Astanthe was what they said her name was now. That was what Bartolo had decided and he was the Desideri but here and now she was alone with one of his less literary brothers. “What’s wrong, Starflower?” Rodolfo had taken off her collar and now he took her face gently in both hands and kissed her.
When her mouth was free again she said, “My father can’t win can he? I’ve seen two days of your practices...”
He put a forefinger on her lips. “If there’s a fight, I agree with you. But Bartolo doesn’t want it to come to a fight. Your father would fight for you even if he though he’d almost certainly lose, so Bartolo will make the price of failure more than your father would risk, even for you.” He kissed her again. “The stake Bartolo will demand if your father loses is you and both your unmarried sisters.”
She went still. “What does Bartolo want?” Tears sounded close again and he gathered her in to him with both arms.
“For this stupidity to be over.” She could feel the rumble of his voice through his chest as well as hear him. “We used to be ‘two noble houses alike in dignity’ and this damn feud has pissed that away in what, three generations? If we can stop now there are still things left to recover and people left on both sides to do it.”
“And if we can’t?” She wasn’t stupid. She was trembling. She already knew the answer.
“Your father’s the Strefagi now. If he won’t deal or can’t hold what’s left of your family and followers in line, then our only choice is extermination.” He sighed and gazed over her head at the wall behind her, “Some of the foot soldiers say that your uncle killed honour when he razed our old town house with everyone in it but I believe there’s still a chance for all of us to come out of this...human.”
She looked up as he looked down and blue eyes met red. “Can we? Still?”
“If no-one does anything really stupid,” he sighed, “Again.”