Outer Flower, 17

The Shautu’s Orders

Laveth threw her a frightened glance. Was she the only one not in danger of losing her mind?

“How dare he?” Laveth caught her breath, fear flaring into anger. “This Shautu does not deign to fetch a King’s son himself but sends a smelly hunter to dump the news in our laps? He may be versed in the stars, but he has much to learn of manners.”

“Oren says the earth child must come now because of the danger,” Mirella told her. The Shautu says he must leave immediately along with a Third Stripe.” She shrugged apologetically. “I don’t know what a Third Stripe means but I know I got it right. Oren is to return with both.”

“Oh, so now we have a . . . whatever it is you said, ” With relief, Laveth heard Nan Mara’s contemptuous snort. The old nurse was becoming herself, ready to argue. “That’s a new one. And quite impossible.”

“Elymas also denied the existence of a Third Stripe, Highness,” Mirella added. “The council, along with the Hunter and Ondred, are in the Great Throne Room arguing about it now.”

“What is meant by a Third Stripe, Nan Mara?” asked Laveth. “And what does it have to do with my son?”

“A Third Stripe is one who has traversed the Deep, or one who has the ability to traverse the Deep. After passing a series of tests designed especially for him, he is known by the Elyon. No one can travel father this side of death. Saar was a Third Stripe. There have been none since. It is rumored that the next Third Stripe will be called the Axis, grounding our lands in order and peace.” She looked at the Queen crossly. “These facts are not hard to learn, Laveth. Heaven knows I tried to teach you.”

“And so heaven responds by sending one to my door?” retorted Laveth. “Not now, Nan Mara, no scolding. We are in a fine mess.”

“And a dangerous one, too, if the Shautu has called for protection of the Third Stripe. There must be great evil abroad.” Nan Mara rose, handing the child to his mother. She shook out her skirt, rearranged her shawl. “But the whole idea is preposterous. It’s true the acolytes are here, but none have been tested. The Shautu has read the stars wrong.”

“Oren Whitehair says the Shautu is never wrong,” said Mirella. “According to the Seer, he is among us, though Oren didn’t reveal his identity, nor that of the new Earth Skyll,” she paused, then added. “Elymas was livid at both suggestions, but Oren argued that the Shautu was certain of what he’d seen.”

“The Hunter did not reveal the identity of the child?” Laveth’s eyes gleamed with sudden hope. “The Shautu does not know it is my son with the thickened sole?

Axel Augustus

Mirella, you must begin at once and tell me everything that occurred in the Great Throne Room.”

Order of the Blue Robe

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