Tellesberg Palace,


City of Tellesberg,


Kingdom of Charis


            "Is this going to meet your needs, Doctor?"


            Rahzhyr Mahklyn turned from the window to face Father Clyfyrd Laimhyn, King Cayleb's personal secretary. Over the years, Mahklyn had found himself facing many a priest who seemed less than . . . fully enthusiastic over the Royal College's work. Father Clyfyrd, however, seemed gratifyingly free of any reservations. Not surprisingly, probably, in someone who had been personally recommended to the king by Archbishop Maikel. Now, Laimhyn stood waiting attentively for Mahklyn to consider his question.


            Not that there really ought to have been that much "considering" to do, Mahklyn reflected, glancing back out the tower window. King Cayleb's Tower — built by the present monarch's great-grandfather — stood on the side of the palace farthest from the harbor. The window offered a view across the southern third or so of Tellesberg and the vista of woodland, farms, and distant mountains beyond. It was certainly far better than the view from his old office, down by the waterfront, and the tower itself offered at least half again as much floor space. True, he was going to have to climb even more stairs to reach his present vantage point, but if he cared to ascend one more flight, he would reach the tower's flat roof, open to sunlight and wind. There was already a comfortable group of wicker chairs with padded seat cushions waiting up there under a sun canopy, and Mahklyn's imagination was fully up to the task of envisioning the sinful pleasure of sitting back in one of those chairs, notepad in lap, feet propped on a convenient stool, with a cold drink at his elbow — chilled by ice harvested from those same distant mountains and stored in the icehouse buried deep under the palace — and servants available to refresh it at need.


            I think that's part of the problem, he thought sardonically. Somehow, "pure scholarship" isn't supposed to be quite that much fun!


            Actually, as he knew perfectly well, his lingering reservations owed themselves to nothing of the sort. They represented his stubborn allegiance to the principle that the College was supposed to be officially (and as visibly as possible) independent of the Crown. Which was silly of him, since the present King Cayleb had made it abundantly clear he was going to change that relationship. For that matter, in the five-days since the fiery destruction of the College's original building, Mahklyn had come to realize that the king's decision was the right one. Unfortunately, he continued to have something he could only describe as conscience pangs whenever he thought about it.


            Stop being such a twit and answer the man, Rahzhyr, he told himself firmly.


            "I think the tower will do just fine, Father," he said, returning his attention to Cayleb's secretary. "I could wish we had a little more record storage space, but that, unfortunately, isn't something we're going to have to worry about for a while, at least."


            He smiled, but it was an exceedingly sour smile as he once again reflected upon all of the priceless records and documents which had been destroyed. And he'd come to the conclusion that Captain Athrawes had been right from the outset about how and why that fire had been started . . . and by whom.


            "If you're certain, Doctor," Laimhyn said, "I'm supposed to tell you that His Majesty would like to move you, your daughter and son-in-law, and your grandchildren into the old family section of the Palace."


            Mahklyn opened his mouth in automatic refusal of the offer, but Laimhyn continued speaking before he could object to the size, luxury, and comfort of the proposed housing.


            "That section of the Palace has stood virtually unused for the better part of twenty years, Doctor. In fact, we're going to have to do a little roof repair before it will be anything His Majesty would consider truly habitable. And, while I realize you and your family may feel you're rattling around like seeds in a gourd, I assure you that you won't for long. His Majesty intends to have one of the royal bed chambers converted into a working office for you, and it's highly probable that at least two or three of your senior colleagues will also be moving in. If King Cayleb's Tower will be a suitable home for the official College, the fact that it's directly across Prince Edvarhd's Court from the old family section would undoubtedly be convenient for all of you."


            Mahklyn closed his mouth again. Laimhyn had placed a slight but unmistakable emphasis on his final three words, which strongly suggested to Mahklyn that they'd come from either the king himself, or from Captain Athrawes. It had the hallmarks of their despicable cunning, at any rate. He didn't know who those "senior colleagues" might be, but he had his suspicions, and at least two of them were as creaky in the joints as he'd become. Which made the convenience argument considerably harder for him to reject than it would have been if it had been only his own knees he had to worry about.


            Besides, Tairys will kill me if I turn down an offer like this!


            "Very well, Father Clyfyrd," he said finally. "Please inform His Majesty that he's exceedingly generous, but that I gratefully and gladly accept his generosity."


            "I'm certain His Majesty will be delighted to hear it," Laimhyn murmured, with scarcely a flicker of triumph.


            "Now," he continued more briskly, "about that clerical assistance. His Majesty was thinking –"


* * * * * * * * * *


            "Oh, stop grousing, Father!" Tairys Kahnklyn said with an affectionate smile as she set the salad bowl down in the center of the dinner table. "You'd think the King had offered you a cell down in the dungeons!"


            "It's just the principle of the thing," Mahklyn objected gamely. "We're supposed to be independent and critical-minded, not bribed and subverted by promises of sinful luxury!"


            "Personally, I'm completely in favor of sinful luxury, myself," Aizak Kahnklyn put in as he picked up the wooden tongs and began serving the salad.


            Mahklyn's son-in-law was a sturdy, stocky man of average height. He had a heavy, fast-growing beard, bushy eyebrows, and powerful shoulders and upper arms, and his dark eyes looked out of cavernous sockets. People often thought that he looked as if he would have been right at home as a longshoremen down on the docks, or behind a plow on a farm somewhere. In fact, there was a sparkle of lively curiosity in those deep-set eyes, and he was one of the more intelligent and well-read men of Mahklyn's acquaintance. He and Tairys were also the College's official librarians, and if anyone had been more devastated than Mahklyn himself by the destruction of the College's records, it had to have been his daughter and his son-in-law.


            "Me, too. Me, too! I love sinful luxury!" Eydyth Kahnklyn, Tairys and Aizak's younger daughter announced, almost bouncing in her chair. Her twin brother, Zhoel, rolled his eyes. He did a lot of that when Eydyth's thirteen-year-old enthusiasm got the better of her. Still, Mahklyn didn't hear him raising any protest, either, and he looked at Aidryn, his oldest grandchild.


            "Should I assume you support your parents and your somewhat vociferous sibling in this case?" he asked her.


            "Grandpapa," the twenty-year-old replied with a smile, "if you really want to live and work in a drafty, creaky old tenement, with four flights of stairs to climb just to reach your office, and windows any nasty-minded person can chuck lit lanterns through, then you go right ahead. The rest of us will just have to make do here in the Palace."


            "Hedonists, the lot of you," Mahklyn growled.


            "If you really think that, then call us that without smiling, Father," Tairys said. Mahklyn ignored her challenge with the dignity appropriate to a patriarch of his advanced years. Especially since he knew perfectly well he couldn't meet it, anyway.


            "Has anyone discussed it with Uncle Tohmys?" Erayk asked. At seventeen, he was the second eldest of Mahklyn's grandchildren. He favored his mother more than his father, with a tall, slender build, and he was definitely the family's worrier.


            "My little brother can take care of himself, thank you very much, Erayk," his mother said now, with a smile. "He's been doing it for years, after all. And I'm quite sure that when he gets home, he'll be in favor of 'dropping the hook' here instead of our old spare bedroom."


            Most of the people around the table chuckled. Tohmys Mahklyn had never married — yet, at least; he was only thirty-six, Mahklyn reminded himself — mostly because he claimed a wife and a captain's berth didn't go together. As the master of one of Edwyrd Howsmyn's galleons, Tohmys was away from Tellesberg much more often than he was at home, however, and Mahklyn suspected that he had quite a few lady-loves scattered about the oceans of Safehold. Unlike his sister, Tohmys had never been attracted to the scholar's life. He was much too busy pursuing more . . . lively goals, and he had no objection at all to enjoying the finer things in life.


            "I'm afraid you're mother's right about that much, at least," Mahklyn told his grandson.


            "Of course he is," Aizak said cheerfully. "Aside from that peculiar taste of his for saltwater, he's one of the sanest men I know. Do you really think your uncle would turn up his nose at quarters here in the Palace, Erayk?"


            "Not Uncle Tohmys, that's for sure!" Eydyth put in with a huge grin.


            "Exactly," Aizak said as he passed Mahklyn's filled salad plate to him. "And that doesn't even consider all the other advantages," he added, just a bit more quietly as he met his father-in-law's eyes across the table.


            No, it doesn't, Aizak, Mahklyn agreed silently. They'll find it harder than hell to throw any lit lanterns around here, won't they?


            "All right," he said. "All right! I'll stop complaining, buckle down, and suffer the imposition of all this sinful luxury in noble silence."