Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

The Wild: Chapter 1

January 11th, 2013

The Wild is my one and only attempt at high fantasy. It’s written in an old-fashioned, formal tone, with old-fashioned heroes, and is quite different from anything else I’ve done. Except for a handful of printed advance-reader-copies (ARCs) created in 2011 to test the market, it’s never been published—until now. I’m serializing it on my blog, one chapter every Friday. I hope you enjoy.

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* * *

~ Part 1: The Snow Chanter ~

Chapter 1

In the city of Habaddon, in the library of Jahallon, a young warrior of Clan Samoket lingered late into the night. A single oil lamp suspended on chains illuminated a parchment book open to a page he had read many times before. He kept returning to it—this account of the long ago night when disaster had befallen Samokea.
Jahallon-the-Undying had been present that night, in the Citadel of the Snow Chanter, but even Jahallon had never unraveled the mystery of all that had happened, and why.

The manuscript told what was known, beginning with the banquet, held that evening . . .

* * *

. . . to celebrate the first visit of Jahallon to the Citadel of the Snow Chanter. As darkness fell Siddél’s thunder muttered and threatened, but the Samokeäns were accustomed to hearing the great Inyomere in his temper and it frightened them not at all. They went to their beds content, certain he would not dare to approach the city.

But beyond all expectation, Siddél came.

It was deep in the night when a great crash of thunder exploded above the Citadel. Jahallon sprang from his bed, to hear the mocking voice of the Inyomere Siddél shaking the stone walls. Long ago, Jahallon had wounded Siddél with his spear and it was for this affront that Siddél cursed him, proclaiming that death should not have him no matter his wounds or his grief; and that his fate would be to witness all the horror of the people’s downfall. But it was Jahallon who had ever after rallied the people in the Long War against Siddél and on that night it was the same.

Jahallon seized his bow and went outside. There he heard the monster roar Édan’s name, and these words “I am come! To see you slain by your own spell.”

Lightning struck the towers and the houses. Roofs were set afire. The thunder was deafening and all was chaos as Jahallon went to seek Édan.

He came too late. The tower where the Chieftain kept his household was aflame. Even as Jahallon drew near, the roof collapsed and sparks rose up as if from a great chimney. So it was that Édan, Chieftain of Samokea, was slain by the Inyomere Siddél, and his wife and children with him.

A madness of fear descended on the people, but Jahallon spoke to them.

He commanded them to gather their children and their weapons even as the walls of the city collapsed beneath the hammer of Siddél’s lightning. Many were crushed by falling stone or burnt to death by lightning fires. Many more were lost as a host of ravening arowl descended on the city. But Jahallon would not let the Samokeäns despair. He arranged their retreat, leading them south to the Glycian River in a running battle against a numberless horde of arowl.

Fewer than half the Samokeäns who had gone to sleep in the Citadel that night lived to cross the Glycian. It was learned later that no watch had been set that night. The walls were left unguarded. If there had been but one alert sentry with a bow, Siddél might have been turned away.

Yet it was not so.

And Samokea was lost to the arowl.

* * *

One hundred thirty-seven years had passed since that time.

The young warrior who read this account was himself Samokeän—a far son of those who had survived that terrible retreat. His name was Bennek of Clan Samoket and though he was just fifteen he already had much skill and experience in the hunting of the blood-hungry arowl.

Bennek was a lean youth of fair height, and not done growing yet. He wore his long hair in a neat braid down his back in the way of his Samokeän ancestors of old. His clothes were made by his own hands from the heavy cloth woven in Habaddon and from leather he had tanned, but the pendant that gleamed at his throat had come to him from his mother, and from her mother’s mother before that. It was gold openwork—vines twined in a shallow triangle, with a flaming sun rising from the downward point—made long ago in the smithies of the Citadel of the Snow Chanter. It was the only thing he possessed that had survived from that time.

For all his life Bennek had lived in the forest of Fathalia, at the eastern edge of the Protected Lands, where his family’s keep stood alone, far from any other settlement. He’d lived there with only his older brother and his cousin—both just seventeen. They might have been there still, but over the winter a rare patrol out of Habaddon had brought news of a muster to be called by the Samokeän captains-in-exile who rode with Jahallon-the-Undying. The boys were the sons of warriors and skilled at hunting arowl, so when spring came they left behind all they knew to venture to Habaddon and seek a place in the army—only to be disappointed in their hopes. The captains declared them too young and too unseasoned for battle. “Go home, grow in strength, and hone your skills.” The army had ridden out without them, embarked on another of the endless campaigns of the Long War.

But the boys had not gone home. They had spent the summer in and around Habaddon, hunting at need and camping on the shore or in the forest, while coming into the city as often as it pleased them. In that time Bennek had read every parchment and every book in the library and studied all the maps. Now summer was nearly over.

He stood and closed the old book, returning it to its place on the shelf. Once again he was last to leave the library. He blew out the oil lamp and made his way into the starlit streets.

Most of the city was asleep, but sentries patrolled the walls, and when he reached the city gate he was greeted by the two women standing watch. The older of them asked him, “Why do you and your kin sleep on the beach, Bennek? Do you not care for our city?”

He smiled. “Habaddon is a fine city, ma’am. But I am Samokeän, and since the fall of the Citadel, we have belonged to the Wild.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I am Samokeän, yet I live within these walls.”

Bennek was startled. Nothing in her dress or bearing distinguished her from a woman of Habaddon. “Then it is your home,” he said softly, and he went on his way.

When he was eight he had asked his mother why they did not go to live in Habaddon, and she had answered, “It’s better to live in the Wild than to live by the charity of our Habaddon friends. You are Samokeän, Bennek. Never forget it! Never forget the homeland we have lost.” That was when she’d taken the pendant from her own neck and fastened it around his, “to remind you.”

Even as he made his way down the steep path to the cove his thoughts returned to the mystery of that long ago night. Why had the walls of the Citadel been left unguarded? What spell had the Chieftain Édan conjured that had consumed him?

Édan had been a great chieftain, more skilled in sorcery than any before him and beloved by his people and by Jahallon. Siddél’s arowl could hardly stand against him and in his day many believed the beasts would finally be driven from the Wild and that the Long War would come to an end. Then came his last battle in Nendaganon. The loss of life had been terrible. When Édan returned to the Citadel it was said he was not the same man.

Bennek looked across the cove to where their campsite was situated among the rocks. At first he could not see it, but as he started across the beach he noticed a figure standing atop one of the many boulders, gilded in the ruddy light of a cook fire. Bennek raised his hand in silent greeting and received a wave in return.

The ocean was quiet, its waves no more than ripples. Starlight sparkled in the water. Even the air was still, suffused with wood smoke and the delicious aroma of roasting fish. Bennek skirted the little fisher boats that were pulled up safe onto the sand each night. As he climbed up among the rocks, the sardonic voice of his cousin Kit spoke softly in the darkness somewhere above his head, “Ah, Bennek, you are so late we thought you had finally found a girl to take you home and feed you.”

“I have had such invitations,” Bennek said in all seriousness as he came around a boulder into camp. “I have declined them though, since Marshal has said we must muster here each evening.” He looked questioningly at his brother, who was crouched in the sand, setting more fish filets to roast over a bed of glowing coals. “Marshal, do you think I should accept instead?”

Marshal wasn’t much for humor, but for some reason a grin flashed across his face. “You would need to let us know.”

Kit jumped down from a rock. He was scowling. “You have had invitations?”

The three had grown up together and looked much alike, as close kin will. All wore their hair in long braids in the Samokeän style and all spoke with a formality learned from their mothers. Marshal was more broad-shouldered than either Kit or Bennek, and had the start of a neat beard on his chin, while Kit had sharper features. And of course Bennek—being two years younger—suffered in height. It was his lot that for as long as he could remember his brother and his cousin had both been at least a head taller than he.

Marshal and Kit were as close as twins. They had been born within days of one another and had never been apart, so although Marshal was soft-spoken and given to careful planning while Kit was so often brash in word and deed they seemed always to know what the other was thinking and they rarely disagreed.

Bennek had never shared in this easy harmony. For him, getting on with Kit took some care. He was sure the subject of girls would not gain him any peace, so he let it go. He had more exciting news.

“I saw a magic spell today.” All his life Bennek had heard tales of sorcery, but before today he had never seen a spell called—and neither had Marshal or Kit—so at once he had their full attention. “It was spoken by a sage. She didn’t realize I was there in the library. When she found out, she was angry. She did not want me to see it.”

“Why not?” Marshal asked. “Was it wicked?”

“I don’t know. It was a fire spell. She spoke it under her breath. I couldn’t make out the words, but I felt a strange presence brush past me. Then one by one each oil lamp was set aflame.”

“Was she Samokeän?” Kit asked.

Bennek nodded. Sorcery was found only among the Samokeäns, who were the descendants of the Snow Chanter, but even among them it was a rare talent—ever more so in the long years since the fall of Édan. “She was very old. The oldest person by far I have ever seen.”

“Did you ask her about it?” Marshal wondered. Bennek had a gift of far-seeing, and all of them wondered if he might have a talent for spell-calling too, but they knew no spells. Until today, they had come across no one else who did.

“I tried to speak to her, but she didn’t want to talk to me. She said if I was meant to know a spell like that, I would find it on my own. Then she left. I haven’t seen her before in the library, and I think now she will make sure I don’t see her again.”

* * *

Bennek and Kit went to sleep beside the campfire while Marshal stood watch. It was their custom for Marshal to take the first watch, Kit to stand guard in the middle night, and Bennek to keep the last watch before dawn.

So out of habit Bennek awakened as soon as Kit touched his shoulder. The fire had gone out, and the only light came from the stars. Taking his spear, Bennek walked a little away from the camp, climbing atop a boulder so that he could get a good view of the cove and the curve of the beach.

So it was that he alone was wakeful in the cold blue hour before dawn when an owl soared across the cove to alight on a pedestal of rock almost beside him, so close he could hear the scratch of its claws even over the sighing of waves on the beach.

Bennek had been leaning on his spear, but at once he found his balance and bowed, for he knew this was no owl, but a spirit that took that form. It was one of the Inyomere of the Wild.

The gray shape of the owl dissolved. In an eye-blink it became a small girl crouched on the rock, dressed in a gown of feathers, with a feather circlet to tame her long hair. The light of lingering stars glittered in her wide eyes as she peered at him, unblinking. When she spoke, it was in a whispery, scolding voice. “Bennek, how long will you tarry here when the wicked arowl still howl in your homeland? Come forth to the hunt before Siddél’s mad beasts devour all the Wild!”

Then the Inyomere became an owl again and leapt away into the air, soaring up from the cove, rising past Habaddon’s strong walls. A sentinel on the northern wall stopped her pace to watch the owl’s flight. All else was still. Even the prayer ribbons that usually snapped and fluttered above the walls hung limp on their poles in the quiet air.

Yet Bennek was aquiver. He turned and went swiftly to rouse his kin. “Marshal! Marshal, you must waken! Kit, you must not laugh when I tell you what has befallen us—”

Marshal appeared suddenly among the rocks, spear in hand. “What report?” he whispered. Kit was a shadow, looming behind him.

“It is no danger,” Bennek assured them. He glanced at the path that descended to the cove. Very soon the fishers would come that way to start another day upon the water, but they had not left the city gate just yet. “An Inyomere came to me just now. She spoke to me.” It was common enough to see the spirits, but seldom did they speak, and never before had any addressed Bennek by name, so there was wonder in his voice as he told them of the owl—yet his story did not rouse in them the joy he expected.

Kit turned to Marshal. “It is just the same!” he said in bitterness.

“The same?” Bennek asked. “The same as what?”

The rising light picked out a troubled look on Marshal’s face. “The very same words we heard last night. This owlish Inyomere came to me at first watch, and then in the middle night she came to Kit.”

“Kit did not say this when he wakened me—he said nothing!—yet you told it to one another?”

“Do not be angry.” Marshal touched his forehead. “Your sight is deepest, and we only hoped you would hear something different.”

“I have heard that we should seek our homeland, and this seems good to me! Marshal, we have been in Habaddon for all this summer. I have read all there is to read in the library and seen all the maps. What is left for us to do? I would have been happy to serve as a warrior in Jahallon’s army, but we were not allowed to do that and the army is long gone away without us. What reason is left for us to stay?”

Neither Kit nor Marshal had any good answer.

“There is nothing for us here,” Bennek insisted against his brother’s silence. “Let us be away. Marshal? You can’t mean to refuse the challenge of this owlish Inyomere?”

Marshal turned back to the cold ashes of the fire. “Bennek, it’s not in my heart to return to Fathalia. Not so soon as this.”

It was true they did not have much to go home to. Their warrior fathers had long ago fallen to the arowl, leaving their mothers to raise them together in the family keep. Their mothers had been as fierce as any warrior of Clan Samoket, teaching their sons forest-craft, hunting, reading, writing and weaponry, but in time they too perished, brought down by a pack of ravening arowl.

In the seven years since, the boys had lived mostly by their own will and wits, and much of that time had been spent hunting the wicked arowl so that the forest of Fathalia remained a wholesome place and the Inyomere there were happy and often seen. But they dreamed of greater deeds.

In bitterness Kit said, “I would not go back to Fathalia though all the Inyomere of the Wild command it.”

Bennek was only puzzled. “I do not understand you. The owl didn’t bid us to return to Fathalia. That is only where we were born. It is not our homeland.”

Then Kit looked at him with sharp eyes, but Marshal laughed in a contented way. He turned to Kit. “It is as I said. Bennek has heard it differently.”

“We are to go to Samokea,” Kit said in astonishment. Still, he could hardly believe it. He wanted to be sure. “We are agreed? That is the meaning?”

“It is clear,” Bennek insisted. “We are called to it.”

Marshal nodded, and though his eyes were merry, he spoke in a whisper as if they were on a hunt. “Jahallon’s captains would not have us, but this is a better thing—to give our service to the land that once belonged to our people.” He glanced toward the bluff, where the early light had begun to pick out the texture of Habaddon’s strong walls. On the path, the first of the fisher folk could be seen, making their way down to the cove. “Let us not speak it aloud again. The good people of Habaddon might make issue of our going.”

Kit was content. “Ah Bennek you require much looking after, but how shall I complain of it when you unravel such mysteries for us?”

“Your complaints are swift enough if I do not find arowl for you to hunt.”

Kit laughed—he could not deny this was true—but Marshal said, “Peace, men. Remember where we are bound, and let us be as one.”

* * *

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The preceding excerpt is from THE WILD by Linda Nagata. Copyright © 2011 by Linda Nagata. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or republished without permission in writing from the author.

Posted on: Friday, January 11th, 2013 at 12:05 am
Categories: Read THE WILD.

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