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didn't know how the organelles worked, they knew that the microscopic healers worked much better on injuries than on long-term illness. Yet Burell's incapacity had been sudden and severe. It was most strange.

Elric knew that Ing-Radi had offered to try to heal Burell's illness, but Burell had declined. When he had heard she intended to attend this convocation, he had assumed she had recovered, at least partially. It was clear to him now that she was even worse. Although she had always been partial to the occasional naked slave man, this ostentatious display was far beyond anything she had done before. It had obviously been created to camouflage her condition. She was unable to walk.

The slave men at the front of the procession passed by Elric and Alwyn, curving off toward the side of the tents. When Burell arrived in front of Elric, the slaves stopped and lowered her sedan chair to the ground. She planted her palms flat on the arms of the chair in preparation to rise. Elric dropped to his knees to preempt her. "My queen." He took her hand, kissed it. Burell had her pride, and perhaps something more.

Her eyes widened. "If I'd known this is what it took to get a reaction from you, I'd have done it twenty years ago," she said.

"If I'd known you'd wanted a reaction from me, you would have gotten a reaction from me." Elric resisted the urge to use his sensors to examine her condition. It was improper for one mage to secretly use his powers on another. Without that basic etiquette, the mages would never agree to meet.

Burell noted the crowd that had gathered around them and withdrew her hand, keeping her voice low. "Privacy would best serve what I have to tell you." Her hands were now clenched in her lap. "I know you are busy, but it is a grave matter."

"I will
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