The Star Scroll

Chapter One

Graypearl, Prince Lleyn’s elegant jewel box of a palace, nestled atop its hill in a sculpted setting of lush spring grass and flowering trees. Built of stone that gleamed at dawn and sunset with the subtle iridescence from which it drew its name, it was one of the few princely residences that had never been a fortress. No defensive architecture had ever been needed on the island of Dorval, at peace with itself and the nearby continent for longer than anyone’s great-grandfather could remember. Graypearl’s towers had been fashioned for beauty, not war.

Gardens spread in curved terraces overlooking a tiny harbor where boats sailed out in season to harvest the pearl beds. A small army of groundskeepers kept the luxuriant spring growth of flowers, herbs, and trees from running riot—but no one could impose similar order on the boy who ran an intricate pattern between the rose trees, kicking a deerhide ball before him. He was a slight youth, rather small for his fourteen winters. But there was the promise of height in his long bones and he moved with an agility that older squires had reason to bemoan in games of skill with blunted knives and wooden swords. Dark blond hair crowned a clever oval face whose most vivid feature was a pair of large, fine eyes that changed from blue to green depending on his mood and the color of his clothes. It was a quick face, intelligent and sensitive, with its share of inherent pride in bones which were becoming more visible as his features lost their childish roundness. But there was nothing about him to suggest that he was anything more than a squire fostered to Prince Lleyn’s court for training, released from afternoon duties and playing happily by himself in the gardens. Certainly there was no indication that he was the only son of the High Prince, destined to inherit not only his father’s Desert lands but those of Princemarch as well.

Princess Audrite, wife of Lleyn’s heir Chadric, watched the boy with an indulgent smile. Her own sons had gone to other courts just as this youth had, and returned as young knights skilled in all the graces—not her little boys anymore. She spared a sigh for having missed their growing years, but other youngsters had filled up her time and, some of them, portions of her heart. Maarken, Lord Chaynal of Radzyn’s eldest son and cousin to the boy playing in the gardens, had been one of her favorites, with his swift mind and sunny smiles. But this golden princeling she watched now was special. Made of air and light he was, with a temper like flashfire through summer-dry timber and a streak of mischief that had more than once landed him in trouble. In fact, he ought not to have been excused his duties like the other squires this afternoon, for he still owed her the copying of a hundred lines of verses after a misde meanor yesterday in the kitchens—something involving a large quantity of pepper and an exploding fish bladder. She was not sure she wanted to know the particulars. An inventive mind, had young Pol, and Audrite chuckled in spite of herself. She had chosen a most appropriate punishment by selecting poetry for him to copy; had she specified a hundred mathematical problems, he would have completed them in a wink and considered it no punishment at all.

The princess shook out her thin silk gown and settled on a bench, not wishing to interrupt Pol’s game until she had found the right phrases for what she had to tell him.