Children of Fire

Children of Fire by Drew Karpyshyn

Book: Children of Fire by Drew Karpyshyn Read Free Book Online
Authors: Drew Karpyshyn
Tags: Fiction
with me unless they need gold to raise an army.”
    Celia knew better. Fortunes rose and fell quickly in the Southlands, and when those on top fell, those beneath rose. A dozen different cities had, at one time or another, been recognized among the Seven Capitals in the four centuries since the Southlands had been joined under the Treaty of Union. If cities could shift so easily in their station, surely so could families.
    â€œYou sell yourself short, Conrad,” she’d replied. “The nobility respects the talent of those who can amass great wealth, as you have.
    â€œAnd what of our daughter?” she’d added. “Would you not like Cassandra to have the chance to marry into the nobility?”
    The last argument had finally swayed him, as she’d known it would.
    Conrad loved Cassandra. Loved her too much, Celia sometimes fretted. When the time came to choose a husband for her he might object to seeing his daughter betrothed to an old baron desperate for an heir, or to a philandering viscount seeking the appearance of respectability by taking a lawful wife.
    Though she loved her daughter, Celia knew she would have no hesitation. Her own family had climbed the social strata of the Southlands quickly through such marriages, and now she had achieved the penultimate step by getting her husband appointed the Manor Lord.
    Besides, marrying for status could often lead to love, as it had between her and Conrad. But Cassandra was only four, and such thoughts were best left for later. Tonight there was too much to do.
    Celia circled the table again, searching for anything that might jeopardize this evening’s dinner. When she had heard the news of Lord Hollander’s visit, her heart had leapt. When she learned his retinue would include Lady Hollander and ten other guests of rank she had nearly wept with joy. This was the opportunity she had prayed to the Gods, both Old and New, to grant her. Everything had to be perfect.
    â€œThe venison is exquisite,” Lord Hollander proclaimed, and the other guests quickly added their agreement.
    Celia blushed at the compliment. “Thank you, my lord.”
    â€œIt is a shame your husband could not be here to enjoy it,” Lady Hollander added. Celia wasn’t sure if she detected sympathy or gloating in the lady’s voice.
    Before she could come up with a suitable response, Lord Hollander interjected on her behalf.
    â€œConrad is a busy man, as we all know. The revenues of the manor have nearly doubled since his appointment.” The gracious lord raised his glass. “To Conrad, in appreciation for the fortune he has brought to this Manor.”
    The others followed suit, raising their glasses and drinking to her husband. Celia beamed with pride, though inside she was silently cursing Conrad for being so late. He knew how important this evening was! Tradition held that the Steward of the Manse should fill in when the Manor Lord was absent, but Celia was damned if she was going to seat someone as uncouth as Roland at the table with Lord and Lady Hollander.
    Yet she couldn’t leave the seat empty; Conrad’s absence had left thirteen at the table—an unlucky number. Celia had averted that catastrophe by bringing Cassandra down to dine with them. The girl sat picking at her food, obviously not impressed with the proceedings. Still, she had been quiet and well behaved under the watchful eye of the nanny who lurked unobtrusively in the shadows.
    Celia made a mental note to congratulate the young woman on preparing her daughter so well for the dinner on such short notice—she had expected far less from someone raised as a simple farm girl.
    And perhaps Cassandra’s presence had not been a bad thing. Lady Hollander was well known for her love of children, and Celia’s daughter looked absolutely precious tonight. The girl’s perfect, cream-colored skin and curly blond hair were not unheard of in the middle provinces, but

Similar Books

Ella's Wish

Jerry S. Eicher

Operation Breakthrough

Dan J. Marlowe

Hunter Moon

Jenna Kernan

The Drowned

Graham Masterton