The Casket of Brass
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by Deborah J. Ross, Deborah Wheeler
Description: Maridah was a scholar in Samarkhand, but she was also heir to the throne of Khazarand, so she returned to Khazarand when her grandmother, the current Princess of Khazarand, was near death. Her grandmother told her to take the contents of the brass casket and guard them, for if they fell into her uncle's hands, he would use them to put his daughter Hadidjah on the throne in Maridah's stead. So Maridah took the items, little knowing what they would teach her.
eBook Publisher: Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, 2009 Sword
eBookwise Release Date: March 2011
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [39 KB]
Reading time: 21-30 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
A breathless spring twilight crept across the palace on the hill. Even the twin rivers that nourished Kharazand, City of a Thousand Gardens, flowed gently, imbued with an eerie, somber calm. The twin domes of the royal palace glimmered in shades of pearl and silver.
Hoofbeats fractured the approaching night. Iron sparked on paving stones. Five riders raced from the city gates toward the palace. The leading horse shone like marble, its tail a river of cloud. Its rider was small and wiry beneath a flowing hooded cloak. Four stouter animals followed. They pounded up the tree-lined avenue beside the long, slender mirrored pools. Guards barred their path, scimitars drawn. At the sight of the lead rider, they bowed and stepped back.
The riders clattered to a halt before the formal entrance to the palace, spiral columns framing marble stairs. The lead rider jumped lightly to the ground. Grooms and servants, a dozen at least, rushed forward. The rider shoved back the hood of the cloak, revealing a woman's delicate features, tilted eyes beneath sweeping brows set in honey-gold skin. Her blue-black hair had been twisted into a simple knot, and over her riding trousers, she wore a scholar's robe of thick undyed cotton. Her sole weapon was a dagger at her belt.
She handed the reins of the gray horse to the head groom. "Give the horses a little water now, but only a few sips." Her voice was throaty with the strain of a long, exhausting ride. "Then walk them until they're dry."
The young woman rushed up the stairs, her escort at her heels. Her riding boots rang on the smooth stone of the stairs. She burst through the elaborately-carved double doors before the attendants could open them for her. The senior steward rushed forward, trailing a handful of assistants. She remembered him, an honest man of merit and industry. In the years of her absence, his beard had gone white and wispy, and the body beneath the modestly ornamented robe was gaunt with age.
"My grandmother?" she cut him off, not slacking her pace.
The steward raised his hands in reassurance. "Still alive, by the grace of the Infinite. Her physician tends her even now. Your uncle, the Most Wise Regent, has been apprized of your return and has bidden me to-"
His voice faltered as she glared at him.
"-to bring you to him," the steward finished uncertainly. "If it is your pleasure."
"It is my pleasure," she repeated the phrase, but without any malice, for the steward could not be blamed for the situation or her own temper, "to see my grandmother while I still can."
The steward's reply was cut short by the arrival of a second young woman, this one dressed in a sleeveless vest encrusted with pearls and rubies, and loose trousers of crimson silk gathered around her delicate ankles. Strings of tiny silver bells chimed from her wrists and earlobes. Veils fluttered from the elaborate curls on top of her head. She glided along the carpeted hall, and half a dozen ladies, dressed in more subdued colors, followed a pace behind.
"Maridah!" the young woman exclaimed. "You've returned! So suddenly! And without sending word so that a proper reception might be prepared for you!"
Maridah forced herself to stand still long enough to greet her cousin. They bowed and kissed each another's palms, according to custom.
"Hadidjah, I am pleased to see you," Maridah said, "but I cannot linger. Grandmother-"
Hadidjah's eyes, a beautiful hazel that contrasted with her golden skin, betrayed no alarm. "She is not well, but her health has never been good since you left us for Samarkhand. You need not have interrupted your studies to rush home so precipitously."
She touched Maridah's cheek with one hand, her fingertips scented with rosewater and cloves. "I cannot say I am sorry. How I have missed you! Come now, you must bathe and put on something decent. Then I will take you to my father so that he may set your mind at rest. Tomorrow, we will feast in your honor."
Maridah wavered on her feet. Her muscles ached and her stomach had long since hardened into a knot of hunger. She saw herself reflected in her cousin's eyes, unkempt and filthy. Doubtless, she smelled of horse and sweat. She could not possibly appear in court with her hair in such disarray, wearing the same shapeless robe of the most lowly student.
She shook her head to clear her senses. Had her years of study, in a community where ideas meant more than titles or wealth, meant so little that she would throw all away at a word? She would remain as she was, dirty boots and all.
"You may not be concerned about Grandmother's health," she said with more harshness than she intended, "but I will not rest until I see her for myself." Freeing herself from her cousin's grasp, she pivoted to go.
"But - but my father-" Hadidjah stammered. "He expects to see you without delay!"
A sudden glint of mischief caught Maridah. Unfastening the clasp of her riding cloak, she tossed it to her cousin. "My uncle will have to be satisfied with that."
She did not stay to see Hadidjah's reaction.