didn't do a damned thing to make acceptance easier.

"There are other reasons to learn that you should like better," I said, putting my hand to his face as I let my compassion touch him so that I might share his pain. "Once you have the control you need, you not only won't intrude accidentally, the choice will be entirely yours whether you intrude at all. And don't forget that if Len's guess is right, most of the men on this world are empaths. If you happen to run into one who can control the ability, you won't be at a disadvantage. Learning control will be just like getting better with a sword. There's nothing dishonorable about getting better with a sword, is there?"

"No, hama, there is nothing dishonorable in increasing one's ability with a sword," he agreed with a soft smile, accepting not so much what I'd said as the reason I'd said it.

He knew as well as I that he would have to come to terms with his doubts by himself, but I'd also wanted him to know I was there to help him, to make the time as easy and acceptable as possible. He did know that now, in a way untalented people could never experience, and when I touched him with the love I felt, he fumbled briefly to copy the emotion and send it back to me before drawing me closer for another kiss. There was no desire in that kiss, only the sort of pure love we had touched each other with, and when I raised my head to look at him again, we were both smiling.

"And that's another benefit in learning control," I said, spreading my hands out to enjoy the hard-muscled feel of his shoulders and arms. "You can tell someone you love them even in a crowd of people, and no one else has to know about it. Or, at least, I can do that. You still haven't learned to narrow your projection enough. If anyone else had been in this room a minute ago, they would have felt awfully well loved. Your projection was fat."

"Fat!" he repeated in mock outrage, his eyes twinkling as he shook his head at me. "I show the woman the size of my love, and she deems it overfleshed! I shall be certain to bring a switch when I return."

"Don't you dare!" I laughed, knowing this time he was doing nothing more than teasing me, and then it came to me that that might be just the time I'd been looking for to ask him about the strange urge I'd had lately. I didn't know what his reaction would be, but I'd known from the first that even the asking would have to be carefully timed.

"I think I had best be on my way now," he said before I could get my request phrased just right, stretching where he lay. "Sit up now, hama, so that I might rise and retrieve my sword."

"Tammad, wait," I blurted, reluctant to let the opportunity slip away. "There's something I want to ask you first."

"My answer is what it was, wenda," he said with a grin, reaching one big hand out to stroke my bottom. "When I return I will give you the joy you crave."

"That's not what I meant," I protested, upset all over again at the new blush I could feel in my cheeks. I also wanted to push his stroking hand away from my bottom, but that was something I knew he'd never allow. "What I want to know is if you would be willing to teach me something in return for what I'm teaching you. A trade of skills, so to speak, so that both of us will benefit."

"It pleases me that you wish to learn, Terril," he said, and I could feel the strong approval in his mind. "There are, however, those who are far more qualified than I to teach cooking and such. Best would be that you await the return to our city, where there are sufficient wendaa to teach you what - "

"You don't understand," I interrupted, forcing myself to get the words out before I lost my nerve. "Oh, I do want to learn how to cook and do other things for you, but first I'd like to learn how to - use a sword."

I mumbled the last three words, so I wasn't sure he heard me, especially since there was no immediate reaction. Those blue, blue eyes stared at me for a long minute, the mind behind them practically motionless with surprise, and then he was fighting hard to keep laughter from erupting.

"So you would learn the use of a sword," he said, his hand back to moving in a circle over my bottom, his voice even and his eyes studying me, just as though he were seriously considering my proposal. "And what would you do with such a skill once you had acquired it?"

"I - don't know," I admitted, wishing I could make him stop touching me like that so that I could think. "Please don't laugh at me, hamak, it really means a lot to me. Couldn't you find a - smaller sword that you could teach me how to use?"

"Indeed would you require a smaller sword than mine," he said, grinning as he remembered the time I discovered I couldn't even lift his sword. "Perhaps it would be best if I were to consider your request for a time before voicing a decision. And should you truly wish this thing, you also may take a time to consider how best to please me. A man who is pleased will often allow the things his wenda asks."

I began to protest that I'd been offering a trade, not asking a favor, but even if he hadn't moved me aside so that he could stand up, the words would never have gotten said. When I'd accepted Tammad's bands I'd also been agreeing to do things his way, the way everyone else on that world did them.

That meant that whatever help I gave him was due him, just as his love and protection were due me. If I wanted anything above the basics of food, shelter, clothing and protection, I had to ask for it in the way he wanted to be asked. The thought of wheedling a man for something I wanted was so humiliating I didn't know how the women of that world could do it, but I knew well enough that they did. I'd agreed to try doing things Tammad's way without anyone twisting my arm, but to wheedle and beg - !

"It is a thing you must become accustomed to, hama, should you truly wish what you have asked for," Tammad said, interrupting my thoughts as he reached down to lift me to my feet, obviously knowing what I was feeling. "Should you find yourself unable to act so, we will merely allow memory of so - unusual a request to slip from us, and speak no more upon it. I will return when the meal with Rellis is done."

He leaned down to kiss me then, impossibly tall and impossibly broad, and then, as he had already replaced his swordbelt, he simply left. I stood in the middle of the large blue and white room, the high-arched windows behind me, and tried to keep remembering how much I loved that overgrown barbarian. I did love him, I really did, but sometimes he made me so mad I could spit!

"Damn him!" I muttered with what was nearly a growl, my hands clenched to furious fists at my sides, the anger filling my mind so completely I was almost to the point of projecting it. He was trying to make me obey him again, and I was angry because I couldn't see a way to get out of it.

I turned and started toward the windows, stopped abruptly as I changed my mind, turned toward the stack of furs Tammad and I used as a bed, changed my mind again, then furiously kicked at one of the white pillows on the carpet-fur. He hadn't laughed aloud because he hadn't wanted to insult me, but that didn't mean Tammad didn't consider my asking to learn how to use a sword comical. He also didn't approve of something that ridiculous, but he didn't want to hurt me by coming up with a flat no.

That was why he'd said he'd think about it, to give me the chance to back out on my own - with a little help from him. He'd told me I had to convince him to agree, all the while knowing how humiliating I'd find doing something like that, fully expecting me to find it impossible. When I discovered I couldn't wheedle and beg he'd let me forget all about the silliness I'd asked for, and that would be the end of an awkward situation - without his having to refuse. He had it all neatly tied and wrapped - which was what made me so absolutely furious.

I couldn't have been seething more than five minutes before a knock came at the door, a knock that lacked the arrogance of the usual knockers on that world. There were no slaves in Rellis's house so I wondered who it could be, then remembered my own lunch date. Still mired in bottomless upset I strode to the door and yanked it open, to see the two faces I'd expected. Garth looked curious, but Len seemed ready to cringe back with shield locked tight.

"Is it safe to come in?" Len asked more diffidently than was usual for him, his handsome face wearing a wary expression. "If you've changed your mind we can come back some other time."

"It's safe to come in only if you're female," I returned, staring him straight in the eye. "If you're male you have to take your chances."

Len moved his wary expression to Garth, but Garth was already looking at Len, both of their glances asking the same question. Lenham Phillips, a brother empath from Central, and Garth R'Hem Solohr, Colonel of Kabras from Alderan, were trying to decide just how much they'd risk if they did come in, and their uneasy hesitation lightened some small part of the anger I was still feeling.

The two Amalgamation men had given me nothing but trouble from the first day they'd set foot on Rimilia, but the last couple of days seemed to have changed all that. They were the ones who had been helping me and keeping Tammad from finding out, and sharing the secret had apparently drawn us all together.

"I have a better idea," Garth said after the heavy hesitation, trying hard to lighten the mood. "Since the food trays have been delivered here to the bathing room, we don't have to go in. Terry can come out."

"I always knew the military mind was good for something," Len put in as he brightened, giving Garth an amused look. "For a minute I was afraid we were going to have to turn female. How about it, Terry? The food's getting cold."

They were both turned to me expectantly, trying to talk me into it without words, and truthfully I was in no mood for my own company. I took a deep breath which didn't do a damned thing to make me feel better, then nodded my head. The two of them immediately stepped aside to let me by, then followed after me.

The bathing room had a large pool surrounded by an area of uncarpeted marble, the same sort of arched windows the bedroom had letting in what seemed like miles of sunshine and warmth. Two well-stuffed trays had been brought and left on two small tables not far from the marble, but walking up to one of them and looking down at what it held showed me I was in no mood to eat.

"He said no," Len guessed from not too far behind me, his mind sharing and commiserating with my upset. "Was it a final no, or did he leave room for argument?"

"He didn't say no," I grumbled, turning around to look at them. "He said he'd think about it, and while he's thinking about it I'm supposed to coax him a little. If I don't coax him, then the answer will be no."

Len shielded immediately and looked down at the carpeting, but Garth didn't know how to shield. He put one broad hand to his face and turned away, but the delighted amusement he felt just about flamed out of him. I'd expected them to react that way, and how nice they weren't disappointing me!

"I'm going to throw this food at the first one of you who laughs out loud," I warned them, glaring back and forth between Garth's dark-haired head and Len's light-haired one, my fists planted on my hips. "There's nothing funny about this and you ought to know it!"

"Come on, Terry, lighten up," Garth said, fighting to keep his face straight as he looked at me over his shoulder. "You know we all expected him to refuse immediately, so you're still ahead of the game."

"And if you need any coaxing practice, you know you can count on us," Len put in in a very … solemn way, which immediately caused Garth to break up in laughter. A second later Len was joining him, the two of them laughing like a couple of virenjj, totally ignoring my disgusted stare. Briefly I toyed with the idea of carrying through on my threat, then gave it up and simply turned away. Len and Garth were really enjoying themselves, but I was starting to get depressed.

"I don't understand why you're so upset," Len said after a minute, his laughter eased down to chuckling. "What's the difference between doing what you usually do with Tammad, and coaxing him? The end result will be the same, and if you don't mind that then what's the big deal?"

I turned my head to look at him, seeing the haddinn and swordbelt both he and Garth wore, realizing that they really didn't understand completely. Or maybe they were just seeing it from the wrong side of the fence.

"If you don't know why I'm upset, then why did you laugh?" I asked in turn, including them both in the question. "Tammad knows exactly how humiliated I'd feel wheedling him for something and so do you, otherwise you wouldn't have laughed. How would you two have enjoyed wheedling someone for those swords you're so proud of? And how well would you do learning to use them, if you'd had to get them in that particular way?"

"I think I preferred you as an unreasonable brat," Len answered wryly, his tone matching Garth's look of discomfort. "Being coolly logical and reasonable makes you difficult to argue with."

"But, Terry, you're not a man," Garth protested, less able to understand than Len. "What would be absolutely demoralizing for us shouldn't be nearly that bad for you. And maybe learning to use a sword isn't as important as you think it is. What will happen if you don't learn?"

"I don't know what will happen," I answered glumly, turning away to seat myself among the blue and white cushions the room held. "I don't even really understand why I should need to learn something that … violent and senseless. There's just no confusion to the feeling: I do need to learn it.

"But you don't even know if you can depend on this new ability of yours," Garth said, following me over to the cushions to crouch beside me, the disturbance in his mind reflected in his eyes. "It's making you believe you need to do something without giving you any reasons for the belief. What if you're misinterpreting the whole thing?"

"Then I'd be making a fool out of myself for nothing," I answered with a shrug, feeling the annoyance and frustration rising inside me again. "But you have no idea how strong the feeling is, practically to the level of compulsion. You called it a new ability; Garth, I'm not even sure it is! What am I going to do?"

"The first thing you have to do is stop putting out that static," Len interrupted before Garth could say anything, coming over to seat himself to my left with an expression of mild pain on his face. "It was a lot worse when we first got here, and you're starting to slide back to it again. The power behind it is so much higher now - Terry, you're going to have to learn to control yourself a good deal better than you have."

"I don't want to learn to control myself," I muttered with rebellion added to what Len called static, my eyes drawn down to the small-linked bronze chains around my wrists, two of the five that made me Tammad's. "I don't want to control myself, I don't want to be stronger, and I don't want anything to do with new abilities. Why can't it all just leave me alone!"

"It won't leave you alone," Len pursued, his voice relentless despite the strain in it, his mind fighting against the urge to shield itself from my output. "Your abilities are growing both in size and strength, and you can't pretend they aren't. All you can do is learn to control them before someone gets hurt. Like me, for instance."

I looked up to see the sweat on his face and the tension in his body, outward signs of the way he was trying to fight me off without using his shield. When I purposely moved into his mind he flinched, expecting more pain, then relaxed with a sigh when he felt the soothing of pain control instead. I hadn't wanted to hurt Len, but that seemed to be all my increased abilities were good for. Hurting people and making me feel like a fool.

"Stop pouting," Garth said, holding his sword out of the way as he changed his crouch to a sitting position, his gray eyes annoyed. "Very few are born with everything in life; most of us have to work hard to earn whatever we have. Since you have more than most, you should be feeling grateful instead of resentful. You're not an infant, Terry; stop acting like one."

"I'll act like anything I please," I replied with all the surliness I was feeling, tired of trying to be reasonable. It isn't possible to be reasonable when you're constantly surrounded by infuriating unreason, and I was discovering I resented Garth's lack of jealousy. Almost everyone around him was an empath, either active or latent, but Garth didn't feel left out. He knew the problems of being an empath, understood them from having seen them, and was inordinately pleased that they weren't his problems. I envied the sure self-acceptance that was his, and wished I could figure out how he did it.

"Well, I feel like acting like someone about to eat," Len put in, rising to his feet then heading toward one of the trays. "How are Tammad's lessons coming, Terry? I'll bet he's taking it easier with you than he did with me."

"He's not," I denied with a headshake, looking down at my wristbands again, ignoring the small sound of vexation that came from Garth before he rose to join Len at the tray. "He's trying to stop himself from feeling insulted over having to take lessons from a woman, but it keeps getting away from him. If I couldn't filter it out I'd have the same headache you had, and that would be the end of the lessons. If Tammad thought he was hurting me he'd refuse to let it continue."

"I wish to hell I could figure out how you do that filtering," Len said with heavy frustration in both mind and voice, bringing back a bowl of fried meat strips to the place he'd taken earlier. "You said it's like letting down a thin curtain, but I can't detect it when you use it. Do you get it the way you get the shield you showed me how to form?"

"No," I said, moving the bottom of my gown aside so that I might stroke the bands on my ankles. "It came when I needed it, just the way it did when I was struggling with that intruder in the resting place of the Sword of Gerleth. If I need it, it forms, but I can't form it if I don't need it. Do you want to try needing it?"

"I have to think about that," Len muttered, a glance confirming the unease his mind was evincing, his hand just holding a meat strip without his seeing it. "It didn't form when I needed it with Tammad, so there's no reason to believe it will against you. Maybe there's a trigger for it that we don't know about."

"That's a very pretty gown you're wearing, Terry," Garth said suddenly, only a small portion of his attention on the meat chunks and vegetables he'd brought back. "You really do look good in pink, which is probably why Tammad enjoys seeing you in it. When are you going to tell him about the experimenting we've been doing, the experimenting you've had to do to find the limits of your new abilities?"

Garth had kept most of his question casual, tying it into his easy observation about my gown, but there was nothing casual about the alertness in his mind or the look in his gray eyes. I found I was staring at him intently, the upset in my mind so suddenly intensified that I had to fight to keep it inside, and Len choked where he sat to my left, then waved a hand at Garth.

"Give me a break, will you?" he gasped, putting one hand to his head even though his shield had formed almost immediately. "If you're going to do that to her, how about warning me first? If you were trying to find out if I could form that filter curtain, the answer is no."

"I'm sorry, Len, I didn't mean to cause you pain," Garth apologized, but his eyes hadn't moved from my face. "I was just testing a theory I had, and the test turned out positive. It looks like Terry is worried again over her relationship with Tammad, afraid of what he'll do if he finds out her abilities have increased. Don't you think it's about time you learned to trust him, Terry?"

"I do trust him," I came back, trying not to sound as defensive as I felt, uncomfortably aware of Len's gaze joining Garth's. "I'll tell him what we've been doing as soon as I find the right time."

"Terry, take your hand away from the band around your throat," Len said with a sigh, his blue eyes filled with sadness. "I don't even have to open my shield to know Garth's right. You've been stroking and playing with the other four bands as if trying to memorize them against a time they'll be gone, and now you're holding the fifth band as if you had to defend it. You're obviously afraid Tammad will unband you if he finds out your abilities have increased, but I don't understand why."

I hadn't realized I was holding the fifth band, and Len's pointing it out was faintly embarrassing as well as upsetting. I dropped my hand to my lap, found that my fingers went immediately to a wrist band, and suddenly discovered I was losing all vestige of control.

"Why do you keep asking me these questions?" I flared at Len, then sent the same to Garth. "I have no idea what Tammad will do if he finds out about the increase, but I'm still afraid! Are you silly enough to think only untalented people hate and fear Primes? If you are you're in for a shock, but I can't handle the thought of a shock like that. I'm too much of a coward."

I turned away from them to stretch out on my stomach on the carpet fur, hugging a pillow to me with all the strength of the agitation I felt. I did trust Tammad, as much as I loved him, but expecting the impossible from people only leads to horrible disappointment. Tammad had accepted more insanity on my behalf than almost anyone else would have found possible, but how much could he be expected to take? This new thing I was now able to do -would that be the final straw?

"Come on, Terry, it's not all that bad," Len said after something of a hesitation, and I knew he'd exchanged significant looks with Garth; I could hear the over-heartiness in his voice even if I couldn't reach his shielded mind. "We got used to the idea without any trouble."

"And Len and I had reason to do just the opposite," Garth quickly agreed, his tone urging belief even though his mind worried over what I'd said. "If it was all that bad, would we have helped you with your experimenting?"

"You helped me because you were feeling guilty," I pointed out, staring at the bright, sunshiny windows. "Tammad punished me because of what you two told him, and it bothered you afterward that it took me as long as it did to stop crying. You volunteered to help because it made you feel better, and you stuck with it because you got curious. How would you like to run into that particular talent without it being a carefully controlled experiment? Do I hear any volunteers for that?"

All I heard at that point was a thick silence, which wasn't particularly surprising. Still holding the pillow I turned around and sat up, then looked directly at my two lunch guests.

"Well?" I prompted, seeing how they couldn't quite make eye contact with me. "You both had a taste of that talent before I got it under control and strengthened. Which of you great, big, strong, newly-made l'lendaa wants to try it again?"

"Now, Terry," Garth began in a soothing way, and, "Come on, Terry," Len said with calm urging, both sets of eyes worried, and that really annoyed me.

"Now, Terry, come on, Terry," I mimicked, letting them see how disgusted I felt. "Can't you two find anything else to say? One of you is braced and just short of cringing, and the other refuses to drop the protection of his shield. You're so unimpressed with my new abilities that you don't even argue with me anymore. One frown and you both jump like frightened birds."

"That's not fair!" Len protested with heat while Garth colored in embarrassed resentment. "We weren't arguing with you just for the fun of it! We were trying to make you see how Tammad really felt about you! Now that you know he loves you, what's there to argue about?"

"If you're trying to suggest we're afraid of you, you're wrong," Garth growled, his anger glowing in his eyes, displacing the hesitancy his mind had trembled with. "Len and I might have a good deal of respect for your talent, but we're not afraid of it - because we've learned to have the same amount of respect for you. What you did to us that day was an accident; we've learned you're not into doing it on purpose just for the fun of it. Or at least I have."

His angry gray eyes moved to Len, and Len didn't need to be unshielded to know what he was thinking. Garth was facing me without protection while Len wasn't, and Garth was right in believing that that was making things worse. If one of my own didn't trust me…

"What has fear or respect got to do with anything?" Len demanded, trying to disguise embarrassment behind indignation. "It's not my fault I don't have the strength of a Prime to fend off her output! You can't afford to criticize until you know how it feels, Garth. Do you remember what you went through during sword practice yesterday, when that big ape kept pounding on your weapon until he broke through your guard and floored you? It's a lot like that, only it's my head that gets pounded on. I didn't see you throwing away your sword, so what's wrong with keeping my shield up?"

"Garth kept his sword up only while he was under attack, Len," I pointed out, wondering how I could sound so calm when I felt so rotten inside. "You've been shielding a lot lately, only I hadn't really noticed it sooner. Have you been under attack all that often then?"

"It's that static you're leaking," Len nearly begged, one hand out to me, blue eyes filled with tragedy - but shield still firmly in place. "You know I don't like walking around shielded, Terry, but you're not giving me a choice! It's either that or develop a permanent headache. How can I make you believe me?"

"What … if I told you I could get through that shield, Len?" I said suddenly without really meaning to, almost as surprised to hear the words as Garth. "What - if I said your shield was good against nothing but the static?"

"That's ridiculous," Len laughed, but uneasiness turned the laughter uneven. "You know you can't get through my shield. You've tried it before, more than once, and you haven't been able to do it."

"Not since the change," I said, the words soft and easy to match the strange floating I seemed to be in the middle of. I felt nothing but a mild curiosity as I reached out to a no longer smiling Len with my mind, coming up very close to his shield. Round and shining that shield was, at first seeming as unbreachable as it always had - and then I saw the key. The shield was solid if looked at from a distance, but very close up I could see the spaces between it, the spaces I could slip through.

I had to thin myself to do it, more than I'd known was possible, and then Len's mind was before me, shivering and filled with a terrible fear. He was afraid of me, horribly afraid, and when I sent calm and reassurance to soothe him, panic flamed instead. He dropped the bowl of meat strips with a strangled shout, fought his way spasmodically to his feet, then ran out of the room. He'd had trouble wrenching the door open, but none slamming it closed behind him. I could have followed his desperate run through the halls for quite a distance, but I didn't. Despite the way the floating was holding me up and bracing me, I put my face into the pillow I held and tried to stop living.

"Poor Len," Garth muttered after a minute, both voice and mind shaken. "He really is afraid. What did you do to him, Terry?"

"I reached through his shield," I answered with my face just above the pillow, not understanding why I was responding. "I couldn't do it before but I can now, and he hated the invasion. The same way he hates me. The way Tammad will hate me if he finds out."

"Terry, what's wrong with you?" Garth demanded, suddenly concerned as his hand came to my face. "You sound like you're in a trance! Snap out of it!"

His hand shook my face and then both hands were on my shoulders, shaking me hard enough to rattle my teeth. The floating had helped me break through Len's shield, but it didn't seem to be strong enough to resist physical assault. It left me as abruptly as it had come, substituting sight of Garth's worried face, and suddenly I could feel what I'd done.

"No, no, I didn't do that," I begged, grabbing at the Kabra's arm in a way that stopped the shaking. "Please, Garth, don't be afraid of me! I didn't do that! I was imagining it, lying, making it up! You don't have to be afraid of me, really you don't!"

I had scrambled onto my knees and had captured one of Garth's hands in both of mine, the terror turning my heartbeat to a deafening thud, the desperation choking my voice. Garth was staring at me with such dismay that my thudding heart nearly stopped; he was paying no attention to the way I was crushing his hand, and then he was pulling me to him one-armed, holding me even tighter than I was holding him.

"No, Terry, no, it's all right," he said hurriedly, repeating the words over and over, his arm holding me tightly to him, his mind pouring out compassion and a determination to soothe. I was shivering hard against him, tasting the panic Len had almost drowned in, miles beyond being able to control myself. I had done it again, and I just couldn't stand it.

It took quite a while before Garth was able to calm me down, before he was able to coax me into turning his hand loose. The warmth of his body had finally been able to melt the ice around mine, but the ice turned out to be the only thing holding me upright. I slumped against Garth's shoulder, wishing I had fainted, wishing I could stop my mind from thinking ever again.

"Are you all right now?" he asked quietly and gently, his voice nearly a murmur, looking down at me in a way I could feel.

"I'm just great," I answered dully, shoulder-deep in depression and slipping lower by the minute. "Now there's another category to add to the list of all things new and wonderful. I think I'll kill myself."

"If you jumped out a window, you'd probably discover you can fly," he said with gentle teasing, his arm tightening around me as his free hand stroked my hair. "Or levitate, which is not exactly the same thing."

"How can you joke about it?" I demanded, appalled at the thought, pushing away from his chest to stare at him. "Now there are two things I have to try to hide, and Len will never come within half a mile of me again!"

"Three things," he corrected, reaching out to brush the hair out of my eyes. "And Len was upset, but he'll calm down and come back. Until he does, why don't we talk about what's been happening?"

"If you've gone crazy, don't expect me to join you," I answered, not understanding how his gray eyes could look - and be! - so calm. "The last thing I want to do is go into it all over again."

"Now let's see," he mused, pretending he hadn't heard what I'd said, locking his hands behind his head as he lay down on the carpeting. "The first of the three is the ability you're not sure about, but we'll count it anyway: the feeling you get that certain things have to be done. Have you had that feeling about more than learning swordwork?"

"No," I said to his gray-eyed gaze, wondering why I wasn't simply ignoring him. "Isn't once enough?"

"We'll put a question mark next to that one, but we'll leave it on the list," Garth decided, still not hearing anything he didn't want to hear. "The second entry is this newest thing you've developed, the ability to get through Len's shield. Does that mean you can look through your own shield? And also work through it?"

"How should I know?" I demanded in exasperation, but the emotion was more for myself. Now that Garth had raised the questions, I found myself suddenly curious.

"Well, we'll give you a little time to look into that," he very generously allowed, just short of grinning. "The third item is the ability you've been practicing, the ability to change people's characters. It's something you can do even if they're braced against it and resisting, probably because of your increased strength."

"The character change is no more than the end result of changing the emotional outlook," I corrected, moving uncomfortably where I sat. "Since your actions always reflect your feelings, changing your feelings changes your actions. If I sat here pulling my hair out, for instance, you'd have to change the insane maelstrom of my feelings before you could get me to stop. You feel up to trying it?"

I wasn't really starting to cry, but Garth didn't have to be an empath to be aware of the wide-eyed desolation I was looking at him with. He sat up immediately and pulled me to him again, and held me as tightly as I needed to be held.

"Now, don't go back to feeling that way," he soothed, rocking me gently. "You don't have to face this alone, I'm right here to help you. I don't hate you, I'm not afraid of you, and I will help."

"How?" I demanded, not arguing but needing the reassurance. "I don't know what's happening to me, or why it's happening so fast! Unless you can think of a way to stop it, how can you help?"

"Maybe I can help you accept the fact that it's not something that can - or should be - stopped," he answered, only dimly aware of the pleasure he was feeling at the way I clung to him. "Maybe I can help you understand that you owe it to yourself to be the very best you can be, in whatever you do. Trying to deny your abilities means you're trying to deny yourself, Terry, and that's wrong. You must always be proud of what you are, and that will help you to be proud of what you do - and do things to make yourself proud."

"How am I supposed to be proud of chaos?" I asked, feeling tired but fractionally less upset. "Things are coming at me too fast, and I just can't handle them."

"You still don't want to handle them," Garth corrected, gently but refusing to be argued with. "Of course things are coming fast, how else did you expect them to come? When a baby learns to walk, the first steps take the longest; once they do come, though, everything else follows with blinding speed. Striding, hopping, running, climbing - and falling down. There's no shame in falling down, girl, only in refusing to pick yourself up again."

"You think my new abilities are normal developments?" I asked with a frown, leaning back again so that I might see him. "How could they be normal developments? I didn't only just become an empath."

"In a manner of speaking, you did," he said, one finger scratching at his cheek as his mind worked. "I hadn't looked at it that way before we began talking, but now it seems obvious. Before the blank time you spent recovering from the storm damage, you used almost nothing of your abilities even when you were awakened. You began stretching your mental muscles here on Rimilia, but if physical development takes time, why shouldn't mental? You were hurt by the thunderstorm and the battle you had with that intruder, but once the hurt was healed you were developed enough to go on to bigger and better things. Now you're ready to hop, skip, jump - and maybe even fly."

"Flying you can forget about," I told him firmly, but couldn't help matching his grin. What he'd said made a strange kind of sense, and also fit in with my own wondering thoughts on the subject. Empaths on Central were taught to use their abilities, but only up to a certain point and were definitely discouraged from experimenting.

It wasn't even possible to think about experimenting unless you knew there was something to experiment with, and being unawakened - which was the way empaths lived on Central - meant the very memory of the talent had been taken away. My people had evidently worked hard to keep me tied up tight, but now I was beginning to slip the leash.

"I don't think I really blame Central for trying to limit their empaths," I said after a pause, losing the grin Garth had helped me find. "If what I've been running into is a sample of what we're capable of, they have a right to be frightened."

"Garbage!" he snorted, riveting my attention to him - and away from my wristbands. "They have the right to demand that you obey their laws, but not to cripple you because of a suspicion you might not. You don't back away in fear from something you don't understand, you try to understand it so you won't fear it. And some people won't fear it even if they don't understand - like Tammad, for instance."

Those gray eyes were staring straight at me again, obviously not having missed the place my attention had wandered to. I deliberately put my right hand around my left wrist, letting the feel and presence of the band soak into me, its hard strength helping me to ask what had to be asked.

"How do you know?" I put to him, this time challenging him for solid facts rather than empty reassurance. "Len is an empath and he was afraid. What makes you think Tammad won't be?"

"Simply the fact that I know Tammad," he answered with a shrug, his mind showing not the least doubt. "You know he never really understood your talent, but when was he ever afraid of it? How many times did he take a switch to you for what you did, no matter what anyone else thought about your 'power'? Or are you worried that now that he can appreciate what you're capable of, now's the time the fear will start?"

"Why shouldn't it?" I asked, beginning to feel defeated. "Len never used to be afraid of me, but now -"

"But now he is," Garth interrupted, annoyed again. "It would help if you were able to read the reasons behind an emotion, not just the emotion itself. Sure Len's afraid, but not of you. He's fascinated by your new abilities and would love to have them himself, but he saw what you went through before you developed them and is now afraid he doesn't have the strength to go through the same thing without breaking. He's also afraid he won't have a choice about going through it, and that's something that has him just about talking to himself. Would Tammad feel the same way? Is there any sort of challenge you can possibly think of that Tammad would be afraid to face?"

"When he's even planning to take on the entire Amalgamation and intends winning?" I asked, delight and relief seeping into me around the fading doubt. "That would be the day. Oh, Garth! Do you really think it'll be all right?"

"I'm positive it will," he said with a grin, patting the hand I'd put on his arm. "Especially if you decide you need some coaxing practice."

"Damn it, I almost forgot about that," I said with the mind-equivalent of falling to the earth and squishing, the delight instantly evaporating. "I still have to figure out how to get around that."

"You can get around it - maybe - by telling Tammad what we've been doing," Garth said, and again his tone wasn't allowing any argument. "The longer you put it off, the harder it will be."

"I know, I know," I grumbled, and then I looked at him again. "You think there's a chance that telling Tammad why I want to learn to use a sword - as far as I can say why - won't change his mind? You think he'd still make me - coax him?"

"I may be wrong, but that's what I think," he agreed, this time looking faintly frustrated. "I don't know if I can explain this, you're obviously not male. On Central or Alderan, training a woman to do a man's job doesn't mean a thing; most of those jobs could even be done by a trained panith, and no one would notice the difference. Here on Rimilia though, being a warrior, a l'lenda, is a thing to take pride in, something a man has to work hard to achieve, something he has to be willing to risk his life for. No woman could ever hope to match a Rimilian l'lenda in sword skill, and training her to it could be looked on as demeaning that skill. It's a man's thing, and not for women to get involved in."

"Then you think he won't say yes no matter what I do," I said, oddly relieved despite my confusion. "But that doesn't explain why you said - "

"I'm coming to that," Garth interrupted, holding up a hand and waggling it at me. "Because swordplay is a man's thing, Tammad might ordinarily refuse - but he loves you very much. He wants to make you happy by giving you whatever he can - if you really want it. It won't take him long to see you don't really want it."

"But of course I want it," I protested, confused now as well as annoyed. "I told you how strong that feeling is, so strong that I can't ignore it. Why would I have asked if I didn't really want it?"

"You asked because the feeling was that strong," Garth sighed, running the hand he'd waved through his long, dark hair. "You're very female, Terry, and a highly sensitive empath, and you think of swordwork as violent and senseless - you said so yourself. The feeling you have doesn't give you a reason for learning it, only the conviction you must, so you're unconsciously looking for a way around the need. By hating the idea of coaxing Tammad, you found that way."

I pronounced an unladylike word and punched the pillow I'd dropped earlier, just about the only reactions I could think of to what Garth had said. Despite the roundabout niceties Garth had used, his explanation suggested I was a wimp.

"It sure is a good thing you respect me and my talent," I muttered after a minute, looking up at him darkly. "If you didn't, you might say something to get me mad."

"Oh, I'd never do that," Garth said with a headshake, his grin wider than ever. "If I did then Tammad would notice, and I'd have to face him. If you're looking for someone I both respect and fear, don't bother looking any farther. With him I don't have to wonder what might happen to me. I know."

"You can't distract me that easily," I said with impatience, still glaring at him. "You may feel normal fear at the thought of facing Tammad, but you're not afraid of him. Now that you've told me exactly what I am, tell me what I can do to change it."

"Changing is your job, not mine," he denied, looking around on the carpet fur for the bowl of meat and vegetables he'd dropped, finding all of the meat and most of the vegetables still in it. "My job is giving tactical advice and eating, the second of which I now intend getting on to with enthusiasm so I'll have enough strength to do the first. If you're waiting to learn the right technique, just keep watching."

"How can you just sit there and stuff your face when I still don't know what to do?" I demanded, feeling his appreciation of the food he ate - and his amusement. "All you've really said is that maybe Tammad will teach me to use a sword if I tell him why I want to learn, and maybe he won't. And if he does decide to teach me, maybe he won't make me coax him, but you think he will. If he understands why I want to learn, why would he still make me coax him?"

"Men on this world are taught that nothing of value is gotten in life without paying a price for it," he mumbled around a sloppy mouthful, more of his attention on the food than on me. "The price has to mean something to the one paying it, has to be more than a gesture, otherwise it buys nothing but its own value. If you're not willing to pay that sort of price you won't get what you think you want, even if someone decides to let you have it. If Tammad does it at all he'll do it the right way, and your price will be paid in full. If you decide you really want it."

He looked straight at me with those gray eyes again before going back to his food, and only then did I begin to understand that Len and Garth were being taught more of Rimilian ways than how to use a sword. What he'd said to me was probably something not usually said to a woman, as most women would have no need to know about it. Paying a price for something was obviously one aspect of the Rimilian code of honor, and women weren't expected to have anything to do with honor.

When Garth's eyes left me I rose silently to my feet, then walked around the bathing pool to stare sightlessly out of a window. The trouble with a code of honor was that it was horribly habit-forming, like a dangerous drug; once you got a taste of it you found yourself lured to other aspects of it, wondering if you could handle it under real pressure.

Calling it a stupid waste of time is one way of admitting you don't have what it takes to cut it, and I wasn't ready to admit a defeat like that. I closed one fist around a handful of sheer white curtain, knowing that refusing to admit it didn't negate a defeat, but I wasn't beaten yet. I might end up beaten, but I refused to anticipate an end before it reached me. I wanted to win - if I could just figure out what it was I was fighting for - and against.

I wasn't very good company for the next couple of hours, but Garth didn't seem to mind. He made a considerable dent in the contents of both food trays, then lay down among the cushions simply to watch me. I became aware of that along with the humming in his mind, the sort of humming Rimilian men usually did when they looked at me. But Garth wasn't Rimilian, not originally at any rate, and I wasn't used to getting that sort of hum from him. It was enough to bring my attention back to my lunch guest, and when he saw my eyes on him he grinned.

"Tammad ought to be getting back soon," he observed, raising the goblet of wine he'd poured to sip from it. "Have you made any decisions yet?"

"Dozens," I answered, pulling my eyes away from him and trying to do the same with my mind. "If I can manage to stick with even one of them, I might be able to accomplish something."

"Why don't you stop wandering around the room like a lost soul and take it easy?" he asked, his amusement rising again. "If you keep up that pacing for very much longer, you won't have the strength to coax Tammad even if you decide that that's what you want to do."

"Is that what's you got you turned on?" I demanded as I jerked around to face him, suddenly understanding the reason for the hum. "Are you expecting him to let you watch?"

"I don't have to watch," he said with a grin, still sipping at the wine. "Just knowing what he'll make you do is enough. Some day I'll have a woman of my own, and I'll do the same thing with her. What he'll be teaching you is that no matter how strong you get, he'll still be the boss. On this world, men always are."

"Are they really," I said, straightening where I stood, the anger threatening to fill me completely. "Would you like a dissenting opinion on that?"

The fact that I hadn't raised my voice erased Garth's grin and replaced it with a narrow-eyed, wary look, but I didn't get the chance to tell myself that whatever I did to him he more than deserved. The door to the hall chose that minute to open, and the one opening it was Tammad.

"Ah, Tammad, you're back!" Garth called out at sight of him, rising quickly to his feet with relief flooding his mind. "How did the meal go?"

"Rellis has no doubts concerning the wisdom in joining our efforts against the Amalgamation," the big Rimilian answered as he closed the door behind him. "He wishes to hear further upon the matter which is primarily your province, therefore shall you soon be summoned to speak with him. It will be necessary that Lenham translate for you, yet do I see that he has already departed. Where has he gone?"

"I'm not sure, so I'd better go look for him," Garth said, finishing his wine in a single swallow before returning the goblet to the tray it came from. "It would be rude to make Rellis wait."

If Tammad hadn't already moved away from the door, he would have been in definite danger of being run down despite the fact that Garth wasn't his giant size. He got a quick nod and smile and then Garth was gone, getting out while the getting was good. Garth still wasn't really afraid of me, but he had more sense than to hang around after getting me mad.

"For what reason does the Garth R'Hem Solohr act so strangely?" I was suddenly asked, the words turning my attention to the frown that accompanied them. "For what reason was his leave-taking so hurried, and for what reason had Lenham already gone?"

Those blue eyes were reflecting the abrupt suspicion behind them, the suspicion that there might be a matter of duty to be attended to. Tammad considered it his duty to punish me when I did things he didn't approve of, usually things that could conceivably get me hurt or killed if I did them under other circumstances. My hamak was trying to keep me safe and alive, but I didn't particularly care for the way he went about it.

"One of the reasons Garth left so abruptly is that I have something to tell you," I forced out, nerving myself to do what had to be done. I still didn't really understand why I could say just about anything I liked to Len and Garth, but couldn't do the same with Tammad.

My fingers twisted nervously at my waist as he approached me, and I could feel the questioning coming out of the blue eyes looking down at me. The top of my head didn't even reach his chin, his giant, well-muscled body was nearly twice as wide as mine, and the sword hanging at his left side that he could handle one-handed was too heavy for me to lift even with two. I looked up at him with as little of the upset I felt as I could manage, and blurted, "Are you afraid of me?"

I knew I'd botched it as soon as the words were out, but it was too late to call them back. Tammad was looking down at me almost blank-faced with incomprehension, his mind wide-eyed - if a mind can be said to be wide-eyed - with total lack of understanding and the beginnings of serious concern. If that didn't mean he thought I was going crazy, no other reactions of his ever would.

"Should a man be wise, he will indeed look upon wendaa with a certain fear," he answered slowly after a very long minute, carefully choosing his words. "Wendaa are small and usually helpless, and should a man allow this truth to slip from him, he may easily, although inadvertently, cause them harm. To feel such a fear and guard against its loss is the duty of a man, for no true man would wish to harm his wenda. Is this what you sought to speak to me of?"

His mind was now cautiously trying to approach mine, a habit he'd picked up in the last couple of days. When an empath looks at someone, he or she looks with mind as well as eyes, and Tammad was as much of an empath as I - or Len.

"No," I answered, looking down from his stare even as I stopped his fumbling, mostly untrained, probe from reaching me. "For the last couple of days I've been … experimenting with my returned abilities. Len and Garth have been helping me."

"I see," he said, the words a good deal more neutral than his inner response. His first reaction, anger, was being held down, temporarily put to one side; he wanted to know what was going on, and why everyone was acting so strangely. His second reaction, annoyance, was just as sharp as the anger, but wasn't being controlled as well; he hadn't liked my keeping him from my mind, and really wanted to say something about it. "This … experimenting you have done. Why was I not told of it sooner?"

"I - had to know what there was to tell before I could tell anyone anything," I answered, keeping my eyes from him as I began to move around the room again. "There have been some … changes in my abilities, and some … additions."

"Changes of what sort?" he asked, and the concern was there again, overriding everything else. "Were you given harm through the power of that storm after all?"

"I suppose that depends on how you look at it," I said, feeling the cool marble under my bare feet as I stepped onto it from the carpet fur. "My abilities are stronger now, much stronger than they were, and they're spreading out to allow me to do other things. Len and Garth were helping me learn to control all of it, both of them acting as subjects. Len's mind is stronger and better trained than Garth's, but we discovered that that made no difference. He couldn't resist me any more than Garth could, and maybe not even as well. Len left early because we found that I could get through his shield, and he was … upset; Garth left as quickly as he did because he said something just before you came in that got me angry, and he thought I was about to - "

I broke off the jumble of words and just stood looking down into the marble bathing pool, unfortunately having no trouble feeling the whirling agitation in the mind only a few feet behind me. Tammad was nearly as upset as I was, which was really a feat.

"Garth felt you were about to touch him in some manner," Tammad said after a moment, the whirling of his thoughts again slowing his speech. "Was his concern well founded? Were you indeed about to touch him?"

The questions had been quietly put, more gentleness than harshness in them, almost as though they were a casual attempt at information-gathering. I would have felt better if I could have reached into his mind to confirm that, but his agitation wasn't letting me do it.

I turned my head reluctantly to look at him, seeing the outward calm he usually wore like a skin, wondering how I was going to answer those questions. I'd really wanted to do something to get even with Garth for what he'd said, but would I have actually gone through with it? I opened my mouth, found nothing inspired coming out, so I closed it again. I felt like an idiot just standing there moving my lips like a wooden dummy, but I was saved from further embarrassment by a knock at the door.

At first Tammad seemed determined to ignore the knock in favor of waiting for my answer, but then he did something I'd never seen him do before. He sent his mind to find out who was at the door, the action seeming more automatic than carefully thought out and done deliberately. He was faintly startled when he reached that other mind, but I couldn't tell if he was startled at what he'd done, or at finding that our caller was a deeply disturbed Dallan. The big barbarian turned away from me with a frown, and strode to the door to open it.

"Tammad, I have come to ask for your assistance and that of Terril," Dallan said immediately, his pretty blue eyes showing his concern. "The guard has searched everywhere, but they have been able to find nothing. Cinnan is beside himself."

"They have still found nothing?" Tammad asked, stepping back to let Dallan enter the room. Dallan was just as impossibly big as Tammad, his hair as blond, his eyes as blue. Most Rimilian men were the same, blond, blue-eyed and big, but Dallan was also drin of Gerleth, prince to his father Rellis's Chamd. Dallan had an older brother, Seddan, but Seddan was still being kept close to bed by the healers.

"I, too, find it difficult to believe," Dallan agreed, so distracted that he didn't even look my way. "I had not thought there were that many places in this house where a wenda might hide. Clearly, anger gives them cunning as well as strength."

"Wendaa," Tammad said with a growl of annoyance, shaking his head. I didn't know what they were talking about, but since Dallan's request for help had included me, there was no reason to stay in the dark.

"Who is it that you discuss?" I asked, walking forward away from the bathing pool, speaking Rimilian so that Dallan would understand me. "Who has been lost that you now attempt to find?"

"My cousin Aesnil again feels herself unjustly put upon," Dallan answered, giving me something of a smile to go with the automatic hum in his mind that started as soon as his eyes touched me. "She has done so well in putting her short time of slavery from her memory, that this morning she attempted to disobey Cinnan. He, of course, refused to allow her disobedience and strapped her for it, and when the punishment was done she fled their apartment in tears. He allowed her a short time to herself before seeking her, however found himself unable to discover her whereabouts before his presence was required at the meal with my father. He then set the guard to searching in his stead, yet have they been as unsuccessful as he."

"Perhaps he has earned such lack of success," I suggested, thrilled that now I had something else to add to my upset. "Had he not found it so necessary to strap her, he would now find it unnecessary to search."

"You would have had him overlook his duty?" Dallan asked with brows raised, surprised that I would question so obvious and necessary a thing. "Aesnil remains as arrogant as ever, and should Cinnan stay his hand from her punishment, those in Grelana will suffer when she resumes her place there as Chama. Have you so soon forgotten what we all of us had at her hands?"

I shook my head at his calm, sober question, not likely to ever forget what Aesnil had done to us. Dallan, her own cousin, had been declared a servant-slave in her palace, his brother Seddan declared a vendra and sent to the vendra ralle, the arena, to fight for his life. Tammad and Cinnan had also been sent to the ralle and I had been forced to act as her secret weapon against her dendayy, threatened with being thrown to the wild male slaves to keep me in line. No, I wasn't likely to forget what Aesnil had done to me - but I also remembered that she was the one who had escaped from Grelana with me.

"It may perhaps prove true that Cinnan has indeed erred in his punishment of her," Tammad said, looking down at me rather than over at Dallan. "Should this be so, how is he to learn of it and make amends while the girl remains unfound? An exchange of words is impossible when one must exchange words with oneself."

The calm he felt was now shielding his mind as well, but behind that calm I could feel the electric outlines of his continuing agitation. If we stayed in that room we'd be right back to our previous discussion, and that was something I wanted to avoid. A flash of annoyance touched me as I realized I was being forced to obey him in two different ways, but I also couldn't argue with the truth in what he'd said. Aesnil did need to be found, before she did something foolish.

"Very well, I will assist you all in searching for her," I grudged, wanting them to know I wasn't happy about it. "The doing should not prove overly difficult."

Both men nodded to show their approval of my agreement, and we left to begin the search. I really didn't expect it to take long to find her, but what we found was something else entirely.

Aesnil had disappeared from Gerleth, and she hadn't gone alone.