by Pat Esden
"Maestro Oplontis, this is your glassblower?" The magus' voice sang with
Iseau glanced up from her burn-scarred fingers. Magus Sharad was no older than
she. Not only was he young, but he wore a leather doublet and had an exquisite
sword hanging at his side. He looked more like one of the Doge's guard than the
eastern magus he claimed to be.
Iseau's grandfather took her hand and placed it in Sharad's. "This is Iseau, my
granddaughter, the finest master glassblower in the Venetian Republic. May her
art braid with your magic to bring honor to both of our families."
Sharad's hand warmed hers and his gray eyes lit on every portion of her body.
She glared back, and as she did so she noticed the hint of a blue scarf around his
neck. The same color as the ceremonial tunic she'd been given to wear for this
A prickle ran up her spine. Did this silk bear some significance? By putting on this
tunic was she somehow bonded to him? That was not the agreement. They were to
travel to Venice and create a beating heart for the Doge's dying daughter --
Sharad's lips parted in a grin. "I was told of your skill, but not your beauty."
"I have been told very little about you." She jerked her hand from his.
Her grandfather swept between them. "Iseau has prepared examples of her work."
He fluttered his fingers and two boys appeared bearing an open coffer lined with
deep purple glass twinkling amid its folds.
Sharad and a crowd of onlookers pressed in around the coffer.
Iseau moved to join them, but her grandfather's fingers clamped her wrist and held
His voice was low. "What do you mean by pulling your hand away from Sharad
like that? Are you intent on embarrassing the family the way your parents did?"
It always came back to this -- her parents failed attempt at braiding. Her father,
once a master glassblower, blinded; her alchemist mother left insane. Did what she
risked mean nothing? She lowered her eyes. "Don't worry, I'll honor you."
Sharad faced the crowd and said in a loud voice, "The Doge did not lie when he
said the house of Oplontis could provide me with glass as clear and pure as my
magic requires, and the finest glassblower to shape it. Frankly, I did not expect to
have those needs so thoroughly fulfilled."
He took Iseau's hand. "With Maestra Oplontis's talents the possibility of saving
the Doge's daughter is real." He surveyed the crowd, his eyes narrowing on the
village priest. "And if the church says what we do is unholy then I say: Would a
benevolent God let a child die rather than use magic? Is that not a worse sin?"
Murmurs rippled through the crowd.
Iseau bit her lip. If Sharad was intent on speaking against the church, then perhaps
it wasn't just honor and patronage her family needed from the Doge -- perhaps
what they needed was his protection against the Pope's men.
Sharad addressed Iseau's grandfather. "In the near future I will make time to linger
here in Carpus, but right now I must make haste." He turned to Iseau. "The
physician-magus to the Doge sent his manservant with a message. It's not good --
the Doge's daughter is near death."