Michael Sullivan: Nyphron rising

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Michael Sullivan Nyphron rising
  • Название:
    Nyphron rising
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  • Жанр:
    Фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Nyphron rising: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Amilia did not question the guard, her thoughts preoccupied with the sword that hung at his side. His dark eyes were embedded in a stone face, and the top of her head reached the bottom of his chin. Each of his hands was the size of two of hers. He was not one of the guards that took Lady Constance away but Amilia knew he would not hesitate when the time came.

The air turned cool and damp as they descended into darkness cut only by three mounted lanterns. The last dripped wax from an unhinged faceplate. At the bottom of the stairs, a wooden door stood open leading to a tiny corridor with more doors on either side. In one room Amilia spotted several casks and a rack of bottles dressed in packs of straw. Large locks sealed two others and the third door stood open, revealing a small stone room empty except for a pile of straw and a wooden bucket. When they reached it, the soldier stood to one side, his back to the wall.

"I'm sorry…" Amilia began, confused. "I don't understand, I thought we were going to the empress' bed chamber?"

The guard nodded.

"Are you saying this is where her eminence sleeps?"

Again, the soldier nodded.

As Amilia stared in shock, Modina wandered forward into the room and curled up on the pile of straw. The guard closed the heavy door and began fitting a large lock through the latch.

"Wait," Amilia said, "you can't leave her here. Can't you see she's sick?"

The guard snapped the lock in place.

Amilia stared at the oak door.

How is this possible? She's the empress. She's the daughter of a god and the high priestess of the church.

"You keep the empress in an old cellar?"

"It's better than where she was," the soldier told her. He had not spoken until now, and his voice was not what she expected. Soft, sympathetic, and not much louder than a whisper-his tone disarmed her.

"Where was she?"

"I've said too much already."

"I can't just leave her in there. She doesn't even have a candle."

"My orders are to keep her here."

Amilia stared at him. She could not see his eyes. The visor of his helm and the way the shadows fell cast everything above his nose in darkness. "Fine," she said at last and walked out of the cellar.

She returned a moment later carrying the wax-laden lantern from the stairwell."May I at least keep her company?"

"Are you sure?" he sounded surprised.

Amilia was not but nodded anyway. The guard opened the door.

The empress was lying huddled on the bed of straw, her eyes open, staring, but not seeing. Amilia spotted a blanket wadded up in the corner. She set the lantern on the floor, shook out the wool covering, and draped it over the girl, kneeling beside her.

"They don't treat you very well, do they?" she said, carefully brushing back the mass of hair that lay across Modina's face. The strands felt as stiff and brittle as the straw that littered it. "How old are you?"

The empress did not answer, nor did she stir at Amilia's touch. Lying on her side, the girl clutched her knees to her chest and pressed her cheek against the straw. She blinked occasionally and her chest rose and fell with each breath, but nothing more.

"Something bad happened, didn't it?" She ran her fingers lightly over Modina's bare arm. Amilia could circle the girl's wrist with her thumb and index finger with room to spare. "Look, I don't know how long I'm going to be here. I don't expect it will be too long. See, I'm not a noble lady. I'm just a girl who washes dishes. The regent says I'm supposed to educate and train you, but he made a mistake. I don't know how to do any of that." She petted her head and let her fingers run lightly over her hollow cheek, still blotchy from where Lady Constance struck her. "But I promise I won't ever hurt you."

Amilia sat for several minutes searching her mind for some way to reach the girl. "Can I tell you a secret? Now don't laugh…but…I'm really quite afraid of the dark. I know it's silly but I can't help myself. I've always been that way. My brothers tease me about it all the time. If you could chat with me a bit, maybe it would help me. What do you say?"

Still no reaction. Amilia sighed. "Well, tomorrow I'll bring some candles from my room. I have a whole bunch saved up. That will make things a bit nicer. You just try to rest now."

Amilia was not lying about her fear of the dark. But that night it had to stand in line behind a host of new fears as she struggled to find sleep huddled beside the empress.


***

The soldiers did not come for Amilia that night and she woke when breakfast was brought in, or rather skipped across the floor on a wooden plate that spun to a stop in the middle of the room. On it was a fist-sized chunk of meat, a wedge of cheese, and thick-crusted bread. It looked wonderful and was similar to Amilia's standard meals, courtesy of Ibis. Before coming to the palace, she never ate beef or venison, but now it was commonplace. Being friends with the head cook had other advantages as well. No one wanted to offend the man who controlled their diet so, with the exception of Edith Mon, Amilia was generally well treated. Amilia took a few bites and loudly voiced her appreciation. "This is sooooo good. Would you like some?"

The empress did not respond.

Amilia sighed. "No, I don't suppose you would. What would you like? I can get you whatever you want."

Amilia got to her feet, grabbed up the tray and waited. Nothing. After a few minutes, she rapped on the door and the same guard opened it.

"Excuse me, but I have to see about getting a proper meal for her eminence." The guard looked at the plate confused but stepped aside, leaving her to trot up the stairs.

The kitchen was still buzzing over the events of the previous night, but it stopped the moment Amilia entered the kitchen. "Sent ya back, did they?" Edith grinned. "Don't worry, I done saved yer pile of pots. And I haven't forgotten about that hair."

"Hush up, Edith," Ibis reprimanded with a scowl. Returning his attention to Amilia he said, "Are you alright? Did they send you back?"

"I'm fine, thank you, Ibis, and no I think I'm still the empress' secretary-whatever that means."

"Good for you lassie," Ibis told her. He turned to Edith and added. "And I'd watch what you say now. Looks like you'll be washing that stack yourself." Edith turned and stalked off with a humph.

"So my dear, what does bring you here?"

"I came about this food you sent to the empress."

Ibis looked wounded. "What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing, it's wonderful. I had some myself."

"Then I don't see-"

"Her eminence is sick. She can't eat this. When I didn't feel well my mother used to make me soup, a thin yellow broth that was easy to swallow. I was wondering, could you make something like that?"

"Sure," Ibis told her. "Soup is easy. Someone shoulda told me she was feeling poorly. I know exactly what to make. I call it Seasick Soup. It's the only thing the new lads kept down their first few days out. Leif, fetch me the big kettle."

Amilia spent the rest of the morning making trips back and forth to Modina's small cell. She removed all of her possessions from the dormitory: a spare dress, some underclothing, a night gown, a brush, and her treasured stash of nearly a dozen candles. From the linen supply she brought pillows, sheets, and blankets. She even snuck a pitcher, some mild soap, and a basin from an unoccupied guest room. Each time she passed, the guard gave her a small smile and shook his head in amusement.

After removing the old straw and bringing in fresh bundles from the stable, she went to Ibis to check on the soup. "Well, the next batch will be better, when I have more time, but this should put some wind in her sails."

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