Shadow War

Shadow War by Deborah Chester

Book: Shadow War by Deborah Chester Read Free Book Online
Authors: Deborah Chester
followed, of
being watched, a niggling uneasiness that he could not dismiss. He glanced back
several times, but nothing came behind them. He gazed into the sky, wondering
what seemed amiss. Were he in Trau, he could dismiss his fears as simple
nervousness about the wind spirits that hunted at night. But there were none
here. Men came and went freely in the darkness. During the blistering Imperia
summers, residents left the windows of their houses open all night long with a
fearlessness that left him amazed.
    He told himself to
stop imagining things. They were unlikely to be set upon by robbers. They were
not being followed. Yet his fingers itched for a dagger hilt. And his heart
beat faster with every passing minute. It was forbidden for a slave to carry
weapons, but if necessary he would appropriate arms from one of the men around
    Yet his worries
proved groundless. Without incident, they rode past quince trees marking the
property boundaries of expensive villas. Here and there lights glimmered in the
distance, and the distant strains of lute music or merrymaking could be heard.
    Caelan glanced
back yet again, and one of the others looked his way.
    “Is something
following us?”
    “No,” Caelan said.
“I see nothing.”
    The other man
shrugged, and Caelan told himself to stop imagining things.
    Every gate and
every house they passed flew the red imperial banner tonight in honor of the
empress. Red could be seen everywhere, fluttering from rooftops, windows,
gates, and walls. A full week of festivities was still to come; then the
coronation would conclude the celebrations.
    Caelan had noticed
when they left tonight that no imperial banner flew at the prince’s gate. Only
Tirhin’s banner hung over his house. It was a deliberate slight, a deliberate
defiance. It was bound to cause trouble.
    Tirhin had always
seemed to be an easygoing prince, apparently content to let nature take its
course with his long-lived father. If he desired the throne, he seemed patient
about it. He defied the emperor in small ways, typical of any son with fire in
his veins, but politically he had always been loyal.
    But since what was
obviously to be the last marriage of Emperor Kostimon barely a year past, the
prince’s mood had grown progressively darker, his temper more brittle. The
announcement that the lady would be crowned empress sovereign instead of merely
empress consort had snapped something in the prince. In recent days he had been
showing his disgruntlement openly. His conversations were impatient and not
always discreet.
    Tonight, Tirhin
went forth beautifully dressed, and his friends were select companions of high
birth and respectability, but he was making less than minimal effort to honor
his young stepmother. And according to servants’ gossip, he had not yet
attended any of the palace functions. That in itself was a plain insult.
    Caelan whistled
silently to himself. The prince played with fire. Would the emperor let his son
get away with such behavior? Would he send Tirhin off to the war as he had done
before? Would he banish his one and only heir for a time to teach him better
manners? Kostimon was infamous for not tolerating any disrespect. He had killed
sons before. He could again.
    In honor of the
empress, every house in Imperia looked alight with guests and merriment. High
in the western hills rimming the city, the villas of the nobility stood
secluded and separate within their own gardens and groves. It was to one of
these exclusive homes that the prince rode now. He was welcomed by his hosts,
and the prince and his friends spent an hour among staid surroundings with
mostly middle-aged guests of eminent respectability. Having been left in the
hall under the sharp eye of the porter, Caelan saw nothing of the house except
a few pieces of statuary and a hard bench to sit on. He could hear the sedate
strains of lute music, and well-modulated laughter. It was not Tirhin’s usual
sort of party, but in the past year

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