|Written by Anne Marie Lutz / Artwork by Marge Simon
Hira Noh stomped hard on the graveled drive near the front door to the manor. The mud was jammed into every
crevice of her boot soles. She grimaced at the encrusted stuff and began to walk around to the servant's entrance.
The footman who had been waiting for her grinned. “I'll get a boot brush, my lady.”
She had reached the garden on the west side of the manor when she heard a deep voice.
“Lady Hira! I’m glad you’re back. May I have a word with you, if you can spare me a moment?”
A brazier glowed on the terrace. The tall man who lounged on one of the cushioned benches before the brazier was
dressed as if for court. Jewels sparked from his coat in a manner unsuited for the country. The afternoon sun,
brilliant in spite of the early spring chill, deepened the harsh lines on his face and made his deep-set eyes seem
even harder. Or perhaps that was just the contrast from the gold Collar bound around his neck.
Two household servants stood near the door. One bore a tray holding precious green glasses dark with wine.
She arranged her face into the smile that she knew was expected. “Lord Laikon, I didn't know there was anyone
here.” She watched his gaze travel down her person. “I’m afraid I’m not suited to receive anyone just now. I just
got back from a visit to one of our farm tenants.”
A muscle twitched in his jaw. “Lady Hira, it’s more than a minor inconvenience for me to be away from Southgard.
Surely you can join me for a few moments.” Color magery, red as blood, wreathed his hands.
The man was angry at her. What right did he have? It was not Hira's fault her father had ignored her distaste for
this man, who was well known to be a tyrant to his people.
She lifted her chin at him and saw his teeth clench. A fine foundation for a life together, this veiled confrontation
during the supposed courtship. Hira bit off a quick refusal and strode toward the back door. She felt Laikon's eyes
following her until she rounded the corner.
Inside the mudroom, the footman awaited with the boot brush. Hira thanked him and made a token effort to wipe
the mud from her boots, but she was too angry to do a thorough job. After just a few moments she dropped the
brush and stormed through the kitchen, heading for her father's study.
“My lady!” squawked one of the scullery maids. The girl clattered to her feet as Hira rushed by.
Lord Harkold’s study was sunlit and warm. Books leaned against each other on the polished shelves. A mirror, tool
of the color mage's art, stood draped with a silk covering in the corner of the room. Her father wasn’t there, but
the door stood ajar and she could hear his voice from downstairs. She sat in the stuffed chair she usually occupied
when she visited her father here, and hoped he was giving the arrogant Lord Laikon a piece of his mind.
By the time her father walked through the door into his study, Hira's resentment had only grown.
Her father stood in the beam of light thrown from the late sun falling through the window. She noticed for the first
time how old he was looking. The gray at his temples had spread, and his eyes looked weary. His gait was stiff as
he went to his chair behind the ledger-cluttered desk and sat down.
She refused to soften at his apparent weariness. “Is he gone?” she demanded.
“For now,” he said. “I blamed your recalcitrance on the foibles of women. He doesn't know you aren't subject to
“Father.” Her voice hardened. “My lord. I’ve told you I won’t have anything to do with him. You know what’s said
“So he takes concubines.” Lord Harkold shook his head. “This is not unusual. A Collared Lord must have some relief
from being practically imprisoned in his fief.”
“You never did.”
He sighed. “No. I have held true to your mother, as if she were still alive. I will never be with another woman.” His
fingers touched the gleaming Collar at his neck. Hira noticed the skin wrinkled on either side of the metal, as if the
Collar was too tight.
“Well, it’s not the concubines that offend me anyway. It’s what he does when he’s tired of them. It’s what he’s
done to his slaves and his tenants. He’s a cruel man, Father. I won't marry him.”
“I wouldn’t see you given to a cruel man. He’s nothing more than stern, and hard with his slaves. He will treat you
as a righ lady should be treated, Hira. Have no doubt.”
“I won’t do it.”
Lord Harkold glared at her. “I’ve clearly made a mistake in letting you think you have a choice. You will do as you’re
told, girl. You’re done with the stables and the tenants—you’ve been a blessing to me, but I shouldn’t have let you
become so willful. Look at you!” He gestured at her and she looked down at the sheepskin coat, the mud on her
boots that now smeared the carpeted floor. She knew her hair was windblown and her cheeks flushed.
“I’m not a giggling debutante, father. Do you want me to behave like one?”
He shook his head. “No. I treasure you as you are, Hira. But I’m a man of weak resolve when it comes to my
daughter. Because of that, I’ve failed you. Your place is not in the study, or the office or the tenants' fields, no
matter how competent you are. Instead, your duty is to bear righ sons and color mages. This you will do, with the
lord I have chosen for you.”
~ * ~
Hira stood in the little stable. She ran a hand over Star's shoulder, and the old mare made a low whicker of
pleasure. The stable doors opened onto the back of Hon Mithon's house, with the merchant's insignia hanging
above the door.
The door creaked open. Brecon slid out, closed the door behind him and strode toward the stable. The weak early-
spring sun lit his hair and his faded leather coat. He walked until his wide shoulders filled the gap in the stable doors.
“They said there was a message for me,” Brecon said. “I didn’t know it was you, Hira.”
“I had to speak with you,” she said.
Star rumbled under Hira’s hand. Brecon's face relaxed. He had always loved Star, who had been a gift when he was
just a boy. Brecon and Hira had ridden the mare barebacked and barefooted, letting her pick her surefooted way
down to the creek where they could wade in the shallows and find little water creatures under the benevolent eye of
Those days were long gone.
“My father doesn’t want you here. He says it’s unfitting.”
“Do you do every little thing he orders?” Hira took a deep breath, and when she spoke her voice was firmer. “I feel
as if I have nowhere to go, Brecon. Can’t you listen for a few minutes?”
He came further into the stable. “You know I will. But Hira, I hear you’ve been promised now, and I don’t want to
cause you any difficulty.”
“I am not promised!” Hira spun to face him. She knew her eyes were wet.
Whatever he saw in her face softened him. “Hira, what's wrong?”
“Lord Laikon, Bre,” she said. “That’s who my lord father wishes me to marry and bed with, to make little righ who
will be just as bad as Lord Laikon. I told him I wouldn’t do it, but he holds stern.”
“Unknown God, he agreed to wed you to Laikon?” Brecon's face reddened. “I thought he cared for you!”
“He does. He always has. He gives no credence to the rumors—he says they were only slaves. I see nothing else to
do but leave here, Bre.”
“But, you’re a righ. Where would you go? Who would protect you? Hira, you know I can’t join you or my life would
be forfeit. Laikon would pursue me anywhere I went!”
“I don’t ask you to, friend. I won’t let you. Look at me.” Hira waved a hand across her sheepskin coat, the dagger
belted at her waist. “I am well able to fend for myself, and I—I’ll take a servant with me, if you insist. But I must go.
I refuse to be a sweet for Lord Laikon.”
Brecon cast a frowning look back at his house. “I wish I could invite you here, but my parents warned me. They say
the righ should be left alone, that you don’t belong here.”
“I don’t belong anywhere,” Hira said. “I don’t belong with the other righ ladies who are raised to look pretty and
serve their lords. I don’t belong among the merchants or the tenants, and even my lord father doesn’t understand
me. He says he’s sorry he raised me this way.” She forced back tears again.
Brecon stood looking at her uncertainly. “I’m not sorry. You’ve always been a good friend, Hira. I wish there was
more I could do.”
“You’re the only one who knows me,” Hira said. “Someday you may have to explain me to my future husband.”
He snorted. “I can imagine the look on his face.”
Hira imagined that conversation and laughed with the tears still in her eyes.
“Look, I know a caravan master. He comes through in a sennight. He owes my father, and I think he’ll agree to take
you with him. He’s an honorable man, Hira, and he’ll keep you safe along the way.”
“Where does he go?”
“Does it matter?” Brecon watched her. “He’ll be returning from Leyland and stopping at villages north of the
disputed lands. He heads to the Five Rivers.”
“From there I can go anywhere.”
“If you have money, and if you hire guards so you’re not waylaid in the streets. Five Rivers is dangerous, Hira. You
can’t be unattended there.”
“I swear I’ll hire a guard when I arrive there.” She stepped forward and hugged him. “Bre, you’re my savior. I knew
you would think of some way out.”
“If you’re troubled in any way in Five Rivers, I won’t forgive myself.”
“I’ve heard stories. I won’t dismiss them lightly.” Hira smiled. “Thank you Bre. When I have a chance, I’ll send you
word. And I’ll always remember my truest friend, even if I’m welcome nowhere else.”
~ * ~
Hira opened her eyes on the heels of a cluttered dream to realize she had overslept. Her maidservant had not come
to awaken her, and the rain swept morning was almost as gray as the night had been.
A wailing sob rose through the air, making her skin prickle.
Hira went to the window and looked outside. It had almost been like an animal's cry, that keening sound. As she
stood, straining to hear, the sound came again, resolving itself into a human voice.
She needed no maidservant to get dressed in the loose clothes she wore for working on the estate. As soon as
she was dressed, she went down the hall and descended the main staircase. A few candles were lit on the mantel,
brightening the gloom. A manservant vanished through the doors to the servants' quarters as she peered around
It was now clear to her the sound was that of weeping—the mourning of a man who had no familiarity with gentle
grief, wrenched out of him in response to great agony. It was coming from her lord father's study.
Hira strode toward the doors. A man in servant's brown appeared between her and the doors.
“Lady Hira,” said the footman. “Please don’t go in there.”
“But Lord Harkold—is he all right?” She almost turned away from the sympathy in his eyes.
“My lord is well,” the footman said. “But he has a visitor. You’re not wanted in there right now, Lady Hira.”
Hira brushed past the man. There was nothing he could do to stop her. She was privy to all the business of the
estate, and she would find out what caused a visitor to sob in her father's study as if death was on his heels.
A portly man was on his knees on the red-patterned carpet in the center of her father's study. It was Hon Mithon,
his usual rich clothing rumpled and awry. His cheeks were wet with tears, and there was a small, wicked-looking
knife in his right hand.
Lord Harkold had been standing behind his desk. Now he stepped hurriedly around it, a look of urgency on his face.
“Hira! Go back upstairs!”
She stared back and forth between Brecon's father and her own. Something inside her didn’t want to know what
was going on. She pushed it aside and asked. “Hon Mithon? What’s wrong?”
“Hira! I warn you.” Harkold sounded desperate. “Go. Here, I will take you myself.” He strode around the desk,
reaching for her.
“Yes, something’s wrong!” Mithon croaked. “My son, my beautiful son, is dead and I can’t go on without him!”
Hira felt as if a cold tide had swept over her. She floundered. “He is—Brecon is dead?”
“Now Hira, go upstairs. Take your woman with you, and I’ll be up to see to you.” Harkold was as pale as the candle
“No. I won't. Hon Mithon—what’s happened to Brecon?”
“Ask your damned father!” The merchant struggled to his feet. “Ask him who murdered my son!”
Hira turned shocked eyes to her father.
“No I did not murder the whelp!” Harkold blustered.
“It was done at your bidding,” Mithon said.
“Look.” Harkold abandoned his attempt to get Hira out of the room and turned to his accuser, keeping a wary
distance from the knife. “I’ll pay you a weregild, because I’m a compassionate man, and you and I have been
associates for many years. But Mithon, your son couldn’t be allowed to aspire above his station.”
“Aspire—” Hira stood with her mouth half open. “By Jashan's eyes, Father, he did nothing!”
“I told him to stay away from the accursed righ,” Mithon wept.
Harkold’s hands went up to touch the golden Collar. “You can’t be allowed to romanticize the common people, Hira,
or gods forbid, run away with one. You have another destiny.”
She shouted, “He was just a friend!”
“You ran to him after Lord Laikon was gone.”
“You followed me?”
“Your betrothed sent someone to watch where you went.” Harkold flushed. “He sent a message to rebuke me for
your wildness, Hira. A very unsuitable communication from one Collared Lord to another!”
“Then it was Laikon,” Hira whispered. “By all the gods, if he wished me to reconsider and marry him, this wasn’t the
Mithon's reddened eyes turned from Harkold to Hira. Through her own stunned grief she saw his expression
change. The knife came up.
“Stay down,” she said. “Stay where you are, Hon Mithon, or you won’t live through this day.”
“None of this would have happened if not for you,” the merchant said. “Always wanting to be where you shouldn’t,
dragging my boy into your—”
“Guards!” shouted Harkold. The door slammed open and two armed men burst into the room. Harkold's hands
were red with color magery ready to be loosed.
The merchant crumpled to the floor again.
“People like us have no chance against you,” he moaned. “Oh my Brecon, my only son!” He held out the knife to
one of the armed men, who took it and presented it to Harkold hilt first.
“Take Lady Hira Noh upstairs,” commanded Harkold. “And station a man outside her door to see she stays there.”
“I will deliver you to your betrothed, willing or unwilling. You are a lady of the righ, Hira. It is time to grow up and do
what you were bred for!”
~ * ~
Brecon's father had long gone. She didn’t know what Harkold had ordered done with him; she hoped her father
had shown some sympathy to a man who was grieving over the loss of his only son. Silence hung over the manor
house. Hira couldn’t stop thinking about Brecon and about the terrible mistake her father had made.
But it was really Lord Laikon who had ordered this done. Hira knew her father, weak and submerged in old patterns
of grief for her dead mother, slave to the demands of the Collar the King had placed on him when he was a young
man. He lived half out of the world, which was why Hira had been free to live as she chose instead of how society
dictated. Harkold would never have gone so far. It was Laikon who would pay.
A board creaked outside her door. There was a guardsman there, and another on the muddy grass outside her
window. She was a prisoner.
She peered out of the window to see the guardsman Anulf, who had been her companion around the estate. He
was devoted to her. Perhaps she could cajole him into turning away as she fled. But then, what would Lord Laikon
do to the man?
A murmur of voices outside her door made Hira take notice. The door opened to admit a woman in her middle
years. Her face was masked with powder, and her hair dressed with the same sparkling jewels that adorned her
Hira met the visitor's compassionate blue eyes and all her anger dropped from her. “Aunt Silva!”
The door closed and Lady Silva Mar opened her silk-clad arms and welcomed Hira into her embrace.
“I’ve missed you, Aunt Silva.” Hira’s voice shook.
“Harkold should’ve summoned me sooner.” Silva released Hira and handed her a delicate handkerchief. “Wipe your
tears, Hira. This is unlike you.”
Hira sniffed. “Did he tell you what he’s done?”
“You know your father had nothing to do with it,” Silva Mar said. “Harkold could never bring himself to do anything
“Lord Laikon, then,” Hira said.
“Indeed. It’s your own fault, my dear, for being a beauty like your mother. I wonder if Laikon knows what a wildcat
he will be taking to his bed?”
Hira bared her teeth and watched Silva Mar draw back. “I will never be in his bed, Aunt. I swear—”
“Ah, don’t swear!” Silva said. “Not in this rage. You don’t know where the gods may bring you.”
“Never to that man's bed!” Hira said.
“There are worse fates.”
Hira stared at her. Silva sat on the only chair in a cloud of expensive fabric.
“Don’t stare as if I’ve turned into a stranger,” Silva said. “I’m here to help you think, my dear. You’ve always known
your destiny is to marry and bear righ children.”
“I knew I’d marry a righ,” Hira said. “I was taught the bloodline must remain pure.”
“So we may breed more color mages, yes. How did you suppose that was going to happen? Do you think they will
make pilgrimage here, to beg for the hand of a girl they have heard is boyish and wild?”
“I’m not wild. I—”
“You are. You refused to be paraded around for marriage to the holds of the Collared Lords, or presented at
Sugetre. What did you think would happen if you refused all offers to present yourself?”
“I thought I would be left alone!”
Silva waved a smooth hand. “It is impossible for a daughter of the righ to be left alone. If you won’t go to them,
then they’ll come to you. Thus Lord Laikon has done.”
“I won’t marry, then.”
“Your father will require you to. If you somehow overcome his orders, the King himself will get involved and give
you as a chattel to whoever he wishes. Is that what you want?”
“No.” Hira took a shawl from the foot of her bed and wrapped it around her arms. The early spring was cold now, or
maybe it was Bre's death and her aunt's cold advice that made it so. The candles flickered in their silver holders as
a draft came under the door.
“My girl, I know you’ve been allowed to do as you will here, but you know how our world works.”
“Yes, but I didn't think it would apply to me!”
Silva took a deep breath. The jewels on her dress moved with her, reflecting the candlelight. “I told Harkold it was
wrong to raise you to be so free. It’s all the more shock now.”
“But why Laikon?”
“The man has taken a fancy to you. He likes your defiance—thinks it will help you bear strong sons.” Silva ignored
Hira's instinctive flinch. “Maybe he thinks he’ll tame you. You’ll bear him strong sons, Hira, color mages all—and then
you’ll enjoy the true advantage of marriage to a Collared Lord.”
Hira almost spat. “I will not!”
“You’ll bear his sons and give them to him. And then, my dear, you’ll go to Sugetre—or Five Rivers—or wherever
your desire takes you, knowing he won’t follow.”
“I know the Collared Lords can’t leave their lands,” Hira said. “Even Father never did so. Wouldn’t he send men—or
his representative—to return me to him?”
Silva laughed. “He would have no support. Once your duty is done, little Hira, you may please yourself, as long as
you bring no scandal of a sexual nature to his door. We aren’t powerless, my dear. This is what we’re due for our
compliance, and the righ men know it.”
~ * ~
The caravan master gave her a scornful stare. “No.”
“What do you mean, no?” Hira almost looked over her shoulder, sure her father's men or even Lord Laikon's men
would be creeping up on her. “I can pay,” she added. “I have more than enough kels. You should be glad to take
The man snorted. He lifted the mug and took a swallow. He wiped the foam from his lips with a sunburned hand.
Then he looked up and seemed surprised to see her still there. “I know who you are, my lady. Ye'll find no one here
will agree to help a Collared Lord's property escape from him.”
“I am no one's property,” Hira snapped.
The man nodded. “Look, you seem a determined young lady. I wish I could help ya—I could use the kels. But my life
would be forfeit if anyone found out. And they would, ya know. It's not like there are a lot of other options to get
out of this backwater.”
Hira shoved back her chair and stood up. The serving maid who had shown her into the common room startled. “I
thought you would hear me and help me. Brecon said—”
The caravan master's jaw tightened. “Don't say that young man's name to me. You’re responsible for his death,
my lady. I remember him well—he tagged along with his father once or twice. He would'a made a fine man and a rich
trader someday. Are you pleased with what ya've done?”
Hira stared. She knew her face had lost all color. “I didn't—”
“Go home. Be glad you live a smooth life and can afford what ya want. Marry yer Collared Lord and quit whinin'
about how unfair life is. You're much better off than that serving maid, or yer tenants, or yer slaves. Spoiled, that's
what ya are!”
Heat rushed to Hira's cheeks. “How dare you!”
“I don’t know, how dare I? You came here and asked for it, m'lady. Prove me right now, about how privileged ya
are, and report me to yer lord father or yer husband to be.”
“I won't.” She wouldn't do that to anyone, just for expressing an opinion. “But I don't have to like it. All I asked
was for a place in your van, and offered to pay for it. You wouldn't treat anyone else like this. Why so bitter toward
“Because ya killed my young friend,” the master said again. “Go, now. Out of my sight!”
Hira stared for another moment, uncertain what to do. But she had no choice: she couldn’t make this man accept
her money. And there was no chance she could sneak on board a wagon when the caravan left. Bre had given her a
tour of the wagons once, and she knew exactly how full they were packed and how well they were guarded from
loss. She would be discovered before the day was out, and there was nothing to keep her from being abandoned in
She walked out of the tavern, ignoring the eyes that followed her. Her own horse waited, and since she hadn’t
brought a groom she was forced to use the block to mount. She rode away, wishing she could go anywhere else
but back home.
As she left the straggly outbuildings of the village behind, she saw movement in the woods and spurred her mount
faster, wondering if bandits were hiding there, waiting for travelers with money. She kept a hand on her personal
dagger as she rode by, eyeing the tree line, but whoever waited there made no move to intercept her. It was just
as well—if she went through with the plan in her mind, she might have to join them.
~ * ~
After the servant left the parlor, Hira hurried to stand with her back to the papered wall just 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 that 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 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
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, aren’t
you? All that will change when you’re 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. His killer stood before her in silks and jewels, unreachable behind his mage shield.
“Oh, you don’t disgust me.” Laikon took a step forward.
Hira stepped back until the chair hit the backs of her knees again.
The Collared Lord smiled. “You’re fierce and defiant, if misguided. Your spirit will make strong righ sons—color
mages all. Also, you won’t bore me in our chambers, I think.”
Hira felt a shiver of fear and forced it down. “I won’t 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 bride, she was certain.
“I won't marry you. You killed my friend.” She heard her own voice and realized it sounded nothing more than
“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 couldn’t 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. The King
would spare no resources to have her tracked and killed, if she killed Laikon. And 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 didn’t even commit. Just as Laikon's cast-off
concubines had no power, or families with power to protest their deaths.
Laikon was looking at her. The wash of colors in his 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, if my own father
refuses to hear me. But will you keep that shield up all night, 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. My lord, let me go.”
“You think I cannot keep a chit like you safe locked up?” Laikon smiled.
“So, you’ll imprison me?” She thought she saw the way out. “Is this the way a daughter of the righ is treated?”
He shrugged. “I’d prefer it otherwise, but I’ll 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 won’t raise a hand to see you released from me.
You must give up this misguided rebellion. It won’t be so terrible, to be wife of a Collared Lord.”
“But I know he won’t put up with the daughter of that same dead wife, held in prison! Are you ready for war, my
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’m more trouble for you than I’m worth. Let me go.”
“And show myself so weak a girl like you can overcome me?”
“Is it weak to show human concern for the daughter of your neighbor? Is it contemptible to respect her, and
release her when she requests it? I think showing a bit of human sympathy will soften your image in the mind of
whatever woman comes after me, my lord!”
He sighed, and didn’t 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 don’t help me.”
“I see that.” A glimmer of humor sparked like color magery in his eyes. “A Fury you are indeed. I must admit I
prefer not to do battle with my wife at the breakfast table every morning.”
“If you let me go now, I swear you will 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’m to trust your word, I suppose.”
“It’s up to you.”
He raised his eyebrow. “So it is, then. I’ll send word to your father that I’ve released you from our betrothal. What
will you do? Go back and play loving daughter to the man who tried to sell you to me?”
“What do you think?”
Laikon smiled. “I think you won’t be seen anywhere around here again. I hope your lord father doesn’t demand
some kind of recompense for your loss.”
“You’ve 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 a strange idea of winning, my lord.”
“I suppose. I am a Collared Lord, after all.” Laikon gestured toward the door. “You may go. You may comfort
yourself in whatever odd place you end up, that you’ve managed to earn my respect. A rare thing for a 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’d better go, before I change my mind.”
Hira cut a wide circle around him as she went to the door.
“Goodbye, my lord. Don’t forget the message to my father.”
“I won’t. I’m eager to see if my uh—consideration for you wins me any sympathy,” 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 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 wouldn’t 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
“Thank you, but no,” she said. She gathered the reins and nudged the mare 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.
Anne Marie Lutz is the author of two fantasy novels, Color Mage and
Sword of Jashan, set in the same world as “Daughter of the Righ”.
She’s also had short stories published in Locothology 2013 and the
Columbus Creative Cooperative’s “For the Road” anthology.
You can follow her at annemariesblog.wordpress.com, where she
shares posts about writing, occasional travel images, and movie