The most gifted student in Eldanhill’s Mystera, Ancel Dorn is the son of leader, Stefan. He’s also Irmina Nagel’s former lover. Abandoned by Irmina once she found out his parent’s secret, Ancel has neglected his studies and his training. He’s also turned to womanizing in order to patch the pain he feels. In turn he doesn’t care which women he hurts in the process. This has gained him quite a reputation in the Whitewater Falls area.
Encouraged by his friends to forget Irmina and once again strive to be the best, Ancel is mired in his own self pity and heart break. Lately, he’s been plagued by the uncanny feeling that something or someone is stalking him. The ill moods of his pet, Charra, has helped little to dissuade these uneasy feelings. Coupled with the strange colors that have started to flash across his vision, Ancel has begun to wonder if it’s time he sets his feelings aside and pursue his studies once more. After all, they may yet lead him back into the arms of his lost love.
The music started up again, this time a slower song. Another girl came out and danced. A black-haired girl, wide as a bull, with ear lobes pierced in multiple places in the typical Dosteri fashion. Her dancing paled in comparison to the Ostanian, but the patrons showed their appreciation all the same. War did not matter to the Sendethi men when it came to enjoying a woman’s pleasures.
The honey haired dancer now visited tables. Ancel tried and failed to watch subtly, and instead, openly stared.
Mirza signaled for more drinks. “So, do you really believe what you heard at the palace?”
Ancel’s shoulders rose, eyes still riveted on the dancer. “Why not? I’d bet there’s a lot of truth to the story.” Ancel didn’t quite know why he felt that way, but something in his gut told him he was right.
“I’d take that bet.” Mirza grinned and held his hand out.
“Me too,” Danvir slurred.
Ancel wagged his finger. “Now you know I’m not making that wager.”
“How about another then?” Mirza’s eyebrow arched.
“You and the Ostanian.”
Ancel suppressed the need to draw in a breath.
“Don’t tell me you’re scared,” Mirza chortled. “Not good old Ancel who can charm scales off a fish.”
“Fine, fine,” Ancel said. He wasn’t about to be outdone by Mirz. “Let’s say five hawks. Each.”
Mirza pursed his lips and stroked the stubble on his chin before nodding. “As long as you don’t pay for her services. Charm the dress, well, underwear off her.”
“I’ll only use what coin it takes to get her to the table.”
Danvir and Mirza glanced at each other. “You’re on,” they said together.
The serving girl returned with their drinks. She winked at Ancel, and smacked Mirza’s hand before he could slap her ass again.
Ancel did not really want to, but he would have to disappoint this serving girl. He scratched his head. What was he saying? He wanted to disappoint her, especially since it meant chasing after the Ostanian dancer. That was indeed half of the intrigue—the chase. This serving girl offered no challenge; he could have her any time. Now the dancer, she was special. Several men were after her, and she’d already refused quite a few. He needed something unique to stand out.
Ancel flicked a gold hawk to the girl. “Tell the Ostanian I want a word with her. There’s another hawk in it for you and four for her.”
Danvir spit out his drink. “Did you get knocked over your head? That’s fifty silver owls you just offered to go with the ten you gave her. Enough to buy drinks for everyone in here twice over.” Danvir slurred so hard now he sputtered.
Ancel shrugged. “It’s just coin.”
Danvir grumbled under his breath about wasting good coin and put his drink back to his mouth. Mirza had one of those leers of his written across his face. The girl’s eyes widened at the coin, before they narrowed when she grasped what Ancel asked her to do. She gave him a look that said he didn’t know what he was missing.
“I guess this means it’s you and I threading the needle,” Mirza sang and flicked her another hawk. “There’s more where that came from.”
The girl caught the coin despite the tray she carried, and now she graced Mirza with a smile. She saved a pout for Ancel and strutted away.
Mirza rubbed his hands together. “This, I can’t wait to see.”
A few moments later, the honey-haired dancer arrived at their table. Up close, she was even more breathtaking. Her slim curves reminded Ancel of Irmina again, but he pushed the thought from his mind. A thin mouth and a dainty nose highlighted her smooth face. Looking into her deep, lemon-colored eyes made him feel as if he could drown in them. Perfume drifted from her carrying the spicy scent of bellflowers.
“Well, are you going to say something or just stare all night?” She asked in a thick, singsong accent.
“Oh, um, hullo.” Ancel said, fidgeting with his hands. Direct, like Irmina too. He almost pinched himself.
Mirza chortled. “Why I never thought I’d see the day when some woman made your silky tongue stick to the roof of your mouth.”
Ancel glared at his friend before turning back to the dancer. “Would you mind taking a seat?” Under the table, he kicked Danvir’s chair.
The big man pulled his face from the mouth of his glass. “Hmmm? Why’re you kicking my chair?”
The Ostanian shook her head. Ancel rolled his eyes. He stood, walked around to the other side of the table, and pulled out a chair for her.
“Why, thank you,” she said in a sweet tone, but her eyes spoke in volumes of ice.
A smile tugged at the corner of Ancel’s mouth. Without the use of coin, this conquest appeared more difficult than he expected. A refreshing thought. He’d noticed how standoffish she was earlier when she patronized other tables. The men in this place were so lost in their drink they either did not notice or did not care. Music started up again.
Ancel took a chair next to her and met her defiant gaze with a smile. “I’m Ancel. May I have the pleasure of knowing your name?”
“Iris.” She still wore the same cold look in her eyes.
“That’s a very old Granadian name for an Ostanian woman.”
Her expression changed, and she leaned forward slightly. “What do you know about Ostanian names?”
“I know,” he said as he took out a silver flask from the inside pocket of his velvet jacket. “That Ostanians love good kinai.” He took a swig and nodded to the flask. “I also know you say your names and eyes are windows to your soul as—”
“Your words are doorways to the heart,” she finished in a soft voice.
“So, should I ask again?”
“Ah, a flowing wind. It suits you.” Ancel passed her the drink.
Kachien sniffed at it, and her eyes widened. “You know our sayings. You understand our language. And you have distilled kinai. Who are you?”
“Miss, I was about to ask the same thing myself,” Mirza said, his gaze fixed on Ancel. He stood, flipped on his hat, and left a gold eagle on the table. “I think I’ll retire now. Dan?”
Danvir grumbled and stumbled to his feet.
“One moment,” Ancel said to Kachien.
Ancel stood and helped Mirza get Danvir’s big arm over his gaunt friend’s neck. His gaze followed them as they stumbled out. At the door, Mirza paused and tipped his hat to Ancel, who smiled in return.
“Now, back to me.” Ancel savored the tone of her tanned skin as he sat. “My parents are famous for their kinai wine. My father always brags about his travels, saying Eastern Ostania was the most cultured place he ever stayed in. They lived there for many years before moving here and brought the art of kinai making with them. I used to drink in all his stories about Ostania. Not that I had much choice. He always talked about the place.”
She studied him for a moment, her eyes narrowing slightly into a dubious expression. “Did he also tell you that many of the women from that part of Ostania are hard and not easily impressed by boasts or flattery?”
“Indeed. But more than most, you have an undying love for song and poetry.”
“Yes. If you let my father tell it, many of our songs were taken from old Ostanian lore. He even claims the best musicians lived in your side of the world, and much of their music was steeped in truth.”
Eyes keen, Kachien leaned forward even more.
“Take the song you danced to for example. Damal’s Sacrifice. A strange song to dance the Temtesa to.”
“Well as the legend goes, Damal was one of the last Eztezians. A great Teacher. Supposedly, in a desperate attempt to save Denestia, he ventured into Hydae in order to battle a Skadwaz overlord. The battle took place at the once great city of Jenoah with its gleaming spires and famous fountains. Having found out he was betrayed by the Exalted Ashishin—something I don’t believe—Damal sacrificed himself to trigger some great Forging. One that would make the Kassite impassable, sealing the Planes of Existence, not only imprisoning the gods in the Nether, but locking away Denestia from Hydae’s threat.”
Kachien sat staring into his face, her eyes wide with wonder. Ancel smiled. When her lips curled with the same warm expression, this feeling came over him. Not the heat of his loins, or the racing heart that often began when he knew he’d made some headway. This was different, seeing her smile. It was sunshine glowing through dark clouds to spark a rainbow over freezing waters. Whatever coldness he harbored toward women, somehow fled, chased away by Kachien’s radiance.
She broke into a mischievous grin and took a sip from his flask. For an instant, a flash of hunger filled her eyes. “So was your curiosity what made you call on me?” She set the flask down, her thumb playing around the rim.
Ancel blushed, but he didn’t waver. He knew he had her now. Drinking from his flask meant her interest was assured. “No.”
She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Oh?”
“By the way, your Temtesa…it was…exhilarating.”
This time, she blushed. So far, his father’s words proved true. Ancel shrugged. Why not? “Kachien, I came here tonight to seek pleasure and hope to forget about some things in my life. I’ve decided. I will forget about them with you.”
Her slim fingers brushed against his. They sent a tingle up his spine.
“I thought you would never ask,” she said in a breathy voice. “Come.” She stood and swayed toward the door leading upstairs.
Did all these women go to a school to learn to walk that way? Ancel picked up his flask, firmness pushing against the fabric of his trousers when he stood. As he placed his drink container into his jacket pocket, he felt Irmina’s letter there. He took the letter out and dropped it into his glass. Red kinai soaked into the paper. A thin tinder stick the smokers used to light their giana pipes rested on a stand next to him. Picking it up, he lit it in an oil lamp, and touched it to the paper in the glass.
Irmina’s letter burst into flames.
With that flare-up, the kinai took hold and another kind of blaze soared through his loins, enveloping his mind as he stared at Kachien’s swaying form. Yes, tonight marks a new beginning. And I’ll start by threading your honey-haired needle. He strode after the woman with a smile on his face.