A Stranger to Command by Sherwood Smith

  Despite his attempt at a light tone, Vidanric’s gaze stayed both steady and acute. “What about you and Tamara?”

  “What about us? Surely you had enough of an answer last night. A lifetime of flirting might have become a dull habit, and she thinks of me—if she thinks at all—with a kind of cousinly fondness.”

  “Do you really believe that?”

  Savona dropped the pretence of lightness. “I don’t know what I believe. But she’d make a beautiful princess one day.”

  Vidanric raised a hand in oath-salute. “Brother. Hear me. I’ll dally with her if she wants—I’ll flirt with them all, but there’s going to be no heart in it.” He hesitated, his hand taking the reins. “Here’s my own truth. I could see last night that my parents both favor Elenet. She’s smart, she’s dedicated, she’s got a fabulous eye for style.” He reached into his pocket and drew out a fan of deep, deep blue, painted over in silver stars in an exact replica of the summer sky: blue and silver, Renselaeus colors. It had arrived at his table that morning, with a beautifully written quote from a famous Sartoran play. Nothing presumptuous or out of place—unlike Fialma’s possessive attitude—mere words of welcome, but the whole imbued with meaning. No, with intent. “My parents said nothing, but I could see how they watched the two of us together.”

  “We have years and years before we have to think like that,” Savona protested, unsettled.

  Vidanric turned the fan over in his hand, considering the evening. Elenet’s kindness to everyone, the calm good sense of her remarks—and, just once, the calculating glance she shot across the room when Vidanric was turning on the dance floor with Tamara.

  He decided not to say anything. Tamara in her low cut golden gown and Elenet with her quiet deliberation were using the weapons they were permitted. He shouldn’t resent it, but he did: that beauty, and art, and poetic words, should all be used as weapons. What should grace life and render uncomplicated joy became edged like cut glass. Scruffy-haired Fenis Senelac in her rumpled horsey-scented tunic seemed farther away than ever. She had hurt him, but she’d hurt herself, too. Her intentions, her motivations, even her conflict had been honest.

  “I’ll say this once more, then never again.” Vidanric touched his hand to his heart. “I will flirt with Tamara because it’s fun, because she seems to want to. Same with all the others. But I will never marry Tamara. I promise.”

  Savona shook his head. “I don’t know what to say. Except maybe this conversation ought to happen more rightly in five or ten years.”

  “I don’t see myself changing,” Vidanric said. “More to the point, I don’t want there to be this weapon lying between you and me. Even if I find myself in love with her—unlikely—there is a world full of other women. I won’t marry her. That’s it.”

  “Unlikely?” Savona struggled for lightness again.

  “No fault in her. Just because I don’t see myself falling in love again. I don’t want to. The kingdom is far too unsettled for me to lose my wits over a woman. Perhaps I will never marry.”

  Now Savona laughed, long and hearty. “I can see it now! Your Marlovens ruined you. Just wait. One day some enormous girl with military musculature will gallop into court, and start commanding us all in a field voice. She’ll have a rep for slaying her enemies all on her own, barehanded, before breakfast. You’ll fall helpless at her booted feet and we will not be able to pry you away.”

  Vidanric snorted, midway between irritation and laughter. “I endeavor to be serious and you will not take me seriously.”

  Because we cannot know what will happen, Savona thought. But at least you are here. “We’re going to make a wager,” he chortled. “And oh, is it going to cost you when I win.”

  To the disgust of Vidanric Renselaeus, Marquis of Shevraeth, Savona laughed all the way back home.


  Copyright & Credits

  A Stranger to Command

  Sherwood Smith

  Published by Book View Café


  ISBN: 978-1-61138-072-9

  Copyright © 2008 by Sherwood Smith


  Cover by Mengruo Yang

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.


  About Book View Café

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  Sherwood Smith, A Stranger to Command



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