A Signal for Redemption: Prologue
Early Spring, Year 1036
It wasn’t until Tomas raised his hand to knock on the door of Lord Ettori’s council room that the second thought came: this news might not be welcome. He let his hand drop, and tugged at the hem of his tunic, then smoothed back his grey hair and took a bracing breath. He rapped three times, waited for the murmured invitation, and tried to walk into the room with confidence.
Kor, the lord of House Ettori, was at the table with Sergei Benino, his health advisor, papers and ledgers spread between them. A pair of blank-faced House Ettori guards stood just inside the door, out of earshot of their lord but with watchful eyes. As Tomas entered, there was no greeting, but his master beckoned him closer. He heard Lord Ettori tell Benino, in the tone of dismissal, “Start it in Ruatt this time, then. We’ll see who it takes.”
With gathered papers shoved under his arm, Benino scurried past Tomas with his eyes downcast. Tomas looked toward the table, wondering what had frightened the man, and found Lord Ettori’s gaze locked on his face. Lord Ettori had a way of staring that could shatter anyone’s nerves. His eyes were black, so dark that the pupils were indistinguishable from the irises, and he didn’t blink as often as lesser men. As usual, Tomas had to resist the impulse to look away as he approached.
“Dan Kor, my lord,” he said, “forgive the interruption.”
“You hurried here,” Lord Ettori commented, lifting one black eyebrow. “I didn’t know you still could.”
It was a relief to hear the gibe. Tomas was one of a very small circle of people who knew Kor was a lifetime older than he looked; the humor acknowledged that trust. “I’m not quite sixty, my lord,” he said. “Not in my dotage yet.” Out of context, the smile Kor gave him would have chilled him, but Tomas noted that Kor’s relaxed posture hadn’t changed. A good mood, then.
“Lady Caladen gave birth to a son, and Lord Caladen says he believes the ark ship is arriving.” Something had happened at the birth — he hadn’t heard what — that had apparently been convincing to Lord Caladen. Lady Caladen had mentioned it to her lady’s maid.
It had been almost a millennium since anyone had expected to hear those words, and Tomas was ready for Lord Ettori to contemn the simple statement. The lords of the Great Houses of Merra did seem to have access to information — or at least intuition — that eluded others, though, so if Lord Caladen had reasons for believing, Tomas was inclined to accept it. He just hoped Kor wouldn’t ask why he’d been hearing secrets from that particular young maid.
He expected questions, but Kor said nothing. A tingle started at the back of Tomas’s neck and began to crawl across his skin as Kor’s eyes bored into him.
“Who else knows?”
Tomas shuddered. The low, flat delivery of the question seemed to slide between his ribs like a sharp blade. Kor didn’t seem to consider the possibility that it might not be true — but there was nothing in his unblinking acceptance to suggest any excitement at the thought of a myth turned real. “I don’t know, my lord. His family, I imagine.”
“I’ve been having dreams,” Kor said, mercifully breaking off his gaze and apparently addressing the air. “I wondered.”
“Should we Gather the Great Houses?” If it were true, and the settlers were real and here after all this time, the House lords should consider how to manage their arrival.
“It won’t be necessary. The ship won’t land.” Kor’s tone wasn’t one of prophecy or prediction. It was fact.
Kor’s hand brushed the air, and the House guards moved forward in answer. “Take him,” Kor said.
To Tomas, he said, “I wish someone other than you had heard this, my friend.”
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