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Chapter Fifteen

THE ROOM was very quiet, the lights soft, the air tainted with the odor of antiseptics beneath the comforting scent of spice. On a pneumatic mattress the Matriarch rested, almost mummy-like in her immobility, the withered pattern of her face. Bandages swathed her side and drugs coursed their slow way through her blood. She felt no pain, no trepidation, only a peculiar detachment as if her mind were divorced from her body so that she could ponder events with an objective viewpoint.

She was thinking of Dumarest and what he had said.

He had known nothing of the mirror and its secret so why should he have been so interested in discovering how she had learned of what had transpired between himself and her ward? He had meant something unconnected with the mirror. He had seemed to be trying to give her a message. He

She opened her eyes and stared at Dyne.

"My Lady." His voice was smooth, his face, his very clothes. He stood at the foot of the bed, tall in his scarlet, his cowl throwing shadow across his face. A machine of flesh and blood uncontaminated by emotion. And then she remembered.

"You!" Her voice was a whisper. "You knew what had taken place between them. You could have told the girl."

"My Lady?"

"You were with me watching in the mirror. Just before the phygria attacked. You" She broke off, seeing the pattern as it fell into place, each piece fitting to make an incredible whole. "It had to be you. No one else could have arranged for the exchange. No one else could have told her all she needed to know. You!"

He said nothing, waiting.

"You killed her," she whispered. "After she attacked me you killed her. You had to keep her silent for your own sake. Alive she could have told too much." Her hand scrabbled on the coverlet. "But why? Why should you, a cyber, engage in such intrigue?"

His eyes were cold, relentless, his face as if carved from marble.

"Power? Wealth? Personal ambition?" She whispered the motives which drove normal men into such actions and knew that none of them could apply. The cyber was not a normal man. "But you failed!" she said triumphantly. "You failed!"

"Because of Dumarest," he admitted. "Because of an unknown factor. I told you once, My Lady, that I was not infallible. Always there is the unknown element to take into consideration. But, if it had not been for the traveler, your ward would be dead and her substitute your successor to the throne of Kund."

"Is that why you tried to kill him? You must have primed the phygriaor told your agents to do it. They must have tried to burn him on the journey and stab him during the storm." She paused, chest heaving, cold with the knowledge of how close he had been to success.

"The mirror," she whispered. "You would have changed the setting but I gave you no opportunity. You had no time. Dumarest exposed the plot before you could do the one thing which would have proved him to be a liar." Her mind spun with the unanswered question. "But why? Why?"

He had no intention of giving her the answer. The plans of the Cyclan encompassed the universe and rulers were merely pawns to be moved according to the great design. The Lady Thoth was independent and had no love for any cyber. Her substitute, prepared years ago, was amenable and, better, utterly predictable. More he neither knew nor guessed.

"I shall ruin you!" Anger stiffened the thin voice. "I shall expose you and your Cyclan for what you are. Never again will you be trusted." Her hand lifted, trembled as she pointed. "Go!"

"No, My Lady."

"You dare?"

"If you shout your guards will not hear you." He touched the bracelet around his wrist. "A cone of silence surrounds us. But you will say nothing, do nothing. If you do then I will be impelled to divulge certain facts about you and your ward. The fact that you and she are blood relations, for example."

"You lie!"

"No, My Lady. The girl is the daughter of your grandchildthe one you placed in a position of safety when you accepted the throne of Kund. She should have been killed. No Matriarch of Kund is permitted to have natural issue and you know the law. Instead you took the throne and kept both your romance and its issue a secret. Now you intend to make her your successor. If the truth became known that would not be permitted. And it is the truthI can prove it."

He paused, looking down at her.

"Your silence for mine, My Lady. It seems a fair enough exchange."

She was helpless to do other than agree.

* * * | The Winds of Gath | * * *