The women’s voices filled the room as they sang praises to the naked goddess. Rainfire sang with them and despised them. She hated hearing her voice swallowed by voices that never spoke a kind word to her. She watched the women nearest the fire sway with their eyes closed and vowed to die before she gave up her own thoughts like that. She had already found that she preferred having warriors wanting to beat her than to marry her. Her fifteen winters made her the oldest unmarried woman in Doune.
Yet she had been waiting for those closed eyes because they showed her that the women were absorbed by their songs and not paying attention to each other. She edged back to the wall, where the shadows of the singing women became one with each other. No one was guarding the doorway because not even Rainfire had ever dared leave the keep while the men were in council. But I am Rainfire and I do as I please. She could barely sit because of a beating from a warrior who saw her watching him with his new bride two days ago, but her father’s short temper over the last few days told her something would happen in this council that she wanted to see.
The voices faded as she ran up the stone staircase to the top of the keep. She heard men shouting and knew that whatever her father had anticipated was happening, but she could not see it because the only window looked along the crenulated wall that surrounded the courtyard, rather than into the courtyard itself. The single light was from the fire in the courtyard, so no one down there could see her slip through the window and huddle against the wall of the keep. A cold wind bit through her shift, but Rainfire was ready to endure far worse to see her father, Keenblade, in council.
Keenblade sat on a steel throne that was slightly inclined toward that of the Director. Their backs were taut, as though they were about to leap to their feet. The fifty-two warriors of Doune sat on the ground on the other side of the fire from them, looking equally tense.
The Director was yelling, “You’re a fool, Keenblade! You’ll get us all killed and still give Doune to the enemy!”
“A fool?” Keenblade spoke quietly, but Rainfire heard more menace than if he had bellowed.
“Yes, a fool! Only a senseless fool would think we can stay here and live!”
Rainfire held her breath for the moment of silence that followed. She released it when her father stood up. She might not have witnessed a council before, but she knew there was only one reason for a man to stand.
“Then I speak for all the fools among us.” Keenblade shrugged off his cloak.
Cover by Manda Benson.