part one

in progress, parts 1-4 completed
Bryan Brevard wasn't really sure how old he was when he realized that he was different from his friends. Was it fourteen? fifteen? thirteen, maybe? It was well before his seventeenth birthday, when The Disaster occurred, he knew that, but just exactly when was obscure.

He was an outgoing boy, not much given to introspection, and apparently well-suited to inherit Daystar in his turn: a hawker, a hunter, a hard-rider, an athlete, not much of a scholar and more than allowed to get away with it. His parents felt that he could hire his accounts and correspondence done, if need be; what was important was the Brevard persona, and that their people be well satisfied. As a result, he rarely examined himself and his emotions, being in the main exactly suited to his position.

In the main.

But at some point in his adolescence, Bryan had realized that he was woefully, dangerously, wrong-footed. Being the Mark's heir, he had less friends than entourage, and so he was able to pull a little away from them, physically: avoid swimming in Mary's River, for instance, and only watch when they got into a wrestling match as though it were beneath his position to tussle with the untitled. He couldn't pull away more than that, not only would his parents not have approved of the attitude and the insult, but he would have been too achingly lonely. For Bryan was a gregarious boy, needing people around him.

A need that made his life harder, maybe more dangerous.

Still, until his seventeenth birthday, he had gotten along, living from day to day, more or less on hope, never looking too far into the future. When he did, he thought that surely Something would happen ... and there was always little Nick to inherit after him.

What he hadn't counted on was his father's close bond with his own little brother, Rick Traven of Greenhollow, and their plans for their children.

Which was why his seventeenth birthday, which began promisingly enough, ended branded in his mind as The Disaster.

First thing in the morning, his groom Leon had brought around a new horse, a blood bay Canton with not one white hair, eight years old and, as Bryan had told his parents at breakfast, "simply super!" A gold ring, with a spectacular sunstone flanked by brilliant-cut sapphires, to mark his coming-of-age and replace the enameled one he'd worn 'till then. A dark Darya Spaniel, a real sacrifice as his mother thought them clumsy and unattractive. A new falcon. An embroidered shirt from his sister Cathy. An antler-hilted knife that Nick had saved for months for. A lot of other tribute, some of it pretty useless, really, but all of accepted with becoming grace and even enthusiasm.

And a bride.

Well, a fianceé actually. His little cousin Carrie. Who was all right as far as girls went, but ... well, that was the problem, after all. But Bryan was so completely flummoxed by it, had so totally misinterpreted his father's comments about Carrie a month earlier, that he could only sit there, as if poleaxed, while the cheerful family drank their health, with Carrie herself blithely sure that he wanted to marry her.

So, The Disaster had occurred, and he was a betrothed man. At least, he said to himself that night, at least Carrie's not but thirteen, and that puts the wedding four years off. Four years!, he cheered himself up immensely; four years was an enormously long time. Something was bound to happen before then, bound to.

But nothing did.

Every now and then he actually came face to face with The Disaster, and knew that time was running out on him. But what he was do about it, he didn't know. He had tried, once, with a whore in Ravenscourt the summer he turned twenty ... the single most humiliating experience of his life, bar none, including that agonizing incident at fifteen when, suddenly aroused by the sight of the two farmer's lads stripping down preparatory to going in after a bogged-in cow, he had left without a word to anyone. His father had torn the hide off of him that evening, explaining in cold fury that while the men started such work, it behooved the young lord to stick around and see if he might be needed, it was his cow, after all, and moreover his men in the final analysis. His father had thrown him fully clothed into that self-same bog to teach him that a little muck not only never hurt anyone, but washed off, and then made him walk home to think about it; his father and the guard following had crowned the humiliation. Fortunately, the memory of that sequel had proved a very useful detumescent on later occasions, but the entire thing had been a waking nightmare, surpassed only by that single painfully impotent evening in Ravenscourt. When the whore had finally told him, "never mind now, dearie, you're so upset nothing will work, just get a good night's sleep and relax and you'll see, it'll work out..." he had, well, fled was the only word for it.

Run like a rabbit, or a whipped dog. Leaving behind way too much money in the hope that she'd never mention it to anyone (not that he'd given his right name, he knew better than that) and knowing she'd been laughing... Ayyyy, never again.

Except of course that Carrie would expect ...

Something had to happen, it simply had to. But things kept moving along, and nothing did, and suddenly there was less than a year before the wedding.

Any fledgling notion he'd ever had about simply telling someone (father? hardly, but mother, maybe, or Carrie herself) had been pushed out of the nest and died when Carrie's brother Michael had run off with Lord Hart Harden. That had been to him more marvellous than anything else; how on green Dhassa had they ever...? He'd known Micky all his life just about; part of the Great Plan, he now knew, but Uncle Rick's family had spent two months out of every year at Daystar. Too bad he and Carrie had gotten along so well, surely if she'd hated him no one would have expected them to marry, and it was too late to start that after the announcement. But Mick and he were almost the same age, and until they'd been, oh, twelvish, had gotten along right well.

Mick had gotten along well with everyone back then, in fact. Knowing him as a sunny, cheerful, sweet-tempered ten-year-old helped to know why Hart loved him, if Hart knew that Micky, instead of the sullen and sarcastic teen-ager that had arrived at Daystar one summer and quickly made himself so unwelcome among Bryan's group that he'd never again spent any time with them at all. Now of course Bryan understood it: Mick must have understood himself sooner than Bryan, taken steps to get away from temptations... ironically, Bryan had been credited with completely absent insight by his father ("you know, Caralyssa, our boy never did like that one"). Oh, Bryan understood Mick all too well now that it was too late.

What he didn't understand, not really, was how in Kim-Hara's name they had ever dared to say the first thing to each other. Unless, of course, it was their version of putting a horse at a solid six-foot wall, not entirely caring if he cleared it, and with the sudden exhiliration of landing safe even more soaring in their case for the threatened smash-up having been so much worse. But that--scandal, disgrace, the pain of the family--Bryan couldn't quite muster the recklessness to inflict. Just as he couldn't quite bring himself to put a horse at an eight-foot fence; that was too close to a betrayal of a loyal, willing beast, as the other was a betrayal of people who counted on you.

There wasn't anything really to do. Just hang on and ride it out and pray that Someone--Kim-Hara, Chassa, Erinna, even Chalma of the Unlit Candles himself--would do something. Something.

Carrie Traven was happy. Yes, she was. She told herself so, whenever the little, niggling doubts about it tried to make themselves heard over the music. She was happy.

She was seventeen, and to be married in just five months' time, in the spring, to her marvellous older cousin Bryan. She was very fond of Bryan, and she thought he was fond of her, though they hadn't much in common. She was urban, loved the plays and concerts, and the parties, and swirl of crowds. Bryan loved his estates, hunting and riding and hawking and so on. He did like parties, and he was a marvellous dancer. In fact, she loved to watch him dance with others, he was so light on his feet and involved in the dance itself that you couldn't get jealous.

There ... that was one of those niggling doubts. When he danced with her, there wasn't anything there but dancing, either. Dancing, Bryan had told her once, a couple of years ago, was thing to be done well in itself and for itself. Well, that was a fine attitude for a man to have when he danced with other women, but ... well, of late Carrie had begun wondering if perhaps Bryan oughtn't to be a little less interested in the dance and a little more interested in her. After all, they were going to be married in the spring, and dancing was the only time he could, well, anything except talk. Sometimes she wondered, didn't he find her as attractive as she found him?

But, then again, Bryan had always been a perfectly behaved gentleman; probably because he'd been betrothed to her practically forever, he'd never had his name linked to anybody's ... Carrie had plenty of friends and cousins who'd have been willing to tell her if he had. And his father was her uncle, and her father would have killed him ... probably it was just that, probably...

Because they did get along, they did. Bryan was as sweet as he could be, he listened and cared. A lot of Carrie's friends thought she was as lucky as possible, a good-looking redhead with eyes as blue as the ocean off of Land's End (not that any of her friends, or Carrie herself, had ever actually seen the ocean off Land's End), brave and a trifle reckless like a man should be, and yet so sweet...

And there was another little doubt. Because just so had poor Micky been sweet, and his friend Hart Harden gay and reckless and very redheaded and lovely. And look what had happened to them! Neither her father, nor Callin Harden, His Grace of Redview, would have their sons' names mentioned aloud. Carrie herself only knew that they had gone to Taleavlad, and were living there together, safe and happy and married (all three of those adjectives seemed so-- so unlikely in connection with two ... oh, Carrie wished so much there were something polite that she could call Micky!), she only knew that because the Court Sorceror, the slightly frightening but fascinating Tracy Halston, had given her word from Micky last month. She didn't dared write him, but Tracy ("just Tracy, dear") had promised to tell him that Carrie was happy for him.

And she was, of course, and she nearly hated their father, but then again, how could Micky? Though Tracy had said, sounding reasonable, "how could he not?" And then, maybe, then Bryan maybe.... Oh it was too ridiculous! Bryan was just well-mannered, well-behaved, that was all. They just didn't share any interests: he knew little or nothing about plays or music or romantic literature or stories about ancient queens, and she nothing about horses, barring how to ride them, or hounds or hawks or cattle or estates ...

And that was yet another little doubt. Because, while Carrie knew many happily married couples who shared few interests, she worried about a love of dancing being the only thing they had in common. Was that enough to base a marriage on, especially if he didn't find her attractive? Was her love of him really different enough from the way she felt about Micky to make a marriage work? How long would she love him if he didn't love back? Could you really love someone who was only fond of you, and for how long could you keep it up? Or could loving someone make him love you back? Mother said men loved easily if their wives were of the right disposititon, sex was important to men, after all, and if she half tried Bryan would have nothing to complain about there. Unless...

Oh, it was all too ridiculous. She was happy, and she would make Bryan happy, too, and that was all there was to that. They had always gotten along just fine, and that would be enough.

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