This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.

War Maid’s Choice – Snippet 47

Sahrdohr snorted. Given the possibilities of the art, “Talthar’s” wares could have been still better, but it was unwise to draw too much attention. His stones were of just about the highest quality anyone could reasonably expect a single trader outside Dwarvenhame to possess; anything more than that might well have drawn the very questions they were so eager to avoid.

“And our friend Bronzehelm? Is he as…suitable as we’d hoped?”

“I believe so.” Varnaythus leaned back in his chair, stapling his fingers under his chin. “He’s more devoted and loyal to Borandas than we’d estimated — quite a bit more, to be honest. But he’s nowhere near so resilient as Baroness Myacha seems to be. I think we’re going to have to be as careful to avoid using the art to…shape him appropriately as I was afraid we were, but I also think he’s going to be even more amenable to suggestion with the appropriate enhancements.”

Sahrdohr’s smile would have done credit to a shark, and Varnaythus smiled back. Sir Dahlnar Bronzehelm was Baron Borandas’ seneschal, responsible for the management and administration of the baron’s household here in Halthan. He was also one of Borandas’ closest confidants, and he’d been with the baron for the better part of thirty years. Very few people could be better placed to subtly shape Borandas’ views, which didn’t even consider how valuable a listening post within the North Riding he could become. It would have been far more convenient if they’d been able to use the art to…modify his existing loyalties and views, but there was too much chance of a mage noticing that sort of tampering. Especially if the mage in question was so inconsiderate as to be both a healer and a mind-speaker. Fortunately, there were drugs which could produce the same effect, albeit more slowly and gradually. Even better, that slow and gradual process was virtually indistinguishable from the fashion in which anyone’s opinions might naturally come to change over time. There was some risk, of course — nothing could completely avoid that when one was forced to deal with a mage — yet the probability that even as strongly gifted a mage as Brayahs would notice their meddling would be far, far lower than the chance of his detecting the art.

“And Thorandas?” Sahrdohr asked.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to come within reach of him yet,” Varnaythus admitted. “Hopefully I’ll manage that before ‘Talthar’ is scheduled to leave. In the meantime, though, judging from what I’ve been able to pick up about him from the more open minds here in Halthan, I’d say our original impressions are probably fairly accurate. Borandas clearly relies heavily on his advice — that was obvious from the way his aura peaked each time I mentioned Thorandas’ name. I think it’s safe to say he trusts his son’s judgment in most ways, if not all.”

“That fits pretty well with everything I’ve heard about them here in the Palace,” Sahrdohr agreed. “And I had an opportunity to drop his name into a conversation with Shaftmaster day before yesterday, which led to a couple of interesting tidbits. For one thing, Sir Whalandys made it pretty clear that most people think Thorandas is a sharper blade than his father…and that Baron Borandas realizes it.”

“Really?” Varnaythus cocked his head thoughtfully. “That’s helpful, especially if Cassan’s right about Thorandas’ attitude towards the hradani. He has to be as well aware as his father that at the moment the North Riding holds the balance between Tellian and Cassan on the Great Council. The question is how he’s likely to react when he realizes just how thoroughly this Derm Canal is going to scramble all of the traditional balances of power here on the Wind Plain. If he’s as prejudiced against the hradani as Cassan and Yeraghor think, that’s bound to play a role in his evaluation of the new…realities, shall we say? And that’s going to have an effect on the advice he gives his father about it, now isn’t it?”

“Exactly.” Sahrdohr’s smile was even thinner than before. “And if Sir Dahlnar starts giving the same advice?”

“Especially if he comes slowly and gradually to share Thorandas’ concerns, yes.” Varnaythus nodded. “Not too quickly, though. Borandas may not be the very smartest man in the entire Kingdom, but he’s not exactly a fool, either. He’s going to think twice — more likely three or four times — before he steps into any sort of arrangement with Cassan. For that matter, Thorandas isn’t going to be in any hurry to forget how badly Cassan burned his fingers last time he and Tellian squared off.”

“No, but I’ve had a thought about that.”

“What sort of thought?” Varnaythus’ tone was a bit cautious, and Sahrdohr chuckled.

“It’s not that inventive,” the magister assured his superior. “But that’s the second interesting tidbit I got from our good Chancellor. According to Shaftmaster, Thorandas is in the market for a wife. In fact, Sir Whalandys approves of that; he thinks it’s past time Thorandas settled down and started breeding heirs of his own. Unfortunately — from my esteemed superior’s perspective, at any rate — Sir Thorandas seems rather taken with Shairnayith Axehammer.”

“He does?” Varnaythus’ eyes narrowed, and Sahrdohr leaned back and raised both hands.

“That’s what Shaftmaster seems to believe, at any rate, and he’s not very happy about the notion.”

“I can see why he might not be, given how enthusiastically he’s been supporting Tellian at Court,” Varnaythus observed in a tone of considerable understatement. Then he frowned. “I can see why he might not be,” he repeated, “but I didn’t pick up a hint of anything of the sort from Cassan the last time I was in Toramos.”

“Maybe he isn’t aware of Thorandas’ thinking,” Sahrdohr suggested.

“Cassan?” Varnaythus barked a laugh. “Trust me, if Shaftmaster’s right and Thorandas really is looking in Shairnayith’s direction, Cassan knows about it, all right. He’d never miss something like that, especially where Shairnayith is concerned! In fact,” his eyes narrowed again, “that could be the problem. He dotes on the girl, after all, and it could be that he’s perfectly aware of the opportunity and simply chooses to ignore it. If he’d been in any rush to marry her off, they could have managed it long ago, I’m sure. There have to have been plenty of other offers for her by now, at any rate. She’s — what, twenty-two? — for Carnadosa’s sake! Do you seriously think nobody’s even so much as tested the water where a prize like her is concerned?”

“Maybe there’ve been quite a few offers and he simply hasn’t thought any of them were worth accepting,” Sahrdohr pointed out. “She’s his older daughter, after all. As you say, that makes her the kind of prize that doesn’t come along often. That’s a political token a man like Cassan isn’t going to be in a hurry to use too soon!”

“That’s true enough,” Varnaythus acknowledged. “But she’s a deep one herself, and the Lady knows she worships the ground her father walks on. The possibility of a direct marriage alliance between the Axehammers and the Daggeraxes?” The wizard snorted. “She’d have to recognize the potential advantages Cassan could wring out of that! And short of Yurokhas himself — and Fiendark knows Yurokhas would never marry an Axehammer — where’s she going to find a better marriage than to the North Riding’s heir?”

“Agreed. On the other hand, the consequences would be fairly obvious to just about everyone,” Sahrdohr pointed out, “and the Great Council would have to approve the marriage.”

“If Borandas approved it, he, Cassan, and Yeraghor between them would have a clear majority.”

“And would Markhos be foolish enough to let it go through, anyway?” Sahrdohr challenged. “He’d have to assent, too.”

“If he were around to do the assenting,” Varnaythus pointed out in turn, his voice soft. “If he wasn’t — if the Great Council happened to be acting as regent to a minor heir — then that wouldn’t matter, would it?”

“No,” the magister said slowly.

“So if Cassan and Yeraghor were to decide this marriage would be a good idea, and if Thorandas is as receptive to the notion as your good friend the Chancellor seems to be suggesting, then we might just have found another argument to help sway Cassan to our thinking about the best way to deal with the Crown’s unfortunate support for Tellian’s little project, mightn’t we?”

The two wizards gazed at each other through their linked gramerhains and slowly, slowly smiled.