© 2011 Jane Kindred

Cillian Rede put little store in the magic of gods, but devils he believed in. At seventeen summers, he'd seen more than his share. Turn left or right and you would stumble over one in the city of In'La; among the marsh grass and the fragrant trees, intrigue and corruption were as likely to grow. Though such contradictions might be less pervasive elsewhere in the Delta, Cillian was accustomed to the devils he knew. And he was well versed in contradiction. From the time he could walk, he had favored the ways of women. With his delicate features, honeyed skin and hair in the uncommon hue of a tawny port, he had no trouble passing.

In the quarter known as the Garden, he worked his artistry as the Maiden Ume Sky. Ume's patrons knew her true sex but left it unspoken. For a sacred courtesan, the gift of one's body surpassed all other considerations. Whatever else her endowments, the Maiden Sky was undeniably lovely and blessed with a gifted tongue.


Among the flowering vines that draped the avenues fanning the square below Ludtaht Alya, temple of the Meer of Soth In'La, one might find a courtesan as easily as a priest. God or devil, MeerAlya was apparently immune to the simple needs of the body, but his templars were frequent visitors to the Garden.

Ume reclined against the gilded carriage stall in front of the Salver & Chalice to await her patron, turning away other suitors with a gracious smile through the gossamer fabric of her veil. Not required to follow the custom by which unmarried women were bound, Ume preferred the tradition, though her covering was more a tribute to the symbol than to its function. The sheer drapes interwoven with delicate threads of silver and gold in the pattern of the House of Alya had earned her the sobriquet the Maiden Sky. Beneath wide amber eyes and a few artful strokes of kohl to frame lashes in need of no embellishment, the veil spoke of whispers in the dark.

A flare of red robes on the tavern steps announced her patron, a member of the Court of Decisions, the highest office among the Order of Priests Templar in service to the holy Meer. This one was a predictable and reliable assignation who paid well. Generous with his master's gifts, if not so much with his own, he would engage her for the full night and ask little in return; Templar Nesre liked to watch.

"Maiden Sky." He pressed her hand to his lips, a tuft of gray beard tickling her fingers as he held them a moment too long. As always he took liberties. His subtle attempts to overstep his status were harmless, and it amused her to humor him. They both knew who held the power in the sacred rites of MeerAlya. He gave her a perfunctory bow. "You look exceptionally enchanting. As brilliant as the evening sky for which you're named."

Removing her hand with a slight tug, she inclined her head, setting the ruby teardrops of her headdress bobbing and glistening amid the iridescent rivercock feathers at the crown. "You flatter me, Templar. I am only a tribute to the dying sun."

"You are too modest, Maiden Sky. Accompany me to my rooms, and we can discuss the resemblance further."


Copyright 2011 Jane Kindred