Terrilian #3: - The Warrior Rearmed

Chapter One

I sat beside the pretty little blue pond, just in the shade of a nearby tree, trying to rid myself of the gray mood of brooding. Constructive thought is almost impossible in that kind of mood, but it had descended on me the night before and I couldn't seem to shake it. With all the problems I had I should have been spending my time considering solutions, but all I felt capable of tackling right now was sitting still and breathing in the fresh, clear air.

My mind was so close to being shut down from self-centered consideration I nearly missed the faint, unfamiliar mind trace. It was near enough to cause me to focus on it immediately, but I hadn't been wrong in my first, fleeting impression: there was a small, frightened animal somewhere in the grass near me. On that planet it could have been something a lot more harmful, but I hadn't been as frightened as I once would have been. I'd been growing on Rimilia, but I still had a far distance to go.

In curiosity I touched the mind of the small animal, automatically soothing its fright, and a bright-eyed head suddenly popped up above the grass to look at me, sharing my curiosity. The animal was only a little above a foot long, fluffy dark-red fur covering it, pointed ears above shiny black eyes, a small button nose and mouth. The sight of it charmed me, and when the adorable little thing saw and felt my smile, it moved toward me in small, delicate hops, landing in my lap after quickly covering the ten feet between us. A purring sound came when I began to stroke the soft, thick fur, the contentment in its mind so strong it nearly acted as a balm on my own agitation. I turned to look at the cool pond water as I continued to stroke the animal, and made sure my gray mood was blocked from it completely.

"So there you are," a voice came a minute later from behind me, breaking into the semi-trance of peace I'd almost fallen into. I wasn't totally startled, and was able to calm the small animal in my lap before it could panic and bolt. The voice had come from Lenham Phillips, a brother empath of mine, and Len's calming thoughts joined mine as soon as he realized there was a mind that needed calming. Len's abilities weren't as strong as mine, and he wore a wry expression as he came up beside me to lower himself into the grass.

"Sorry about that," he said, gesturing toward the animal that had turned its head to look at him. "I didn't realize you had company here. Tammad's been searching for you, and he's getting more and more annoyed the longer he can't find you. I think you'd better head back."

I just turned my face from him without saying anything, sending my attention back to the tall shade trees and wide bushes all about us. I wasn't quite used to seeing a man of my world dressed in the haddin of the men of Rimilia, but Len felt as comfortable and natural in the brief body cloth as he had begun to look. The newest addition to his wardrobe was a swordbelt, the wide hilt of the weapon protruding from its top a still-unaccustomed thrill to the blond man beside me.

I knew that Len had been given his first lesson with a sword that morning, and although he wasn't as big or accomplished as his teachers, he must have done well enough to please them. Len would have checked the truth of their professed opinions in their minds, and if they hadn't really been pleased his own mind wouldn't have glowed as it did.

"Terry, ignoring me won't change anything," Len said, stirring where he sat. "Tammad agreed to let me try to find you, but if we don't show up pretty soon he'll come after you himself. You shouldn't have come out here alone to begin with; once he sees you're safe and his worry disappears, all he'll be left with will be anger."

"I don't care," I muttered, tightening my shield even more around my reactions to the thought of Tammad's anger. No matter how strong I grew I still couldn't seem to keep from turning pale and shaky at the thought of facing an irate Tammad. The beast had more than one advantage over me - which brought me right back to my original problems.

"The hell you don't care," Len snorted, reaching a hand out to stroke the side of the small animal in my lap. "You've been jumping from one emotional reaction to another since Tammad rebanded you last night, but indifference wasn't part of the group. Frankly, I don't think you're capable of being indifferent toward him."

The flash of anger I felt had to be two-thirds embarrassment, but that only made it worse. I'd had enough embarrassments on that world to last anyone a lifetime, and all the feeling made me want to do was strike back. Without stopping to think about it I hurled a command at the little animal I held, and not thinking about it made the action more effective.

Accompanied by a growl the animal's sharp, white teeth flashed toward Len's hand, causing him to snatch it back with a yelp of startlement. If he hadn't moved so fast he would have been bitten, and he wouldn't have been able to move so fast if he hadn't caught the sudden attack rage in the animal's mind. The little animal, picking up Len's burst of startlement and not understanding why it had briefly been aggressive, hopped quickly out of my lap and disappeared into the grass, ignoring my attempts to call it back. The calm I needed to calm its flurried thoughts was beyond me now, and that made me more upset.

"Now see what you've done!" I snapped at Len, turning my head to glare at him. "The little thing is gone and it's all your fault. Why didn't you leave me alone?"

"My fault?" Len demanded, his blue eyes hardening at the accusation. "You coerce it into attacking me and its my fault? Terry, if I didn't owe you for breaking me out of a slave cell in that city, I'd - "

"You don't owe me for anything!" I interrupted, not liking the way his mind firmed up behind his stone-hard stare. His thought patterns were more like a Rimilian's than ever, and I wasn't used to coping with that sort of reaction from him. "If I hadn't gotten you and Garth loose that night, you would have been released the next day anyway. You don't owe me a thing. Not a thing!"

I turned in the grass and started to throw myself to my feet, but somehow Len knew I was going to run from him. His hand might not have been as big as Tammad's, but it was still big enough to flash out and wrap around my ankle to hold me down. In desperation I kicked at him, frantic to get loose, but his other hand caught my second ankle and I was down in the cool grass on my face, caught the way I was always caught on that world. I struggled and tried to kick out again, but a single twist forced me to my back, and then Len was kneeling across me.

"That's more than enough," he said, grabbing my arms to hold me still. "If I hadn't had some success in copying that shield you developed, I'd be flat on the ground from that whirlpool of frenzy you've been leaking. You're going to tell me what's bothering you, Terry, and then we're going to talk it over like two adults. Walking around shielded all the time is too much like being unawakened, and I don't want to have to do it any longer."

I stared up at him, feeling the constriction he was talking about, but somehow helpless to do anything about it. My thoughts were like a whirlpool, twisting around and around without going anywhere, dragging me farther down into the depths and taking more of my strength the longer I fought them. I stirred against the unyielding grip of his hands, having not the faintest idea of where to begin, but the spinning had enough ideas of its own.

"Len, it isn't true that the Amalgamation would sell me, is it?" I blurted, distantly shocked that I'd had the nerve to put that particular problem into words. "They wouldn't just - hand me over to the first man who had something they wanted, and who decided he wanted me? They'd remember how long I'd worked for them, and that I was one of them, and refuse to turn their backs on me - wouldn't they?"

He stared down at me with no expression on his handsome face, but through my shield and his I had the distinct impression that his thoughts were a blur. His hands left my arms to brush the ends of my hair free of my face, then he sat himself beside me in the grass again.

"Well, I guess I asked for it," he muttered, running a hand through the blond hair that was slowly growing toward the length that Rimilian men wore it at. "Terry, I'd lie to you if I could, but I haven't the strength to hold this shield up much longer. The truth is - I don't know. I know I was there when Murdock McKenzie refused to give back whatever price Tammad paid for you, but you've been involved in this a lot longer than I have. Do you think they'd give up all claims on a Prime just for whatever Tammad paid?"

"I don't know," I said, shaking my head automatically as I sat up in the grass. "I don't even know what it was that he paid. All I know is that he said they abandoned me - and then closed me in these chains to prove the point."

I looked down at the bronze bands on my wrists and ankles, feeling the one around my neck even if I couldn't see it, knowing they were all beyond a woman's strength to open. The light, small-linked chains marked me as Tammad's property, his beyond argument or offer. I hated being locked in chain; to me it was a measure of things on that world that being five-banded was the highest distinction a woman could achieve.

"So that's why you went so wild when he banded you," Len said, staring at me soberly. "I wasn't that far away when it happened, but I thought you were just being difficult again. Terry, can't you understand that it's necessary for a woman to be banded on this world? Did Tammad say he was banding you to prove possession, or is that just your own idea?"

"Oh, I just snatched the thought out of the blue," I answered, staring back at him. "The fact that all women on this world are possessions didn't count in the least. Neither did the coincidence that he did it right after I told him again that I refused to obey him or stay with him. Whenever I insist that I'm leaving this world he pretends he doesn't hear me - except for last night, when he trotted the chains out. You must be right, Len. It's all my imagination."

"You're still ignoring the necessity for banding," Len answered, surprising me by not reacting to my sarcasm. "Women who aren't banded are up for grabs in this society; Tammad's just making sure no one grabs without knowing what he's getting into. Don't you care that he's willing to fight to keep you?"

"Why would I care?" I asked with brows raised high. "It isn't as if he could die trying to keep me, or that whoever killed him would then be entitled to claim complete possession of me. It isn't even as if he has one fight already lined up, and wanted to announce his answer to the challenge by five-banding me. These chains are just cultural decorations, best ignored if not forgotten about entirely. Right, Len?"

"Terry, do you really think you're going to change anything by fighting it?" he asked, compassion joining the calm in his voice and eyes. "Everyone on this planet must know how you feel about being a possession, but Tammad also knows how you really feel about him and he won't let you go. He doesn't mind risking his life fighting for you, and the best thing you can do is accept the risk the way he does."

"Accept it?" I exploded, furious that he'd even suggest such a thing. "Accept the fact that he'd be dead and I'd belong to someone else? If he died I wouldn't care what happened to me; do you think I could live knowing he was dead because of me? No matter how happy he was to take the risk? You'd better know I won't stand for it, Len. Do you hear me? I won't stand for it!"

I'd exploded so far out of control again, I didn't realize what was happening until it was almost too late to stop it. My shield had thinned further and further until it was totally gone, and all the fury and rage and frustration I felt came pouring out of my mind at Len, covering his shield and bearing down hard. His handsome face twisted as though he'd been stabbed with a knife and his right hand went up in a feeble gesture, as though my mental onslaught could be stopped by physical means.

His mind resisted mine for no more than seconds, and then he collapsed back on the ground at the same time that his shield gave way. But his shield fell inward rather than fading, and the oddity of that caught my attention enough so that I suddenly realized what I was doing. I cut the projection an instant before it touched him, then discovered that I was trembling all over, the infamous cold sweat covering me in a way I'd always considered to be pure fiction. Close calls were supposed to bring on that sort of reaction, along with the pale face and closed eyes that had settled on Len. I took a shaky breath and put a weakened hand to my head, wondering if I looked as bad as he did.

"Len, I'm sorry," I said after I'd wet my lips with a dry tongue. "I didn't mean to - whatever it was I did. Are you all right?"

"I'll let you know as soon as my heart starts beating again," he gasped, opening his eyes to struggle back to an upright position. Once he was sitting again he ran both hands through his hair, then looked at me bleakly. "Do you have any idea what that felt and looked like from my end? I don't believe I'm still in one piece."

"I think I'm afraid to ask," I mumbled, paying a lot of attention to the pond and the bushes and grass around it. My abilities were growing on Rimilia, but not in a nice, slow, acceptable fashion. Anger and fear seemed to trigger that growth, leaving me to find myself doing things I'd never even considered doing - or thought that I could do - before it happened. Coping with the abilities was turning out to be easier than coping with the surprises; deciding whether or not I was pleased to have all of it was another matter entirely.

"It was like a - a giant, rushing storm," Len said, and a corner of the fear he'd felt showed briefly in his eyes. "The lightning had substance and the thunder had weight, and I knew that if it touched me I'd be crushed and shattered, both at the same time. Terry, I don't know what you're feeling because you're shielded again, but if that's what's behind the shield, you'd better get it resolved fast, with or without help. The next time you might not be able to pull back."

"Speaking of shields, let's discuss yours," I said, ignoring everything else he'd said. If I'd tried thinking about any of it, especially the not being able to stop part, I'd have gotten a lot more practice in hysteria.

"What about my shield?" Len asked, not really distracted. "I know it isn't as strong as yours, but it's better than anything I thought I'd have. I never even considered a shield until I saw yours."

"That's at least half our problem," I grumbled, feeling an uncomfortable mixture of anger and frustration and disquiet. "We're conditioned into thinking about our abilities only when we're Mediating, and not much even then. Every time I find myself doing something new, it's a shock."

"It wouldn't be as much of a shock if we also weren't conditioned against experimenting," Len agreed, getting to his feet to move the three steps necessary to get to the pond's edge. "How can we know what we're capable of if we don't experiment?"

I watched him crouch down and put his hands in the water, then raise them dripping to his face, where he held them for a long minute without moving. It was on its way to being a hot, sticky day, but that wasn't why Len had needed the water. I knew why he needed it, but the guilt I'd been feeling was crowded out by outraged indignation.

"Would you repeat that statement?" I said, letting my stare burn into him as I shifted in the grass. "I'd like to be absolutely sure I heard right before I kill you dead where you stand."

He turned a faint frown in my direction, not understanding immediately, then the dawn arrived to erase the dripping frown and fill his light eyes with memory. Not too many days earlier, Len had helped Tammad punish me for the experimenting I'd done, telling me how foolish and dangerous it was for an empath to do something like that. He'd frightened me so badly that I still shuddered when I thought about it; now he had the nerve to complain that we weren't doing enough of the very thing he'd been so dead set against? I opened my mouth to tell him exactly what I thought of him, but he got his parry in first.

"You still haven't said what you were going to say about my shield," he interrupted, letting the words come out calm and interested as he wiped his face with his forearm. "Do you have a suggestion for improving it?"

"The only suggestion I have for you would be anatomically difficult!" I snapped, rising onto my knees with my fists clenched. "You put me through hell, and then calmly decide that you've changed your mind? I think I'll decide to beat you over the head with something!"

"I haven't changed my mind the way you mean it," he said, still maintaining that infuriating calm. "We need to experiment with our abilities, but inside ourselves, not on other people. Experimenting on the people around you is a good way of committing suicide."

"Len, there is no other way of experimenting except on the people around us!" I insisted. "Being an empath means interacting with other people; you can't interact all by yourself! And that shield you're forcing didn't do much to keep Garth with you when you two and Tammad were captured, now did it? You had to work directly on the men who captured you, didn't you? You took a chance to get what you wanted, and it paid off without anyone knowing you did anything, now didn't it?"

"I was lucky," he said, his tone as flat as the look in his eyes was decisive. "I could just as easily have gotten caught - and lynched for it. It's a risk I won't take again until I get a lot better with this sword I've been given, and maybe not even then. Now, what did you mean about my 'forcing' my shield?"

I stared at him for a minute without answering, wishing I could deep probe him without his knowing about it. Was he really that afraid of using his abilities, or was he trying to talk me out of using mine? We both knew I was a lot stronger than he; was he just trying to keep me manageable by scaring me? I didn't know what difference the answer would make, but I would have enjoyed knowing the truth.

"The shield you're projecting is almost a physical effort," I said at last, settling back on my heels. "You're pushing up on a cloud of confusion to hide your thoughts and feelings, rather than using an actual shield. Try relaxing completely and then sensing around yourself. Do you feel something hovering just past awareness, something your mind is automatically pushing away and keeping unformed?"

Len frowned where he crouched by the pond as he searched around inside himself, his search a struggle I could feel as I reached toward him with my own mind. I couldn't help him with the struggle, it was something he had to do for himself, but guiding him was another story.

"You're pushing too hard," I said in a murmur, passing on some calm to ease the tightness and anxiety he was falling into. "Relax a little more and let the sensations come to you rather than chasing after them. Softly, gently, relax and become aware."

"I think I have it," he gasped after another minute, the sweat of non-physical exertion mingling with the drops of pond water on his face. "It's like a sheer bubble I've been keeping at arm's length without knowing it. It doesn't take any effort to keep it away; the effort comes in when I think about bringing it close. Just as if it were on a spring."

"You don't need effort to bring it close," I denied, remembering my own first tries with the shield. "If you try to force it close you'll lose your grip on it. Just let it come close, as if you were allowing the sensation of sweet, fresh air touching your skin to enter your awareness. It's hovering there, waiting for permission to ease close. Give it permission, Len."

His handsome face had tightened because of the struggle, matching the fists his hands had become where his arms rested across his thighs. His entire body showed a forced rigidity - until suddenly it was completely gone, and a look of surprised pleasure covered his face.

"It's easy!" he exclaimed with the delight of a child, his mind now tightly enclosed by a smooth, shining, impervious sphere. "You don't have to hold it up, you don't have to force it; it's the next thing to a magical wish. Decide that you want it and it's there."

"It sure is," I said, for the first time able to examine a shield from the outside. It seemed totally untouchable, and I began to wonder how smart I'd been in helping Len form it. If I couldn't figure out some way of breaking through it, I'd never be able to touch him mentally again without his permission. The thought was beginning to bother me, but suddenly I pushed it away with disgust. The day I became convinced I had to reach and control everyone in range was the day I needed to be stopped permanently.

"It's beautiful," Len breathed, bringing my attention back to the calm pleasure he showed. "Just as beautiful and natural as you are, Terry. I can understand why Tammad would risk his life to keep you. If he weren't around, I'd take a stab at it myself. I still haven't forgotten how good you were in the Hamarda camp."

For the second time that day I opened my mouth to shout at him, but that time I didn't need anyone else to interrupt me. I'd run out of words to say to that particular sentiment a long time ago, leaving me with nothing but a very strong awareness of how much I was wanted for what I could do rather than what sort of person I was. I stared at him for the briefest instant before standing up and turning away, but I hadn't gone more than four steps before he was right behind me, his big hands on my arms pulling me to a halt.

"You ought to know by now that being told how desirable you are isn't something you can run away from on this world," he said, his tone more amused than annoyed that that was exactly what I'd tried to do. He turned me around to face him again, but his grin faded and died when he saw the silent tears rolling down my cheeks. I may have hated that world and its ways, but in that one respect it was no different from any other world in the Amalgamation. Everyone wanted me - but not for the right reasons.

"Terry, why are you crying?" Len asked, gently pulling me closer to his chest and putting his arms around me in comfort. "You know I won't touch you without Tammad's permission, and neither will any other man around here. I was just trying to tell you how I feel, in the way that's most natural in this culture. It's supposed to please you - not make you cry."

His hand coaxed my head down onto his chest, but I stood there stiffly even as the flow of tears increased, beyond all comforting and consolation. The pretty green and gold day had become covered over with the dingy gray of personal disillusionment, one I couldn't bring myself to accept. Even Len - who should have been an exception - wanted me only for my abilities. Len's breath drew in sharply as his mind touched mine, and then his hand was at my face, raising it to the concern in his eyes.

"Why are you hurting like that?" he demanded, his new shield quiveringly ready to snap tight. "Nothing I said should have caused you such pain! Terry, tell me what I did to hurt you!"

"You didn't do any more than anyone else," I whispered, pushing at him to make him let me go. "You and Tammad and Daldrin and Garth, and everyone else in the whole damned universe. Let go of me, Len, I've got to be by myself for a while."

"You've been by yourself long enough without it doing any good," he said, tightening his grip to hold me where I was. I struck at him with my mind, but his shield was suddenly there to bounce me off harmlessly. "And that won't do you any good either," he said, referring to the shake I'd given his shield. "You weren't faking that pain, and I'm going to know what caused it. Now."

"Sure," I nodded, ignoring the way his hand wiped at the wetness on one of my cheeks. "As if it'll make any difference. Tell me why you suddenly find me so desirable, Len."

He hesitated briefly as he looked down at me, trying to see into me with his eyes rather than his shielded mind, then gave up the useless effort.

"I've always found you desirable," he said, making it sound like a comment on the weather. "When I finally got to use you that night it didn't end those feelings, it reinforced them. If you expected me to lie about the pleasure I felt, or act ashamed and pretend it never happened, you're living in a dream world. I enjoyed having you under me, moaning and squirming and trying to pretend that you weren't having just as good a time as I was. If it were my choice I'd do it again, here and now or wherever else we happened to be. Your mind welcomed me as warmly as your body did, and that was something I'd never had before, even during the times I'd taken a woman when awakened. Why shouldn't I find you desirable?"

I looked away from him as I felt my cheeks flare with heat, wishing he hadn't been so cold-bloodedly graphic. In point of fact he'd raped me that night, just as Garth had, and as far as I was concerned, it didn't matter that he'd taken the trouble to make me enjoy it. But according to the laws of that world it hadn't been rape, and my own opinion to the contrary didn't matter; even if I had responded to him, even if he hadn't hurt me as he could have; it still wasn't right.

I said, "It strikes me as odd that you didn't mention how desirable I was until after I helped you with that shield. Someone with an overly suspicious mind might have jumped to the conclusion that my desirability lay more in what I could do for you that way than in any other area."

"Why, that's utterly ridiculous," Len laughed, but the laugh seemed a shade too hearty, and his shield stayed tightly in place. "If you won't take my word for it, just ask any man around here. You're a beautiful woman, Terry, and attractive even beyond that. Why else would so many men be interested in you?"

"So many men," I echoed, seeing the difficulty he was having in keeping his gaze on mine. "Men like Garth, who considers important women a personal challenge, or like Daldrin, who had a taste of what a female empath could do for him in the furs, or Tammad, who needs an empath he can control, to help him build his shiny new world. Are those the admirers you're talking about, Len? At least you've added your name to a distinguished roster."

"All right, maybe I was thinking more about you as an empath than as a woman," he suddenly admitted, his gaze now steady as he let me go. "But you can't be serious about adding Tammad's name to that list. Terry, he's crazy about you, and you damned well ought to know it. What more does he have to do than he's already done?"

"Ah, all those wonderful things he's done," I nodded, folding my arms. "Like kidnapping me from Alderan, and dragging me along with him against my will, beating me to make me obey him and trying everything he can think of to get me to work for him. But he's succeeded in one thing I can't deny, and that's hooking me good and proper. That's why I can't believe anything he tells me."

"Come on, Terry, you're a trained Prime," Len protested, a mixture of frustration and upset in his eyes. "Are you trying to make me believe that you can't read Tammad well enough to know whether or not he's lying to you? Even I could do that!"

"That's because you're not in love with him," I muttered, turning away to stare at the faint footpath leading away from the pond and through the trees, back toward Aesnil's palace. "If you were in love with him, everything he said would be weighted down with the lure of possible truth, a truth you couldn't quite make yourself believe in. If you believed him and it was true, your life would be paradise from then on through forever. But if you believed him and it wasn't true, the - horrible, unending pain - I've already had a couple of tastes of that, Len. I think another taste would kill me."

I didn't realize I'd closed my eyes until his hands came to my arms, silent compassion and a pain-sharing flowing from his mind to mine. It seemed particularly odd that I, who could generate trust in anyone around me, couldn't find any of that precious quantity for the one man in the universe I would give my life for. I tried to hold back my reaction to that feeling, but I'd held it back so long that it was overwhelming. Too much of it exploded from my mind - right at Len, who was wide open and entirely off guard. His strangled, tormented cry spun me around, just in time to see him fold bonelessly to the ground, his hands falling limply away from his head where he'd frantically pulled them. I stood rooted for one eternal instant, then turned and ran back up the path.

My race through the bushes and trees was one big blur of green and brown, punctuated by the reaching out of branches and roots, tearing at my gown and tripping my feet. The stroll out to the pond had taken about ten minutes; racing back at top speed took hours longer. I was on the verge of collapsing along with my lungs when I burst through the small side door of the palace, startling the guards so badly that they nearly drew on me before they realized I wasn't attacking. I tried to speak through the heaving and gasping of my body, discovered it was impossible, then tried again anyway, waving my arm back in the direction I'd come from and mewling incoherently.

The idiots didn't understand the gestures or any of the single words I managed to force out, and when heavy, hurried footsteps brought more men on the scene, I found out why. The newcomers were Tammad's l'lenda, led by Loddar, a man of enviable composure. His immediate appearance with the other warriors from Tammad's city let me know they'd probably been looking for me, and he stopped in front of me to put his hands on my shoulders.

"Calmly, wenda, calmly," he soothed, speaking the Rimilian language with deliberate slowness. "Neither these other l'lendaa nor we understand the tongue of your people. You must speak in our tongue if we are to assist you."

"Out - by the pond," I gasped, this time speaking Rimilian in between panting. "Lenham - I have caused - him harm. You must - help him."

Loddar frowned, but he turned to look at one of the three men stationed at the door.

"Do you know the location of this pond she speaks of?" he asked. "I would have her guide us to the place, were my denday not awaiting her return. The man in need of aid is a brother of ours."

"The pond is easily found," answered one of the three, a man as large and blond as all Rimilian males were. The three guards wore baggy trousers and loose shirts and leather sandals rather than the simple haddin of Tammad's l'lendaa, and all three were sweating. "You need only follow the clear path into the small woods, which lies beyond the garden without this door. The path will lead you to the pond."

"My thanks, l'lenda," Loddar nodded, then turned to the four men with him. "Do you hasten to this pond and search out Lenham," he directed in a low voice. "When you have returned with him, bring word to the denday of how he fares."

"Plittar," answered one of the four for all of them, a casual word carrying the general meaning of "anything you say," with uncaring shrug appended, a word never used to a denday. They turned then and left the palace, stretching their stride but not really hurrying. If I'd had the breath I would have screamed at them to move faster, and then I remembered I didn't need to shout or scream.

I reached out to their four minds and planted a strident sense of urgency in front of their attention, and had the pleasure of hearing their steps turn into a trot before Loddar's voice brought me back to the palace corridor.

"Is that where you had taken yourself, wenda?" he was asking, the disapproval he felt carefully missing from his tone. "You did not ask the denday's permission before departing, nor were you properly escorted. Tammad will not be pleased."

I could have answered him if I'd had to, but I used my continuing need to take deep breaths of air to maintain a momentary silence. Loddar had been better to me than most people on that world - not good, but better - and didn't really deserve the sort of answer I'd been about to snap at him. I drew in three breaths, then a fourth, then finally nodded at him.

"You are surely correct in all that you say," I agreed, keeping my tone as unaccusing as his had been. "Now, as there are other matters awaiting me, I must leave you."

I began to turn away from him, prepared to leave things as they stood as long as he did, but he didn't leave them that way long. Even before I was fully turned away, his hand came to my arm.

"Wenda, there is no more than one matter awaiting you," he said, his still-calm tone tinged with the beginnings of annoyance. "Tammad awaits you, and will be kept waiting no longer than the time required for me to take you to his chambers. What awaits you beyond that is for the denday to speak of."

I turned my head back to look at him, letting no expression show on my face. The first and easiest step was to soothe his annoyance, and then I was able to work. His strong sense of duty needed accomplishment-already-attained to weaken it, but once that was done the unconcern and indifference were slid in its place without his fighting them. Loddar's emotions were of a chore successfully accomplished, and his uncritical, reasoning mind followed right along, accepting the feelings as natural and unarguable. His hand left my arm as he turned away, already forgetting about me, looking toward the doorway out as though considering the idea of following the men he'd sent after Len.

I turned again in the opposite direction and walked up the corridor, aware of the stares and fear coming from the three door guards, but too weary and disgusted to worry about them. The guards had undoubtedly heard stories about me from others of the palace guard, about my secret powers and how I'd used them for their Chama Aesnil. That fearful people often removed the object of their fear with violence made the situation a dangerous one, but at that point I couldn't have cared less. I was so upset and confused it was a miracle I'd been able to work through it.

The palace corridors were large and airy and beautiful, but I saw little more than my own inner turmoil as I walked, my outer awareness touching only the route I took to the destination I'd decided on. Tammad was probably in the apartment which had originally been mine, and he was the last one I wanted to see just now. I needed a quiet place to sort out my thoughts and try to understand what was happening to me; quiet was not what I'd find around Tammad.

I walked the smoothly polished stone of the corridors, passing silent guards and hurrying slaves, ignoring them all as I ignored the walls and rooms and courtyards I passed. I was intent on only one room, a room I'd appropriated once before, and it was a good distance away from the entrance I'd come in by.

Reaching the room and slipping inside was both a relief and a surprise, the surprise centering around the fact that I'd met no others of Tammad's men on the way. I didn't know how many of them he'd sent out looking for me, but even the ones who hadn't been sent out would have known enough to stop me if they saw me. I leaned on the door to make sure it was closed, then walked toward the lightly curtained windows.

The room wasn't as large as the suite Aesnil had given me, but the pale yellow fur carpeting on the floor was thick and soft, the number of fat brown cushions scattered around and piled nest-fashion more than adequate, the wide, deep pile of bed-furs invitingly comfortable, the windows wide and tall and streaming yellow sunshine behind the sheer yellow curtains. It was a warm, attractive room, designed to please the senses, but there was no pleasure in me as I walked through it and stopped in front of the windows.

Putting a hand out parted the sheer curtains enough to let me see the chasm the room looked out over, a drop of more than a hundred feet through empty air to a bottom I couldn't quite see. I felt as though I were falling through all that air, helpless to stop or change direction, a victim of forces totally beyond my control. Abruptly I turned away from the windows, hurried with head down to the nest of brown cushions, then let myself drop into the middle of them.

"What if he's dead?" I whispered aloud, closing my eyes against the terrible pain the question produced inside me. "What will I do if I killed him?"

The empty room gave me no more of an answer than my own mind did, the total silence increasing the illness I felt. Len had been trying to help me and I'd hurt him, possibly even destroyed him. I didn't know what to do with the power that was growing so strong within me, didn't know how to control it to keep the people around me safe. If I hadn't had so many things upsetting me I might have had a chance to learn, but it had been so long since I'd felt anything remotely like calm, I almost couldn't remember what the emotion was like.

Everything worked against me on that world, the people, the dangers, the involvements, everything! I picked up a cushion and hugged it to me, watching the window curtains begin to move to the urgings of a breeze, more miserable than I'd ever thought it possible to be. If Len was dead I'd have to kill myself - if I could find the nerve to do the right thing in the midst of all the blunders I'd made. I lay back and put the cushion I was holding over my head, hiding myself from the sort of world I'd never wanted to be a part of.

I didn't fall asleep, but time passed in long strides without my noticing it, more than an hour slipping away behind non-thinking semi-oblivion. It would have been good continuing on like that forever, but the sound of the door opening dragged me back to unpleasant reality. I knew instantly that it was Tammad who came in, but didn't move or speak even to demand how he'd found me.

His emotions were a blend of relief and annoyance and concern and a few other things I couldn't resolve, and all I could feel was disgust with myself. After all that had happened, the first thing I did when someone else showed up was reach out to touch them with my mind. I had long since begun sweating under the cushion over my head, but I didn't move it away even when Tammad stopped in front of me, cutting off some of the strengthened breeze from the windows.

"Terril, what do you do here?" his voice came after a minute, his mind working toward making his tone sound calm. "Lenham has awakened with a great ache in his head, yet his first words were a questioning concerning your well-being. For what reason was he concerned with your well-being?"

"For the reason that he's a fool," I mumbled into my cushion, resisting the urge to stir in discomfort. "If he weren't a fool, he'd never come near me or think about me again."

I was sure he hadn't heard my nearly private comments, but a surge of anger flared in his mind, and then the cushion was suddenly gone. I blinked back the brightness to see him crouched in front of me, forever broader and more well-muscled in reality than any memory made him. Standing straight he was more than a head taller and nearly twice as wide as I, his long, shaggy blond hair so perfectly a part of him - and so perfectly misleading. With leather wrist-bands and sword belted at his waist and dark green haddin he was the picture of a backward, thoughtless barbarian; backward and barbarian he might be, thoughtless he certainly was not. The thoughts in that shaggy head were more intricate than even I knew, and I seemed to know more of his plans than anyone else on the planet - or in the Amalgamation.

"That something disturbs you is more than clear, wenda," he said, reaching out a broad hand to smooth aside my sweat- dampened hair. "We will first speak of what disturbs you, and then we will speak of what occurred between you and Lenham. I do not care to see you so distraught."

"Distraught is becoming a way of life," I answered, wondering for the thousandth time why those light blue eyes of his affected me so strangely. The weight of their stare seemed to press me down to the size and ability of a helpless child, especially when he was angry. It was true that he was more dangerous than any being I had ever met, but there was more to it than that, considerably more.

"That is scarcely the response I sought," he said, putting a little more stern into his tone and stare. "There has been enough of misunderstandings and unvoiced distress between us. You will learn to speak freely to me, so that we may see to your unhappiness together. Now, tell me what disturbs you."

"Wasting my breath repeating things disturbs me," I said, hating myself for the faint tremor in my voice. "I don't want to be banded, I don't want to be held here against my will, I don't want to be fought for, I don't want to be used, and I don't want to stay on this world. Now that you know what's disturbing me, go ahead and fix it."

"Wenda, what battles a man fights is for his consideration, not for the consideration of his wenda," he said, the reproof in his voice milder than the annoyance in his mind. "That this Daldrin and I choose to face one another is of concern to no other save ourselves. The choice belongs to 1'lendaa, and we are l'lendaa."

"Of no concern to anyone else?" I screeched, sitting up amid the cushions to stare at him. "Have you two changed the reason for the fight and forgotten to let me know? The last I heard it was winner take all, with me as the all. Are you saying that I'm now free to decide on my own future, no matter who wins?"

"I have said nothing of the sort," he returned, still somewhat patient but only just barely. "You are my woman and will remain such, no matter that your humor changes with each turn from darkness to daylight and back again. I now know your love for me is as deep and complete as mine for you, therefore will you remain beside me as long as life is left to me. And this Daldrin has not yet even drawn sword from scabbard; why do you insist upon seeing me as bested?"

I opened my mouth to answer him, closed it again, then blew out a breath of vexation. How do you answer a black and white question when any possible answer has to be gray? The barbarian's expression was calm and reasonable, nothing to jeopardize the calm and reasonable stance he'd taken; if not for the gleeful satisfaction in his mind, he might have had me cornered. Instead of letting myself be cornered, though, I decided to counterattack.

"What makes you think it's you I'm worried about?" I asked, pleased at the immediate disappearance of his satisfaction and glee. "If not for Daldrin's sense of honor and willingness to help, I would have had a lot more trouble here than I did have. You demanded what was yours by right and got chained up for your trouble. He kept quiet and got done what had to be done."

A thick physical silence descended as those blue eyes stared at me, but the level of mental noise increased almost to ranting range. Outrage was the most prominent feature of the group, interlaced with anger and jealousy - and a good deal of confusion. I kept my eyes on his, pretending I didn't know what he was feeling, hoping he would decide I really wasn't worth fighting for after all. A decision like that would have made my efforts worthwhile, but I must have forgotten for the moment who I was dealing with. The level of frustrated annoyance in his mind rose higher for a minute, then his usual calm was forced through to cover everything else.

"You seek to make me believe your concern is for this Daldrin?" he asked, considering me in a way he hadn't done earlier. "Perhaps, then, your feelings for him are stronger than any you possess for me. Perhaps it would be best if I were to unband you and sell you to him."

"Sell me to him?" I blurted in outrage, knowing he was deliberately pushing me off-balance again but unable to stop my reaction. I tried to vocalize the outrage, found myself gibbering like an idiot, then lapsed into seething silence when I saw the barbarian grinning at me.

"You seem to dislike the possibility of being sold to another, wenda," he said, reaching toward me again to touch my face and the side of my neck. "Should it truly be your desire to remain mine, you must continue to interest me. You have done little lately to command my interest."

"I would love to tell you what to do with your interest!" I snapped, pushing at his hand as I moved away from the caress. "How dare you talk about selling me as if I were a - possession! I'm a Prime of the Centran Amalgamation, and happily not a native of this backward, barbarian world! I demand that you take me back to my people immediately!"

"Why do you insist upon giving yourself unnecessary pain, hama?" he asked with a sigh, no longer grinning. "You are indeed my possession, mine to do with as I please no matter your origins. Should I choose to sell you to another, that choice, too, is mine. I, however, do not choose to sell you to another, therefore will there be battle between this Daldrin and me. You had best accustom yourself to these truths, wenda, else happiness will never find you."

He continued to crouch in front of me, his eyes filled with compassion, his mind seriously concerned. He believed everything he said and really wanted me to accept it, but the situation was something I would never accept.

"I won't be owned," I grated, feeling my right fist clench against the cushion it leaned on. "I won't be ordered around or sold or used, and I especially won't be fought for. You can't ignore the fact of what I've become, something beyond a woman you can control."

"You now consider yourself something other than a wenda?" he asked, raising one eyebrow. "Was this not what you originally wished to be considered, no more than an ordinary wenda? Was I not condemned for seeing you as more? First I am reviled for seeking the possession of a Prime, and now I am reviled for seeing no more than a woman? Do you attempt to try my patience to its limit, woman?"

His blue-eyed stare had hardened considerably, a perfect match to the greatly increased annoyance in his mind. I stirred against the cushions in faint discomfort, but refused to back down.

"Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about," I answered, wondering if I sounded as defensive as I was beginning to feel. "You know very well that I wanted to be seen as a woman rather than as a tool, something you still haven't managed to accomplish. I did not want to be owned and ordered about and fought for as though I were a prize seetar! It's a manner of treatment I won't allow no matter how you try justifying it!"

"You speak as though you mean to defy me, wenda," he said very softly. Those blue eyes were directly on me, totally lacking the softness his voice held. "Do not mistake my attempts to aid you in your distress for license to do as you will. The darayse, the non-men of your land, are not to be found here in mine; here wendaa do as they are bidden, just as you will do. You may speak of disobeying me if you wish; do not think to attempt the reality."

"Why, you miserable barbarian!" I said, suddenly seeing the light. "You weren't ignoring what I said about going home and not obeying you or working for you, you were humoring me! The poor, helpless little female is upset for some strange reason, so the big, strong warrior, in his generosity, decides to spoil her a little. Let her ramble on about what she will and won't do, let her fool herself into believing she's a real person. She won't be punished for any of it - unless she forgets her place so far that she tries to do what she's been talking about!"

I struggled to my feet among the cushions, then looked down at him where he crouched, wanting to add to the flood of words, but too furious to do so. I turned my back on him instead and strode to the windows, seething so hotly I was sure the lightly fluttering curtains were in danger of catching on fire. On top of everything else he'd been humoring me, as though I were someone who had temporarily lost her sense of what was right but was sure to regain it in time if handled gently and with understanding. I was so furious my emotions were beyond description. I stared out at the slightly dimmed sunshine and didn't even see it.

"Why do you persist in anger?" he demanded after a minute from right behind me. "You are not unaware of the doings of this world, you are not unaware of the fact that I mean to keep you. Why must you be forever challenging my authority over you, forever denying my right to do as I must and should? Why have you not yet learned that your strength and abilities entitle you to no more?"

"You dare to speak of what I'm entitled to?" I snapped, jerking around to glare up at him. "I'm a Prime of the Centran Amalgamation, entitled to anything I damned well please! Everyone knows that, with the single exception of the barbarians of this miserable world! You have no right keeping me here and forcing me to obey you, and it would serve you right if I decided to take over instead of simply leaving!"

"Again you speak of challenging me?" he asked, folding those massive arms in annoyance as he stared down at me. "I have no interest in further indulgence in such foolishness, wenda. You are able to face me with neither sword nor dagger nor empty hands, a fact which has already been well proven. You are meant to obey me, not I you, and this, too, has been proven."

"Has it really?" I murmured, suddenly tempted beyond denial. I'd found the idea of controlling Aesnil impractical due to the fact that she would be out of my reach so much of the time, but Tammad was another matter. He usually insisted on having me near him most of the time, an arrangement which would make no one suspicious. I had no interest in running the rest of those barbarians through him, but I had a great interest in returning to my embassy where transportation to a civilized world would be available. After that I could find a place to stop and breathe, and think of a way to get them all to leave me alone.

"I don't understand why you keep saying you want me here," I said, looking up into his eyes and reaching toward him with my mind. "What you really want is to return me to my embassy, isn't it? You have Len to read people for you, and Garth to do whatever you plan for him to do, and Gay King to please your body. All you have to do is go and get her, which can be accomplished easily after you leave me at the embassy. Isn't that what you really want?"

A frown had formed on his broad face at the first of my words, his mind immediately beginning to deny those words. I let the denial slide past me, not even touching it, waiting for the faint agreement I knew would come when I mentioned Len and Garth and Gay. The agreement wasn't as strong as I thought it would be, but strength wasn't necessary. Just having the agreement did the trick, letting me grab it and increase it as I smiled.

"You see how nicely it will all work out?" I pressed, expanding his agreement by force against the frown he still showed. "Len wants to work for you and so does Garth. Gay is dying to please you, and will never refuse you no matter what you tell her to do. Since you have all that, it would be foolish to keep one small, useless wenda on top of it, now wouldn't it? A wise man would rid himself of her as soon as possible, wouldn't he?"

His agreement writhed in my mental hands, fighting to change to denial. He stood with eyesight directed inward, his teeth clenched, his no-longer-folded arms tense at his sides with straining fists. I felt the sweat break out on my forehead as he fought me, shocked that he was able to resist as much as he was doing. The last time I'd fought his mind I'd won easily, brushing aside his mental strength the way he would brush aside the physical strength of someone not quite his giant size. Mentally I was his superior; how was it possible for him to resist me like that?

"Just think how good it would be to have no one around to oppose you!" I gasped in desperation, trying to thrust delight in to bolster the wavering agreement. "Everyone around you doing exactly what you say, more than pleased to obey completely! The one bane of your existence would be gone, and you'd never have to see her again!"

Red-hot rage suddenly exploded in his mind, crashing through the wavering agreement I held, shattering my grip and back blasting into my wide-open mind. I choked and clutched at my head, barely feeling it when my knees hit the carpeting, wrapped in a yellow-red blaze of pain that didn't even let me scream.

I writhed in the conflagration, fighting to breathe, and just as quickly as it had come it was gone, leaving behind a booming throb of an ache interspersed with stabbing pains. My body wilted with the withdrawal of that unbelievable pain, and I would have collapsed to the carpeting completely if two strong arms hadn't caught me. Somehow, unbelievably, I'd lost to him again, and the magnitude of that loss was unbearable. I tried to shout against the words coming at me behind the thunder of surf, but I lacked the strength even to moan. Blackness developed due to the frenzy of the attempt, and gathered me in completely.