The immense emerald caught and concentrated the fire of the setting sun into a fierce glow alive with green-gold light. Sunrunner though High Princess Sioned was, and skilled in the arts of the faradh’im, the other rings that would signify her rank among them were missing from her hands. For many years she had worn only her husband’s ring, the emerald he had given her half their lifetimes ago. But tonight she could feel the rest still on her hands, as she’d told Lady Andrade: like scars.
There were others with her in the evening hush who wore faradhi rings. The three circling the fingers of her sister-by-marriage, Princess Tobin, were honorary; nonetheless they betokened considerable if informally trained power. Tobin’s eldest son Maarken and his wife Hollis each wore six rings; Riyan, only son of Sioned’s old friend Ostvel, had four. Had Sioned still worn hers, they would have numbered seven—but she knew quite honestly that her talents and her powers would have merited eighth and ninth rings by now. That she chose not to claim them was indication enough of where her loyalties lay.
She lifted her head and met her husband’s solemn expression. He knelt directly across from her on a broad blue carpet flung over dry grass. A golden brazier rested in the center of the rug. Its wide, empty dish, supported by four carved dragon claws, was polished to a mirror’s gleam. Before Sioned was a golden pitcher and a small matching wine cup. She did not look at the latter very long; she gazed into Rohan’s face and, as always, drew strength from what she saw there.
Rohan was flanked by Maarken and Riyan; Hollis and Ostvel sat on Sioned’s right, Tobin and her husband Chaynal to her left. She thought of the absent others, and the reasons why they were not here. Her son, Pol, was back at Graypearl, safe on Prince Lleyn’s island under the watchful guardianship of another Sunrunner and old friend, Meath. Alasen, Sioned’s kinswoman and Ostvel’s young wife, was at Stronghold, but she would have nothing to do with faradhi ways. Although she possessed gifts in generous measure, Sunrunner workings terrified her. Sorin, Chay and Tobin’s third son, was far away, the only family witness to ceremonies that would tonight create his twin brother Lord of Goddess Keep in Andrade’s place.
The gardens of Stronghold were silent. Princess Milar’s fountain ran dry in autumn. Servants and retainers were within the great keep or the courtyards, making ready for departures on the morrow. Tobin and Chay were going home to Radzyn, Maarken and Hollis to their manor at Whitecliff. Ostvel and Alasen would stay the winter with Riyan at Skybowl to the north before traveling to Castle Crag, where Ostvel would assume his duties as new regent of Princemarch. By tomorrow evening Rohan and Sioned would again be alone at Stronghold, linked to family and friends only by her weavings of light.
A glance at the shadows told her it was time. She rested her open hands on her knees, staring down at the emerald. “According to ritual, Andry will call Fire in front of the senior Sunrunners, and Urival will give him the first ring. Then Air, and the second ring. They’ll pause while Water and Earth are honored, and then he’ll have to prove that he can conjure in Fire. At that point he’ll receive the third ring. Just before dusk he’ll weave sunlight to summon the faradh’im resident at Goddess Keep who wear fewer than seven rings. Once he’s done that, the fourth and fifth will be given. With moonrise he’ll