Master (Book 5) - Robert J. Crane

NOW

Prologue

“I thought she hated me at first, you know,” Cyrus Davidon said as he stared out the window. Darkness had descended upon the Plains of Perdamun, a light rain falling on the already saturated ground. “When we met, I mean. I thought she acted the way she did because she hated me.” There was a seeping chill around him, even as the fire crackled in the hearth at his back. “I was sure of it the first year, and I never really reconsidered it after that.” He shrugged, his black armor clanking as he moved his broad shoulders. “I just thought she hated me. All the way until … Nalikh’akur, I guess.”

“Was that the place she tried to drown you?” Vaste’s dry voice crackled with wit. Cyrus turned to see the troll sitting in a chair, pulled up next to the fire. His frame was enormous, even taller than Cyrus’s seven feet. The troll’s teeth were pronounced, catching the glare of the dancing flames. Even still, there was no menace about Vaste. The sweet smell of the burning wood wafted under Cyrus’s nose.

Cyrus felt himself laugh, unintentionally. “Yes. But it was bit more complicated than that. I had a fever, you see—”

“I’ve heard this story before and it bores me,” Vaste said, shaking his great green head, blurring his dark eyes as he moved. “Tell me a fun one—like that time she came to your quarters when you got back from Luukessia—”

“That’s not a fun one,” Cyrus said darkly.

“Tell it anyway,” Vaste said. “I never get tired of that one.” His glee was palpable, as it often was, but there was a hint of hesitancy as well, a kind of velvet touch that his sarcasm seldom held. Waiting to see how I react, Cyrus thought.

Cyrus felt a sigh building. He stared at the troll, but he sensed no intentional antagonism there. This is who Vaste is, how he relates to the world.

How he deals with … what we’re dealing with here.

“All right,” Cyrus said, and inspiration struck. “I have a better idea.”

“First, I’m shocked you have an idea—”

“Quiet, troll,” Cyrus said and fumbled with the leather-bound diary at his side, lifting it up with a flourish. “How about I read you Vara’s impressions of that night?”

Vaste arched a black eyebrow. “Proceed.”

Cyrus flipped through the diary, searching for the date. When he found it between the careworn pages, the delicate, flowing handwriting was easy to read.

“I walked to Cyrus Davidon’s quarters in a fit of annoyance. We’d had a conversation in the Council Chambers when he returned, and it had been deeply unsatisfying, like eating a meal in a gnomish tavern.”

“What was it with her and the gnomes?” Vaste asked. “So much hate.”

“Hush,” Cyrus said. “Apparently in a bid to devalue myself further, I made a decision in the night that proved to be ridiculously fateful. I walked to the door of his quarters, and I knocked.

I stood there in the dim light of the torches, their flames dancing on the wall, and counted all the reasons I should go back to my bed. It was waiting for me, it was warm and inviting—and I was sure to toss and turn for the rest of the night. I was wearing something rather scandalous, I realized a moment after I knocked, the type of thing I wear to bed, with its curls and lace—”

“Tell me more,” Vaste said.

“I’m about to tell you a whole lot less,” Cyrus said, giving Vaste the eye. “I stood at his door in my grossly inappropriate attire, worried for the half second before I heard his movement within