Chapter 16
The Interview

One of the Speaker’s servants intercepted Tanis shortly before dawn the next morning as the half-elf strode from the palace to the stables to check on Belthar, his horse. The servant informed Tanis that Solostaran wanted to see him in the Speaker’s anteroom immediately.

But when Tanis arrived at Solostaran’s chambers at the Tower, the guards standing outside the door told Tanis that the Speaker was with someone and that he would be ready for his conversation with Tanis shortly. Tanis thanked them, then slinked down the hall to wait, finding a seat in an alcove.

The door to the Speaker’s office opened, and Porthios stepped out. He nodded to the guard and walked purposefully in the direction opposite Tanis, apparently not seeing the half-elf in the alcove. Tanis let out a tight breath of relief, and when Porthios had gone, he made his way to the door. The guard showed him in immediately, shutting the door behind him, and Tanis swallowed hard, wondering what the Speaker had to say to him.

The Speaker sat at his desk, looking over a sheaf of parchments, an oil lamp casting a pool of light on the papers. The golden trim on the Speaker’s green robes glittered in the lamplight. When the door clicked shut, he immediately set the parchments down and looked up, as if he hadn’t really been reading them. The room, with its glass walls, was beginning to glow pinkish gray in the dim light just before dawn.

“Tanthalas,” the Speaker said, his voice neutral. He didn’t offer a chair, so Tanis remained standing.

“You wished to see me, Speaker,” Tanis said. He couldn’t remember ever feeling like this before in the presence of the Speaker, but somehow, this day, Tanis found himself afraid.

The Speaker nodded. “Yesterday was a trying day, Tanthalas,” he said softly. He stood and paced about the room, his hands clasped behind his back. “I knew it would be difficult to promise the hand of Lauralanthalasa to another, but I had little choice. The promise had been sworn between two houses long ago. Countless agreements, numerous treaties, depend on the elves’ faith that the Speaker of the Sun will always keep his word. What could I do?”

He seemed to be arguing with himself, rather than speaking to Tanis. “Should I have stepped down from the rostrum, been Speaker no longer, to save my daughter?”

Tanis nearly gasped. Abdicate?

But the Speaker shook his head. “And what would that accomplish? Porthios would take my place, and then the promise would fall to his shoulders and little would have changed. So you see, Tanis, I kept the promise. The honor of our house demanded it.” He looked piercingly at Tanis then, and the half-elf involuntarily winced.

“Nor is Tyresian a poor choice for Laurana,” the Speaker went on, and Tanis felt his heart thudding. “So, though I knew it would be a difficult task, I resolved myself to do it, to announce the betrothal.

“Tell me, Tanis, why have things gone this way?” the Speaker asked. “I do not understand, nor has anyone been able to explain to me, how my daughter could somehow have promised herself to the boy I brought into my home and raised as her brother. And for the first time ever, I find Laurana unwilling …” The Speaker paused for a moment, a hand passing before his eyes. But then the moment was gone, and his regal bearing returned. “I find her unwilling to speak with me. Tell me, Tanis. Why does my own daughter defy me?”

Tanis shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said truthfully.

“But you, of all people, must know, Tanis,” the Speaker said, his voice taking on an edge. “You have always been closest to her of my children. And now I find that perhaps you are closer than I thought.” His eyes flashed green.

“No, it’s not that at all,” Tanis said, his heart galloping in his chest. “It was just a game we played, a long time ago, that’s all.”

“A game?” the Speaker said. His voice was soft, but there was a sharpness that left Tanis chilled. “This is a serious matter, Tanthalas,” he said, advancing toward the half-elf, his robes rippling around him. “The integrity of our house, the harmony of the court, the very peace this city is founded upon, are at stake here. This is not a time for games!”

Tanis shook his head, his face hot. He tried to say something, anything, but no words came.

“First Laurana all but defies me before the entire court,” Solostaran continued. “And I hoped that you would have learned from that, that you would have seen the effects of what you’d wrought, for you have always been dear to me, and I’d thought that you respected me. But then I learned that only hours later you were with her again in the courtyard, that she flung her arms about you and kissed you like … like …” The Speaker’s words faltered, but then he gathered himself. His eyes glinted, and his voice was rough. “This is a dark game you are playing with her, Tanis. You are a member of this court and should respect its decrees. You are my ward. You are her brother and she, your sister.”

The Speaker’s eyes went wide, the rage draining from them, leaving his face gaunt. His shoulders sagged, and he grasped the edge of his desk as if to steady himself.

“Excuse me, Tanis,” he whispered.

Tanis helped the Speaker into his chair.

“It’s just that things have been so hard, leading up to this past day,” the Speaker said. He gestured to a decanter of wine, and Tanis poured a cup for the Speaker to sip. “And since yesterday, courtiers have been at me like hounds nipping at the flanks of a stag. And what was I to tell them? That my ward was going to marry the woman whom all considered his sister—in name, if not in actuality? That I would break my word?” He shook his head. “But try to understand. It is not you I’m angry with. It’s the court and its narrow-mindedness, about you, about your heritage.”

Tanis sighed. He desperately wanted to believe the Speaker, and true enough, that old warmth radiated from his surrogate father now.

“I’ve told you the truth,” Tanis said. “I love Laurana, of course, but as my sister. I’m not sure what to do now.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “Laurana can be pretty stubborn.”

The Speaker almost laughed then. At least, a smile flickered across his lips. “Ah, I should have expected it, really. Her childhood playmate has become a handsome young elf lord. What wonder is it that she fancies him? For while he has been raised as her brother, she knows this is not truly so.”

Tanis waited, unsure what to say, but the interview appeared to be over. Moments later, he was back in the corridor, alone.

Kindred Spirits