Tradition (Sample Pages)

Chapter 1

Vian giggled, just loud enough to irritate Ros, and Mali grinned at her sister. Their younger brother glared at them, then went back to his schoolwork.


Both girls straightened, near identical heads turning toward their father's voice. Vian was some two years younger, but Mali secretly thought her sister was the prettier of the two. "Yes, Father?"

"I need to speak to you."

A faint hint of shadow clouded the room, there and gone too quickly to identify it even as a vision. Mali squeezed Vian's hand and got to her feet, following her father down the long hall to the room he used as an office.

She glanced back as Vian giggled again.

"Stop that," Ros demanded, as the door shut behind Mali. She stood with her back to the door while her father moved to the small desk and chair. He seated himself and fingered a square piece of vellum.

"Mali," he said again, and turned to face her. He looked concerned, upset.

"Yes, Father?"

He moved his chin, gesturing her to the remaining chair set beside, not in front of his desk.

Mali blinked in surprise and settled slowly into it, watching him. "Did I do something wrong?" If she'd done something serious enough to be called to this room for discipline, he certainly wouldn't be offering her a seat.

"No." One hand turned, a gesture of uncertainty. "I received a messenger this morning, with an offer..." He huffed out a breath. "An offer I do not want to refuse, but it will directly impact you. I wanted to speak to you about it."

Mali's chest constricted. It had to be a marriage offer. "Why would you question, Father? You know I will do whatever is best for the family."

Her father stretched out a hand, touched hers sitting on the arm of her chair. "I know. But this is not just an offer from one near our own status—this comes from the high blod."

Mali lifted her head, studied her father. "How high?"

His mouth tightened but he said nothing. Mali nodded. "Then I would be a concubine, rather than a wife." She looked down at her hands. "Father, why did you wish to speak to me about it? You could have told me after you had agreed." He wasn't that kind of Father, and she'd always been glad of it.

"I could have," he acknowledged. "But it would not have been fair to you." He raised a hand. "I want you to think about it, Mali. I want you to determine if this is truly what you want."

Mali looked toward the dark outside the windows, and again brushed away that hint of shadow that might be a vision. She would not shame her father by showing that weakness here.

"It concerns you."

Abruptly he lunged to his feet and paced around the small room, around and around as if he was having difficulty sitting still. "Yes, it concerns me. How did he find out about you? Why you? There must be hundreds of others to catch his attention."

Mali tried to keep her own trepidation off her face. "He could not have seen me." Unless he had visions as well? The thought made her shiver. She stretched a little, touched the square of vellum and looked to her father for permission. After a moment her father nodded, brief and shaky.

She scanned the words. Her eyes widened at the offer-price. For a concubine, it was insanely high. For a wife of a lower status it was high even for the high blod. She touched the seal and shuddered, pushing back the dark images that tried to swarm into her brain. Warning her, screaming that this was dangerous. "Something's wrong."

Father turned his head toward her, his eyes hardening. "Mali."

Mali nodded. "I'm sorry, Father." Of course he would recognize the signs of a vision. "I would like time to think of it."

"Of course." He reached out and took the paper from her, nodded toward the door.

Mali stood in the doorway and glanced back at her father. He sat at his desk, staring at his hands. As she watched he shuddered, his head whipping back.

Mali closed the door and stood in the dark hall. Did Father have visions as well?

The thought made her shiver. Maybe it was the blodline taint after all.
She glanced to the right, toward where Vian and Ros still bickered quietly, and turned instead toward the back of the house. She climbed the dark stairs and slipped into the room she shared with Vian.

The room was dark as well, the fire from this morning long since cold ashes.

A high-blod concubine. Mali studied herself in the mirror and again pushed back what she did not want to see. This Lord Insad must have his choice of many others, why choose her?

People told her she was beautiful, but she didn't see it. She rummaged in the drawer below the mirror and brought out the finely carved box that was her part of her grandmother's dowry. The jewels glittered at her. Her grandmother had not been high blod, but she had been the daughter of a high-blod concubine and her dowry had reflected that status.

Mali slipped on the bracelets and fastened the necklace, trying to imagine herself draped in jewels and a diaphanous gown. She squinted, then shrugged and turned away from the mirror. Vian, now. She could see Vian in a palace, talking to a blod man as an equal. Arguing with him, in fact. The room they stood in was nearly as large as the first floor of their father's house.

It took that long for Mali to realize she was seeing another vision. She pushed it away, but this time she had to struggle. When would Vian ever be in a palace? Certainly she would never visit Mali in the king's house―once Mali was established there, if she wanted to see her family she would visit them.

She was just glad that Vian wasn't seeing these visions. Mali was stronger than Vian in that sense, as Vian was unable to push the visions away.

She needed to think. A high-blod concubine. It was more than she'd ever wanted, certainly. As all children she'd imagined what it must be like to be courted by princes, but the daughter of a mid-blod house would only dream of such things.

She heard Vian's voice on the front stairs, laughing about something with one of their law-sisters. Some joke they'd played on Ros, perhaps, or Sisa's husband.

Mali slipped from their room and down the back stairs, aware only when she slipped out the back door that she still wore the necklace and bracelets.

She ran through the close-in fields and looked back at the house, smiling. Her smile faded as she stopped at the edge of what had once been the formal gardens.

High blod. If she accepted the offer her children would be upper mid-blod, halfway between the statuses of their parents. The marriage would bring her family's status up, partly because of the increased property with the bride-price and partly because of the connection to the high blod. Their father would be able to offer more for Ros's wife, so he would marry into a higher status.

Vian had told her that their father was contemplating the only child of a high-mid-blod house for Ros, but that bride-price would beggar the family without additional wealth. So the match would be good for the family, certainly. But good for Mali?

She walked more slowly, damp grass curling against her legs under her skirt. She'd never thought that she might be given a choice in this. Was Father saying she could choose, or just choose on this one?

Mali stumbled to a stop, glancing back over her shoulder as she became aware of being watched. Someone laughed, an unfamiliar voice between her and her family's House. "Mali!"

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