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"You see, father," said Neena. "The gods have sent me a wise husband."
"I hope so," said King Embor. "As I was saying, a few of Draad will sell the
secret in Trawn. But I can see many stealing it and then claiming that they
have discovered it. That will give them much honor, and take away honor from
you, Prince Blade."
"Jealous men are dangerous enemies, that is true," said Blade. "What does the
High Kaireen propose?"
"There is a house high in the Mountains of Hoga, a strong house with a strong
wall around it. It is used by Kaireens and others who wish to spend some time
apart from the world, meditating and writing.
Around the house peza trees grow so thickly that their fallen leaves cover the
ground to the depth of a tall man's knees. If we were to send to that house
several assistants, and all the things Blade may ask for, it might be a good
place for him to work. He and all that he does will be far away from prying
eyes and ears."
"He will also be close to the mountains, where those of Trawn may raid," said
Embor.
"You forget the mountain clans," said Neena. "They can send warriors and
hunters to stand guard around the house. Those guards will keep their eyes and
ears to themselves and their mouths shut. They are better servants than most
of the lowland clans, father."
"Neena, pray cease to tell me my business," said Embor wearily. He gave the
impression of having been over this same ground with his daughter many times
before. Blade found it hard to keep from smiling.
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"The High Kaireen's proposal seems wise to me," said Blade. "We must not let
ambitious men or traitors get hold of the secret of the new sleeping water.
The first that those of Trawn learn of it must be the day we strike down their
stolofs by the hundred!"
"To hundreds of dead stolofs!" Neena raised her beer cup in a toast, and the
other three all drank with her.
As Blade and Neena walked back to their private chambers, Neena took Blade's
arm firmly. Her grip was so tight that her nails dug into his flesh.
"Do you run off into the Mountains of Hoga to run away from me, or perhaps to
some mountain woman?"
She was grinning, but Blade was not entirely sure that she was joking.
Fortunately he had an honest answer ready for her.
"I seek no other woman than you, Neena. I need none, and do not see how I
could."
"Good. As long as it is that way, you and I shall live in peace. Otherwise I
will be angry." Blade did not feel like asking what she might do to him if she
did become angry.
Chapter 18
The house that the High Kaireen gave Blade lay high up in the Mountains of
Hoga, lonely and isolated.
Only a few miles to the west was the tree line. Beyond the trees Blade could
see bare peaks of gray and blue rock and even the white glinting of snowcaps.
He could seldom see that far, though. Two days out of three, gray mist or
grayer clouds surrounded him.
Then the house seemed to be alone in an otherwise empty world.
The days were often cool and the nights usually chilly. Blade did not notice
this. He spent all the hours of the day and a good part of the night in his
steaming hot workshop. Fires burned there around the clock, under bubbling
pots of resin or boiling cauldrons of leaves. Smoke and steam rose up in
clouds and swirled around Blade. Sometimes they found a way out through the
crude chimney or the cracks in the boarded-up windows. Most of the time they
didn't.
Blade set himself a grueling pace as he assembled and tested the distilling
apparatus. That took several weeks. He had been right in theory. With threebo
stems, resin, and iron or stone pots one could put together a fairly
serviceable piece of equipment. Putting that theory into practice took time
and effort, much of both wasted. Finally Blade managed to build something that
would neither leak nor explode nor catch fire, and he was able to really go to
work.
He now worked harder than ever, sixteen and eighteen hours a day. At the end
of the day he was frequently exhausted or dizzy and only half-awake from the
sleeping water's steam. He could do nothing except stagger to his sleeping
room and collapse.
Blade grew lean and hungry looking, his eyes were perpetually red and
inflamed, his hands were callused, black with caked soot and sticky with
resin. It was probably a good thing that Neena wasn't
with him. He would hardly have time to kiss her goodnight!
The High Kaireen gave Blade four carefully chosen assistants. All of them were
strong young men, none of them stupid and all of them good at taking orders.
"They were chosen for those qualities," the High Kaireen told Blade. "Their
orders are to do as you tell them, keep you and the house and everything in it
from harm, and otherwise keep their mouths shut."
"What about the guards to be sent by the mountain clans?"
"They will never come within the walls around the house. Nor will they know
what you do within, except that you work to do much harm to those of Trawn.
That is enough to make sure that the mountain people will keep their mouths
closed and their vigil unbroken. They hate those of Trawn in a way you would
not understand unless you had spent years among them."
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