Star of wonder, p.3

Star of Wonder, page 3


Star of Wonder

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  * * * * *

  Duskdance, queen of the Free Sky clan, was rather less than pleased with her daughter and heir.

  “Just what did you think you were doing?” she demanded, stalking back and forth across the main room of the tidy home she and her husband shared with their two children. “Your orders were perfectly clear—stay back, stay silent, make no contact, show no interest—”

  “But Mama, you didn’t see her,” Sundance protested, her claws flexing in and out of the stuffed fur she was holding between her hands. “She had the saddest eyes, just the same color as mine, and she looked at me. She looked at me first, and then she talked to me, and she sang! Well, hummed,” she added in the interest of truthfulness. “But she knows music, Mama, I’m sure she does, and a person who knows music here—”

  “Is none of our concern, and well you know it.” Duskdance sighed, crossing the room to kneel in front of her daughter. “I know you would rescue every baby bird and rabbit if you could, my love,” she said gently, stroking Sundance’s tangled hair, the same luxurious mahogany as her own. “But we have our own troubles, and we must not let ourselves get distracted.” She cast a glance of loathing towards the far corner of the room. “I know how little you must like what we have to do. I like it no better. But the true needs of the clan come before our personal comfort.”

  “Such is the law,” Sundance murmured, thinking of the days when she had been not much older than her brother was now, perched beside her father Suncrest in his litter and learning her clan lore with the other children of Free Sky as their people roved through the wide plains of their home world, herding the ill-tempered, three-horned beasts called trison to the best pastures for the season.

  “Such it is,” Duskdance agreed. “And if that is the law which all our clanmembers must obey, as it is, how much more must a queen obey it—or a princess?” She stroked the tip of her daughter’s ear with the back of one soft-furred finger, then cupped Sundance’s face with her hand. “You will not speak to this girl again, do you understand me?”

  “Yes, Mama,” said Sundance on the end of a sigh. “I understand.”

  “Good.” Duskdance got briskly to her feet. “Now, your father will be home soon. He will have news of the wider world he will want to share with us, and then he will want his dinner, as will we all.” She paused, looking down at Sundance. “Your kind heart does you credit, my treasure,” she said softly. “But a queen must also have a strong mind and an iron nerve, the first to know when kindness is appropriate and the second to suffer the pain of withholding that kindness.” She bent to kiss the top of her daughter’s head. “For the good of the clan, little one. Always for the good of the clan.”

  Sundance made a small noise which could have been agreement and waited until her mother had left the room, then buried her face in the stuffed fur and snarled, sinking her claws into it more deeply than ever.

  The good of the clan, the good of the clan, that’s all Mama ever thinks about. What about the good of me, or the good of that girl who talked to me? Maybe she’s not Free Sky, maybe she’s not even Aelur, but why should that matter—especially to Mama? She growled under her breath at her mother’s blatant hypocrisy. But no, it’s “for the good of the clan” that we have to ignore her and pretend we can’t understand her, “for the good of the clan” that I can’t give her the gift I know she wants more than anything, what usually we would be the very first to give her, especially right now—I wish Nightsinger and Killdeer were here, they’d understand, they’d help me, but no, I’m stuck with Mama and Daddy, and Mama already made me promise—

  A small, clawed finger poked Sundance in the shoulder at this inopportune juncture. She snapped upright and hissed viciously at the poker, her own claws freeing themselves from the stuffed fur in her lap with little popping sounds to spring out in full threat-display.

  Shadowcrest, six years old to her eleven, looked back at her calmly, the short and bristly black hair from which he took his use-name not even ruffled. Sundance sighed, telling her pelt to settle down to its place, her claws to return to their sheaths, her ears to stop their violent twitching. “What,” she said with all the patience she had available for dealing with small brothers, which wasn’t much, “do you want?”

  From behind his back, Shadowcrest produced the child-sized harp their mother was teaching him to play and ceremoniously handed it to her.

  “What’s this for?” Sundance asked, turning the harp in her hands. It had been hers, once, a gift from both parents seven Christmases ago. Though it was little, its voice was wonderfully sweet, for it was the instrument on which the daughters of her mother’s family had been learning their first songs for at least two hundred years, and she knew enough to treat it as the priceless heirloom it was.

  “Mama said you shouldn’t talk to that girl.” Shadowcrest plucked a chord on the harp, then looked up at her, the slanted brown eyes he’d inherited from their father somehow innocent and wicked at the same time. “But playing isn’t the same as talking.”

  Sundance sat very still as her brother’s simple words unfolded a world of possibilities before her.
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