A/N: I'm so sorry I haven't updated this in ages and that this is shorter than the first two chapters. But I do have other stories going on and would be grateful if you checked them out. I will try my best to update this story - and others - more regularly so please bear with me. Tamara may seem a little OOC in this chapter, but even Tamara can't be prickly all the time, and she is defnitely no coward. Please review, guys, and I'll try to update faster. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own anything here because it all belongs to Sherwood Smith.
Lady Tamara Chamadis graces the Marquis of Shevraeth with a dazzling smile as she rises from her curtsy. "Lord Vidanric – it is good to see you this morning," she greets him with a mocking smile. "What a delight to see you in the gardens." Her fingers flick her fan into the mode denoting Unexpected Pleasure.
For the first time since she learned courtly manners, Tamara is not trying to insult deliberately, but trying to distract any idiotic, spying nobles around. It is silly to use a spy without brains, Tamara thinks, but perhaps King Galdran wishes to surround himself with men like him, like most idiotic males who prefer brawny to brainy.
But Lord Vidanric never rises to take the bait and simply smiles thinly. "It is good to see you this morning as well, Lady Tamara," he replies lightly. "Especially alone and without your usual crowd of swains." His gray eyes are mock solemn; without looking at Tamara – who struggles not to laugh at the irony in this – Vidanric plucks a rose from the gardens and turns to hand the flower to Tamara. "It complements your beauty, my lady."
Tamara's blue eyes narrow slightly; inwardly she tries to conceal her rare mirth as she feels the roughness of the papers that the Marquis has just slid into her hands with practiced ease. Tamara casually tucks the papers into one of her cloak pockets and gently fondles the flower. "I would suppose so," she agrees, "and I should present you with two dozen roses as a reward, Your Grace." Tamara's heart skips a beat; she is trusting her life with this man for the first time and the excitement is mounting.
The young nobleman that Remalna believes to be a fop and a brainless court dandy salutes Tamara; a look of such perfectly just-barely-detectable insulted dignity on his face that for the first time even Tamara is almost fooled. Then she catches sight of the gloved hand gesturing ironically and smiles slightly. Let Galdran's spies try to figure that out! They should definitely be prepared to give their spouses an extra quilt to keep them warm and prepare buckets of listerblossom tea; headaches are so tiresome, are they not? The two young courtiers keep up a lively banter for a while, intent on lacing their language with triple meanings and barbs. Was it buckets? Perhaps gallons will be more appropriate.
"I bid you good day, my lady," the Marquis of Shevraeth murmurs with an elaborate bow.
Tamara curtsies politely. "Good day to you as well, Lord Vidanric." She turns and makes her way with deliberate ease through the gardens, back to the magnificently crafted Chamadis House. There she slips into her wing of the House, smiles and brushes off her cousins, instructs her maid to keep visitors away, and goes up to her bedroom. Locking the door behind her, she seats herself on the elaborately carved bed and retrieves the sheaf of paper from her cloak.
Her blue eyes narrow with disgust as she notes that the quality of the paper is of inferior kind; the letters are also poorly formed and resemble chicken scratches. Her lip curls in contempt. What could this letter have to offer her? Is it some stupid joke? But for the first time Tamara learns that appearances are not everything, as her eyes travel swiftly down the lines. Her dark brow travels steadily up her forehead; Tamara thinks with grim humor that if she is to read much further her eyebrow will disappear entirely.
It is the first time since she was a child that Tamara is utterly and completely shocked.
She stares in disbelief at the letter she has just finished, at the letter lying so innocently in her lap. But if a Norsunder could look like Sartora, the world would probably be inflicted with terrible fashion. And under the control of an insane tyrant.
It is the first time that she has heard of this nobleman – the one who wrote this letter – and of such a crazy idea. Count Branaric Astiar is either insanely brave or touched in the head to write such an open – if suppressed letter to the entire Court. Does he want to be beheaded? Tamara glances down at the other paper, one written to her by her cousin, her steward for her Turlee lands and fights back her surprise. Paying her steward a personal visit? It doesn't really matter which of the two it is; both types of courtiers tend to end up adorning the golden gates of Athanarel. In her opinion, Count Branaric combines both.
Not a pleasant characterization.
It is the first that she has learned of the existence of such an un-courtier like noble.
Tamara plays with her fan distractedly. Count Branaric simply presumes that she will wish to join his little rebellion despite the fact that he has nothing but a few hundred village rabble? Count Branaric simple assumes that just because Galdran "disposed" of her mother she will rise up against the King by joining a plot that has absolutely no chance of success? Clearly he is an emotional and passionate man and not a true courtier at all. She supposes that it comes of being from the poorest family in Remalna and running wild with rustics. Tamara is more cool-hearted. Just because she looks the part of a martyr does not mean she wants to be one. There is no possibility that she will join this foolhardy plot.
She smiles wryly to herself; she has to admit that while she shuns and scorns Lord Branaric for his doomed plot, she herself is involved in a quiet and subtle – but by no means defective – revolution against King Galdran. She didn't begin it and she certainly didn't join it of her own accord. Of course not. It was Russav – it seems that everything always somehow begins with Russav – who brought it about.
Tamara pushed her glossy black curls away from her face as she studied the Marquis before her suspiciously. Vidanric had changed so much from his visit to Colend – he was no longer the thin and studious young boy that she had known – he was now tall and slender and elegantly sophisticated. Yet it was more than that. Vidanric seemed older than before, rather more mature and worldly. Was it more than just the results of a visit to an elegant Court? But what could have caused it then, unless Vidanric played too many games with the noble ladies of Colend?
Tamara didn't realize then that there are worse things than the loss of popularity, than being shunned, than being humiliated in front of a large crowd, than death, as those are the things that she has shied away from her entire life. She didn't realize that the loss of your loved ones can be far worse, that heartbreak is far worse, because she never experienced love from her family, and never allowed herself to love.
Tamara saw Vidanric's grey eyes darken slightly, and for the first time she sees Vidanric changed beyond his looks and maturity, but in the way he viewed the world. As if the world had turned darker and he was the only one who realized it. She smoothed down the silken folds of her blue gown and studied the young man – under the pretense of flirting with Lord Imyahin. Vidanric was talking quietly with Russav, his face a mask of boredom, yet his elegant fan obscuring his mouth.
Russav nodded and then proceeded to flirt lavishly with Arasa, his face a testimony to his enjoyment. Tamara felt a flare of anger arise at this; she and Russav had argued again, because he never listened to her opinions, never wanted to know how she felt. But her anger subsided as she watched sadness flitter across Vidanric's face before he smoothed his face and entered into a conversation with Elenet. His eyes looked far older than his years.
And suddenly Tamara was angry with herself for thinking so. And haven't we all? She asked herself. Aren't we all acting far older than our years? She looked at Renna who was talking with Trishe, her hazel eyes sad, and recalled the tragic events concerning her last flirtation, which had ended in death. She looked at Russav, who had also been shaken hard by the event. And she touched her fan lightly. She too had been changed by that event, had learned the hard lesson of never trusting a man for fear that he wanted only your lands or your money. We've all had to act far older than we are. Vidanric's probably no different.
But she couldn't help wondering what was going on. There was some subtle undercurrent in this lavish picnic that Russav had hosted, some ulterior motive that Tamara could not discern. Tamara could feel it; she knew that something was going on, and she was going to find out exactly what it was. It was the first time that she decided and planned to do something so rash since that horrible day years ago with Galdran.
When the picnic concluded, Tamara smiled sweetly at the lord flirting with her. "You honor me with your attentions, my lord. But I am not sure that I am worthy of your gracious attention." As the young man began to sputter his love, Tamara quickly raised his fan her fan to obscure her face in a mockery of shyness. "Please, my lord," she murmured. "I must think on the matter. Pray excuse me." She curtsied gracefully and left the young man gaping after her, following Russav and Vidanric as they made their way through the maze of gardens. She moved as quietly as she could, feeling reckless curiosity for the first time as she wondered what the two were up to.
Then she heard Russav's soft voice, low and tense and hurried. "…What of Renna?" he wanted to know.
Then came Vidanric's soft voice. "She is completely trustworthy… Renna detests him after everything that he has done and will do anything to stop him… There is much Khialem House can offer to aid us, but it must be subtle. Absolutely subtle…after Lord Lyikio..."
Tamara feels a hand grasp her heart hard. The disappearance of the young man she cared for deeply hurt her still. She realized then for the very first time that she could trust no one, no one except herself with her secrets, because no one else was trustworthy. She didn't know Lyikio died quietly because he trusted his friends, instead of the nasty ignoble death he would have had.
She hears the next sentence and it stops her cold. "What of Tamara?" Russav asked quietly.
"I know not." Was Vidanric's reply.
"I trust her," Russav replied simply. "I would trust her with my life." Tamara felt a warm glow inside. It was the first time that Russav had ever spoken so directly of his trust in her, but she couldn't let her feelings get in the way of her judgment.
"After all your arguments?" Vidanric asked sardonically. "What did you argue about today?"
"I forget," Russav confessed sheepishly. "But I do trust her."
Tamara leaned closer to listen to what they were saying, hidden by a large shrubbery plant, wanting to hear exactly what they needed Khialem House for. Her skirt rustled in the wind and she froze in her place, unable to move an inch.
"What was that?" Vidanric asked sharply.
It was the first time that Tamara proved to them that she was a force to be reckoned with.
The two boys whirled around and stared at Tamara. Then Russav leapt forward and seized her wrist before Tamara could move away. "Let go of me!" she cried desperately, struggling to break his grip, which did not slacken. "Russav, let go of me!"
For the first time, Russav's eyes were hard and cold. Tamara felt a tremor of fear at the sight of him for the very first time, and shrank back from him, against her will. "What are you doing?" she snapped, fighting to regain her composure. "What were you talking about, anyway?"
Russav glared at her coldly, then turned to his cousin with a desperate expression. "Danric – please," he pleaded. For the first time since his parents had died, Russav was truly, completely scared.
Vidanric pushed blond hair from his face and sighed. "I don't know, Russav. I suppose we have no choice but to tell her everything." His grey eyes hardened. "And if she refuses, then…then we shall consider the matter when we face it." His hands clenched, and Tamara saw for the first time the muscles on his arms, the casual grace with which he moved. She shuddered, fear coursing through her veins. Idiot, she berated herself. Didn't you learn the first time?
She did not know that Galdran had specifically required her to be at Russav's picnic, so that her curiosity would be aroused and she could find out – for Galdran – whether or not Vidanric and Russav were to be trusted. She did not know – and Galdran never found out.
Russav nodded wearily. "But away from here."
The two young courtiers dragged Tamara into another garden and locked the door. Vidanric turned to face Russav and crossed his arms. "You told me that you would trust her with your life, Russav. Will you do so, now? The decision is yours."
Tamara watched in unblinking disbelief as the noble she flirted and kissed slumped and covered his face with his hands. "I don't know…" he whispered. "I never expected it to be like this…So many people…Danric, I don't know what to do…"
It was the first time she learned how much it hurt to be betrayed. "Russav," she pleaded.
Both boys ignored her. Russav looked at Vidanric and finally made a gesture with his hands that Tamara did not understand. Then Vidanric sighed. "Very well." He moved closer to Tamara until he was close enough to kiss her and whispered in her ear, "We are part of a revolution at Court that plans on overthrowing Galdran, and if you like, we would be honored if you would join us as well."
Tamara stared in astonishment at him, her brain working furiously in a ruthless connect-the-dots. Of course. Khialem House was powerfully connected in Sartor and had the best warhorses anywhere. Renna hated Galdran ever since that fateful night when she had been kissing Russav in his game of revenge with Tamara. The whole picnic had been to discern who was worthy – trustworthy – of joining this dangerous plan, for it was not exactly like one could balk and decline after the invitation was given. There was too much danger, too much risk.
Tamara felt that numbing fear again, for the first time since that awful day at Court. There was too much risk, too much at stake here for Russav and Vidanric to let her go after she had learned so much. They couldn't be sure that she wasn't a spy for Galdran, or that she wouldn't betray them, and there was only one way to make sure that they wouldn't…Her hands instinctively flew up to her throat, and she saw for the first time the small scar on Vidanric's wrist. It was small but deep, and testimony that he had been in a real duel and had survived. She looked at Russav, who had defeated various fencers. Her heart thudded in her throat.
Russav watched her carefully. Then he too stepped forward and murmured, "There is much at stake here, is there not? There are more people involved than just Vidanric and I, and we cannot allow any threat to this plan to exist. Do you understand, Tamara?"
Tamara nodded dumbly, wondering for the first time how a dagger would feel against her throat. She cleared her throat and lifted her chin. She would not, not cower like an idiot. She had been stupid and would pay dearly for it, but she would not lose her pride. "I do."
Vidanric looked at Tamara and closed his eyes for a moment. Russav had told him wryly that Senelac and Tamara were nothing alike, but…in some ways, they were almost like sisters. Ways that cut him like a knife. "And what do you think we should do?" Russav continued for him, noting his cousin's expression.
Tamara spoke through numb lips, but attempted a light tone. "Oh, kill me, I suppose."
Russav touched her cheek lightly and she flinched at his touch. "But I don't want to do that, Tamara," he whispered softly. "I would that you had not succumbed to curiosity and spied on us, but there is no way for us to undo what has been done. If you were in my place, I suppose that you would kill me, but I don't want to do that. I…I have known you for so long, and you are my friend. I would trust you with my life, Tamara." He sighed briefly. "So I have but one question to ask you: will you join this revolution?"
Tamara stared at him. Was he offering her a choice? "Of course," she replied. He couldn't be offering her a choice. Not even Russav would take such a risk. He couldn't be...
"You swear that you will not betray us?" Vidanric wanted to know.
Tamara realized for the first time how cruel the tactic of delaying could be. How cruel it was to offer one last strand of hope when she was about to die. "I swear," she replied quietly. "I swear to you that I will not betray you and aid you in every way that I can."
Russav looked her squarely in the eye, and then nodded. "Very well, then. You're free to go."
Tamara laughed derisively. "Free? I will not be. The moment I turn my back, you'll unsheathe your dagger. I never thought you quite so bad as this, Russav, to give me false hope. If I am about to die for this, than kill me. I know that you will not trust me enough to let me live." Her blue eyes blazed.
"I do," Russav whispered fiercely. "I do trust you, Tamara, and if you choose to walk back to your house right now, you will arrive unscathed. Look at me and tell me that you will betray me."
She looked at him, and realized that she couldn't, realized that inside, she had been following them in the hope that she would be able to help Russav, for some indiscernible reason. The only thing saving her right now was Russav's faith, a faith that she didn't even believe in. Why did he trust her so? Then she recalled the night he broke down and cried to her. The night she saved his and Vidanric's lives. The night after Russav's first duel. Lyikio. And realized that there was no way she could betray Russav. And that Rusasv knew it as well as she, for she had given more of her soul to him than anyone else. "I'll help you," she whispered. "I swear it."
Vidanric smiled slightly. "Very well then," he answered, and touched her cheek with one hand. She started. "It's just a tracking spell," he explained. "Which we put on everyone at first." Tamara simply nodded. It was already more than she could have dreamed, more than she would ever have given, to be allowed, to be trusted to join this revolution. And now that she had been trusted to join, Tamara would give her very best into making sure it worked.
She curtsied politely to them both. "I need to think."
Russav nodded. "Come to Vidanric's city house tomorrow. We'll tell you more then."
As Tamara left them, she could hear Vidanric commenting dryly, "An interesting way to recruit, my dearest cousin. I should learn from you in these matters."
Russav laughed. "It's my style," he replied lightly. "But let us not try that again."
Tamara realized for the first time how much she craved trust, and wondered for the first time just what she had done to deserve that trust and faith that Russav had in her.
She didn't realize that Russav knew her at times better than herself. Didn't realize that Russav had known that she was – beneath everything – nothing if not loyal. Didn't realize that Russav had known long ago that once she gave him her friendship, she would never, ever betray him. He had faltered under the knowledge that many lives depended on his decision, but in the end, he knew that Tamara was loyal, that she would never betray their plans.
And she never did.