heard Velio gag as he started to recover.
To the loom—she didn't dare face Velio for a few moments yet—Ilna said, "I have a terrible temper, Master Velio. I'm already doing penance for the evil which my anger drew me into in the past."
She cleared her throat and turned. Casses was holding Velio to keep the president from slumping onto the ground.
"I've just shown you the sort of place to which my anger would consign anyone who called me a whore," Ilna said. "I no longer let my anger rule me, so there was no danger of that happening."
She cleared her throat again, swallowing the lie she'd just spoken. "And anyway, you didn't really mean the insult, did you?"
Velio shook his head. He couldn't speak, and he finally had to cover his eyes with his hands before he could blink away the dryness.
Casses gave Ermand a nudge, starting him off toward the atrium with a spastic jolt. He guided Velio in the same direction.
"We'll leave you to your work, mistress," Casses said in a voice as polite and careful as that of a shopkeeper to a wealthy client. "The endowment won't be a problem, I assure you. We'll have no difficulty finding a patron to sponsor work that you do."
"I'll expect you tomorrow," Ilna said. Her throat was dry. She felt dizzy with reaction to what she hadn't permitted herself—quite—to do.
She didn't belong in this world! She had to stop acting as if she had a right to correct people who behaved badly. She had power, but using her power on ordinary people was like using a hammer to fix everything that breaks. Sometimes a hammer's the right tool, but more often it makes the problem worse.
The guards had returned to the atrium when Ilna led her guests out the back. They opened the door for the councillors without expression. If the Blood Eagles had an opinion of what they'd seen happen, they kept it professionally to themselves.
"Why didn't somebody warn us she was a wizard?" Councillor Ermand wailed to his fellows as they stepped off the porch. Though she was still standing by her loom, Ilna had a view through the axis of her house. She watched the backs of the shaken men as they went down the path bowered by peach trees.
A servant with the ebony staff of an usher trotted around the trio on his way toward Ilna's dwelling. The Blood Eagles saw him also; the younger man turned to catch Ilna's eye.
"Yes, of course I'll see him," she said, answering the guard's unspoken question. She walked into the atrium. The few people who might send a palace usher for her all had a claim on her time.
The usher reached the porch. He hadn't brought a message to Ilna before, so he'd expected to find a doorkeeper. He hesitated, not sure how to proceed when faced with two Blood Eagles and an intense young woman dressed too simply to be a palace servant.
Focusing his eyes past Ilna's shoulder to the empty interior of the house, the usher announced, "Lady Tenoctris requests that Mistress Ilna os-Kenset join her and their friends in Prince Garric's apartments immediately, if it is convenient for her to do so."
Ilna nodded. The words, "if it's convenient," meant Tenoctris didn't see whatever was happening as an immediate crisis. On the other hand, the old wizard wouldn't have bothered gathering Ilna "and their friends," for a merely social occasion.
Ilna smiled faintly. Tenoctris was if anything less given to socializing than Ilna herself.
"Yes, of course," Ilna said. "While you're here, you can help these men and me bring the loom inside in case it rains. It's double width, so it's awkward."
The usher opened his mouth, perhaps to protest. The older Blood Eagle put an arm around the usher's shoulder and squeezed him with a hand calloused from wielding a sword. "Sure, it's your job, boy," he said with a nasal accent from the north of Ornifal. "Just like it's our job. You put that pretty stick down and come help us so you can get right back to sitting on your fanny for most of the day."
Ilna stepped briskly back to the loom