THE MIRRORS! She turned to where it stood then hesitated with instinctive caution. It would not amuse her ward to learn that she was the target of a spy-device; it would amuse her still less to know that the knowledge was shared by the common guards. But that, at least, could be prevented.
"Leave us," she snapped at the women. "Wait outside."
The room seemed larger when they had gone.
"You!" She pointed at the girl. "Stand back. Right back against the wall."
"Do as I say!" The old woman relaxed a little as the girl obeyed. Now, if she were careful to shield the mirror with her body, not even her ward need know of its secret.
"My Lady!" The girl was insistent. "What other proof can I give?"
"A moment, child." The Matriarch's voice was soft but determined. "We shall soon know the truth."
Dumarest watched her as she turned. He frowned, not understanding what she was about, then he saw the old back stiffen, the withered hands clench in a paroxysm of rage.
"You!" She turned, her face distorted, her eyes burning with anger. "You liar! Gua—"
The girl was quick. She sprang forward and to one side, her hand lifting, leveling, something spurting from the ornate ring on her finger. It shrilled across the tent and buried itself in the Matriarch's side. She fell, gasping, still trying to summon her women.
Dumarest shouted as the hand swung toward him. He ducked, throwing himself forward, flesh cringing to the expected impact. None came. Instead there was a sudden, vicious snarl and the stench of burning. Dyne stood, a tiny laser in his hand, the dead body of the girl at his feet. A charred hole in her temple told of the accuracy of his aim.
"My Lady!" Elspeth thrust into the room at the head of her guards. Her eyes narrowed, grew dangerous as she saw the Matriarch writhing on the floor. "Who—?"
"Get Melga!" Dumarest thrust her aside as he stooped over the old woman. "Hurry!"
The thing the girl had fired still shrilled its deadly vibrations, boring deeper into the flesh, destroying cell, nerve and tissue with its lethal song. Dumarest snatched at it with his left hand, tore it free, flung it aside. Smoke rose from where it fell on the carpet, a ring of flame circling a widening spot of ash.
"A vibratory dart," said Dumarest as the physician knelt beside him. "I may have got it out in time."
Melga pursed her lips as she examined the wound. Deftly she fired a pain-killing drug into the Matriarch's throat. Resetting the hypogun she fired three charges of antitoxin around the pulped place where the dart had struck. An antiseptic spray to cover the raw flesh with a healing film completed her immediate treatment.
"Show me your hand." Her lips pursed even tighter as she examined Dumarest's fingers. They were dark, bruised as if caught in a slamming door, the tips seeping blood. The blast of her hypogun terminated their pain.
"Dumarest!" The Matriarch stared at him, her eyes haunted hollows in the withered pattern of her face. Shock had closed the iron hand of age. She swallowed, weakly, gestured for him to come closer. Her voice was a thin reed of sound. "You were right," she whispered. "That girl is not my ward. She must be made to tell what she knows."
"The girl is dead," he said shortly. "Dyne killed her."
She nodded, fighting the lethargy of the drugs, able to concentrate only on the thing of greatest importance.
"Seena," she whispered. "You must find her and bring her back safely to me. Find her and…" Her voice trailed like smoke into silence.
"My Lady!" He reached out, tempted to slap the sagging cheeks, to shock her into awareness. Instead he touched her gently on the shoulder and steeled his voice. "My Lady!"
She blinked into his face.
"The Lady Seena," he urged. "Do you know where she is?"
"You will find her," she said. "You promise?"
"Yes, but—" He sighed as she yielded to the soporific effects of the drugs.