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By Myranda B. Kalis



Scathan ap Ailil was trying very hard not to fidget. Some coolly reasonable voice in the back of his head told him, in the tired, patient tones of the tutor that, when he was much younger, drilled most of his current manners into him, that if he would *stop* trying so hard and simply allow himself to relax, he wouldn't be having this problem. Of course, that same tutor had quit his father's service in *absolute* disgust shortly after Scathan's eleventh birthday, when he had announced his complete and all-consuming desire to be exactly like the extremely disreputable (and none too distant) great-uncle that had helped establish their family's fortunes in the first place through a dint of active adventuring (in the blackest unfavorable sense of the term) as, among other things, a knight-errant, troubadour, and general dreadfully romantic sort that seemed highly attractive to individuals even less impressionable than sidhe childlings. The tutor, an elderly, utterly dignified Gwydion of middling noble birth himself (though, to be sure, a much younger son) had been thoroughly scandalized, having attempted through fair means and foul, to obscure some of the more questionable activities of Scathan's ancestors; the fact that he had to in the first place served to convince the hapless tutor, more than the Ailil name, more than the unseemly spirits of the two youngest children he had been set to teach, that this particular branch of the far-flung Ailil family tree deserved nothing so much as a nicely sharpened set of pruning shears. And he had told Scathan's father so in a diatribe that enumerated most of the flaws in Scathan's own character as object examples and had ended in the words, "That--that--boy--that wretched child--that hellspawned fiend from the blackest pits of nightmare--will one day come to a bad end and through no fault of my own for I have tried to teach him to comport himself as a nobleman, as a child of the sidhe, as a son of the proudest kith and house in the Dreaming--" At which point, Scathan's father had called for the guards and the tutor was sent running from the walls of Valgalant Keep with a pack of hunting hounds in close pursuit. It had been the highlight of the whole miserable day, and had cheered Scathan's young heart immensely. His father's comment on the situation had cheered him even further. "Behave yourself, boy, and I'll see that you're fostered out to some court where you can make eyes at the troubadours all you like, so long as you mind your lessons and learn which way to hold a sword."

"*And wouldn't he be proud of me now?* Scathan's full mouth curved in a dry little smile. Good to his word, his father had sent Scathan halfway across the Dreaming to a court in the West Country where the troubadours were ripe for the plucking, like summer fruit on a vine, and he had learned substantially more than just how to hold his sword. He had, for example, learned how to slip a long, thin dagger through the seams of armor and padding, just enough to scrape the skin and deliver a lethal wound that would heal before the body bearing it dropped dead from the poison. He had learned how to catch someone's eyes with his own dark gaze and hold them with voice and diction and a thousand unspoken cues while his hands performed an action that would get him hung in most kingdoms. He had learned a thousand subtle ways to deliver or prevent a death, fast or slow, immediate or incremental. Oh, and he'd learned how to use a sword, too, though it was, by far, his least favorite weapon.

Manners, however, had only set in as an effect of his chosen profession, rather than all those laborious hours with tutor when he rather would have been tearing around Valgalant with his sister, fighting imaginary opponents with the wooden swords their father had made, or jumping their horses on the knights' training field, and mostly falling off, to the amusement of the watching guardsmen. The teacher he'd found in the West Country had been satisfied enough with the thin veneer of respectability he used to cover his enthusiasm for life in general--he was young, he was, gods help them all, almost vivacious, and it was only natural that his lust for living would bubble out on some occasions. There were others, however, where excitability was not an asset at all--his current situation being only the most recent example--and, therefore, he had to act more stringently sidhe than was his usual wont. So, in the midst of learning how to silently and efficiently garrote some poor fool that happened to be in the wrong place at the very wrong time or deliver just the right dosage of sleepy syrup to the duchess' guards in their evening ale, he was given extensive lessons on the proper way of addressing the reigning Marchioness' third cousins twice removed over dishes of a delightfully creamy soup containing an ingredient that would cause the guest of honor to suffer a swift and painless demise during the main course. He knew exactly how much and how little jewelry, clothing, perfume, conversation, and flirtation he could get away with in nearly any social situation under the stars, particularly if one of the people he bumped into in a room crowded with servants, guests, and nobles of all imaginable degrees just happened to be the one he had been sent to meet. He knew how to appropriately address any and all reigning monarchs of most realms in the Dreaming, as well as their heirs, high nobles, middling nobles, and lesser nobles, the servants, the guards, the seer, and the courtiers..

He did not, however, know how to take with equanimity the fact that he was currently sitting in the antechamber just off one reigning monarch's throne room with the vague instructions, "Keep him alive, at least until Samhain. I'll take care of the rest."

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