After Sir Bevier had completed his prayers and changed out of his armour, he joined them in Nashan’s ornate study.
‘Did they give you something to eat?’ Nashan asked.
‘It isn’t necessary, my Lord,’ Bevier replied. ‘If I may be permitted, I’ll join you and your knights in refectory for the noon meal.’
‘Of course,’ Nashan replied. ‘You’re more than welcome to join us, Bevier.’
Sparhawk then introduced Bevier to Sephrenia. The young man bowed deeply to her. ‘I have heard much of you, Lady,’ he said. ‘Our instructors in the Styric secrets hold you in great esteem.’
‘You’re kind to say so, Sir Knight. My skills are the result of age and practice, however, and do not result from any particular virtue.’
‘Age, Lady? Surely not. You can scarce be much older than I, and I will not see my thirtieth year for some months yet. The bloom of youth has not yet left your cheeks, and your eyes quite overwhelm me.’
Sephrenia smiled warmly at him, then looked critically at Kalten and Sparhawk. ‘I hope you two are paying attention,’ she said. ‘A little polish wouldn’t hurt either of you.’
‘I was never much good at formality, little mother,’ Kalten confessed.
‘I’ve noticed,’ she said. ‘Flute,’ she said a bit wearily then, ‘please put the book down. I’ve asked you again and again not to touch them.’
Several days later, Sir Tynian and Sir Ulath arrived, riding together. Tynian was a good-humoured Alcione Knight from Deira, the kingdom lying to the north of Elenia. His broad, round face was open and friendly. His shoulders and chest were powerfully muscled as the result of years of bearing Deiran armour, the heaviest in the world. Over his massive armour he wore a sky-blue surcoat. Ulath was a hulking Genidian Knight, fully a head taller than Sparhawk. He did not wear armour, but rather a plain mail shirt and a simple conical helmet. Covering his shirt, he wore a green surcoat. He carried a large round shield and a heavy war axe. Ulath was a silent, withdrawn man who seldom spoke. His blond hair hung in two braids down his back.
‘Good morning, gentlemen,’ Tynian said to Sparhawk and Kalten as he dismounted in the courtyard of the chapterhouse. He looked at them closely. ‘You would be Sir Sparhawk,’ he said. ‘Our preceptor said that you’d broken your nose sometime.’ He grinned then. ‘It’s all right, Sparhawk. It doesn’t interfere with your kind of beauty.’
‘I’m going to like this man,’ Kalten said.
‘And you must be Kalten,’ Tynian said. He thrust out his hand, and Kalten took it before he realized that the Alcione was holding a dead mouse concealed in his palm. With a startled oath, he jerked his hand back. Tynian howled with laughter.
‘I think I could get to like him as well,’ Sparhawk noted.
‘My name is Tynian,’ the Alcione Knight introduced himself. ‘My silent friend there is Ulath from Thalesia. He caught up with me a few days ago. Hasn’t spoken ten words since then.’
‘You talk enough for both of us,’ Ulath grunted, sliding out of his saddle
‘That’s God’s own truth,’ Tynian admitted. ‘I have this overwhelming fondness for the sound of my own voice.’
Ulath thrust out his huge hand. ‘Sparhawk,’ he said.
‘No mice?’ Sparhawk asked.
A faint smile touched Ulath’s face as they clasped hands. Then he shook hands with Kalten, and the four of them went up the steps into the chapterhouse.
‘Has Bevier arrived yet?’ Tynian asked Kalten.
‘A few days back. Have you ever met him?’
‘Once. Our preceptor and I made a formal visit to Larium, and we were introduced to the Cyrinics in their motherhouse there. I found him to be a bit stiff-necked and formal.’
‘That hasn’t changed much.’
‘Didn’t think it had. Exactly what are we going to do down in Cammoria? Preceptor Darellon can be infuriatingly close-mouthed on occasion.’
‘Let’s wait until Bevier joins us,’ Sparhawk suggested. ‘I get the feeling that he might be a little touchy, so let’s not offend him by talking business out of his presence.’
‘Good thinking, Sparhawk. This show of unity could fall apart on us if Bevier starts sulking. I’ll have to admit that he can be a good man in a fight, though. Is he still carrying that Lochaber?’
‘Oh, yes,’ Kalten said.
‘Gruesome thing, isn’t it? I saw him practising with it at Larium. He cut the top off a post as thick as my leg with one swipe at a full gallop. I get the feeling that he could ride through a platoon of foot-troops and leave a trail of loose heads behind him ten yards wide.’
‘Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,’ Sparhawk said.
‘If that’s your attitude, Sparhawk, you’re going to take all the fun out of this excursion.’
‘I am going to like him,’ Kalten said.
Sir Bevier joined them in Nashan’s study after the completion of noon service in the chapel. As closely as Sparhawk could determine, Bevier had not missed service once since his arrival.
‘All right then,’ Sparhawk said, rising to his feet when they were all assembled, ‘this is sort of where we stand. Annias, the Primate of Cimmura, has his eyes on the Archprelate’s throne here in Chyrellos. He controls the Elenian Royal Council, and they’re giving him money out of the royal treasury. He’s trying to use that money to buy enough votes in the Hierocracy to win election after Cluvonus dies. The preceptors of the four orders want to block him.’
‘No decent churchman would accept money for his vote,’ Bevier said, his voice verging on outrage.
‘I’ll grant that,’ Sparhawk agreed. ‘Unfortunately, many churchmen are far from decent. Let’s be honest about it, gentlemen. There’s a wide streak of corruption in the Elene Church. We might wish it were different, but we have to face the facts. Many of those votes are for sale. Now – and this is important – Queen Ehlana is unwell; otherwise, she wouldn’t allow Annias to have access to the treasury. The preceptors agree that the best way to stop Annias is to find some way to cure the Queen and put her back in power. That’s why we’re going to Borrata. There are physicians at the university there who might be able to determine the nature of her illness and find a cure for it.’
‘Are we taking your Queen with us?’ Tynian asked.