Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


The Wild: Chapter 17

May 3rd, 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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* * *

Mist & River. Artist: Sarah AdamsChapter 17

Marshal bounded down from the rocks, skirting the mountainous carcass of the dire wolf to reach his brother. Kit was there before him. He looked at Marshal with tearful eyes. Lanyon was crouched at Bennek’s other side. She was weeping, and Marshal thought the sound of it would rend his heart.
Bennek was a crumpled thing. He lay draped over the rock, his waxen face turned to the rain. His eyes were half-open, focused on nothing, though every few seconds he blinked. Scarlet blood dripped from his nose and the corner of his mouth. More blood soaked his trousers just where his leg bent at an impossible angle above the right knee so that Marshal knew the bone was badly broken.

He wanted to speak to Kit, for he had never seen such injuries before and had no knowledge of what to do, but Kit had turned away, standing with hunched shoulders and a hand over his eyes. The Habaddon warrior, Bahir, whose arm was bound up in a sling, saw Marshal’s distress. He told Marshal, “Speak to your brother. Give him the comfort of your presence, but don’t move him yet.”

Then Bahir went to Lanyon and he urged her to rise up and come away, “It does him no good to hear your despair.”

So Marshal was left alone with Bennek. He crouched beside him and gently he touched his cheek. “Bennek? Bennek do you hear me?”

Bennek’s chin moved in the slightest of nods, but he didn’t speak or shift his gaze.

“We’ll take care of you, Bennek. We’ll keep you safe.”

Pantheren came climbing up from the meadow—“Let me see him”—and Marshal moved aside.

He gazed at the field below and was astonished to realize the battle was ended. Arowl carcasses were strewn across the muddy grass. Men moved among them, assuring that all were truly dead. One of the Habaddon men lay wounded, but Jakurian was tending him.

Pantheren examined Bennek with gentle fingers, probing the back of his skull, his chest, and his arms. “I saw him fall,” he said, re-calling Marshal’s attention. “He suffered a harsh blow to the head. Only time will tell the cost of that. And some of his ribs are broken, though I think his lungs were spared.” Then Pantheren cut open Bennek’s trouser leg and folded back the cloth. Deep within the torn flesh Marshal saw the white gleam of bone. A hot flush of fear erupted across his skin. Already the leg was beginning to swell.

Pantheren looked up at him. “Get a blanket and lay it on the ground. There’s room enough here to work. You’ll help me wash his wound and set his leg. Then I’ll teach you how to sew up his torn flesh.” He barked out orders to the men on the field. “Sanno! This warrior cannot ride. I’ll need you to make a litter. Fen, you will get me a splint. Kit!”

Kit came, his cheeks wet with tears.

“Take the gray horse I was using and go back to Kesh. See if that house is still open to us. Take Lanyon with you—”

He turned to look for her, but Bahir had taken her away into the rocks. Pantheren went after them, and found her still weeping. Bahir shook his head. “This day has been too much for her.”

“And still it is not done yet.” Pantheren knelt beside her. “Lanyon, put aside your despair. Bennek yet lives and there is much you can do for him and these other men.”

She looked up at him, and through her tears she asked in bitterness, “Do you trust me to do it? For all that I touch and all that I love soon turns to ashes.”

“Do not think on it. You are a Kyramanthes woman. Your mother has taught you the ways of war and how to tend the wounded and I need your help now. So save your tears, and pray that the Snow Chanter will give us shelter again this night.”

* * *

Of all the descendants of Jahallon-the-Undying, the people of Kyramanthes had been most affected by the curse of Siddél. Their heritage had given them many talents of the Inyomere, but it had also burdened them with Siddél’s fiery nature, so that they were ever a rash and passionate people who gave little heed to danger, and who loved the Wild as the Inyomere do and could not bear to be parted from it. It was their choice to live within tents whenever they could, and being few in the vastness of Ohtangia, it became their habit to move often from one valley to another, for they were at home everywhere in that land. But by necessity they had been builders too, and they made many fortresses to which they could retreat when the arowl came marauding.

The men were often away at war, so from an early age each girl was taught not only to read the histories and write the prayers, to farm and fish, and to cook and sew, but also to handle horses, to shoot a bow in hunting and in defense, and to tend the wounded. Lanyon had learned some of the healer’s arts from her mother, and more from Jahallon when she dwelled in his house. So she went with Kit on the sweat-stained gray horse to prepare for the wounded who would follow.

A misty rain was falling. The afternoon had gone soft and quiet as the tired horse went slowly through the wet grass. So much had transpired since their departure from Kesh that it seemed the house of the Snow Chanter must lie at some great distance, but it was not so. Very soon they came upon the place where the trees stood tall at the edge of the plain. The house, though, did not appear to them.

They stopped at the stream to let the horse drink. They were talking of cutting boughs to make a shelter when the scent of wood smoke alerted them. Both looked up—and there before them, as if it had been there all along, was the white house with sweeping red eaves and golden thatch, lovely within a veil of rain.

Lanyon ran to the door and opened it, but the Snow Chanter was not there. Kit hunted around the porch and behind the bath house but they could not find her. “She may still come,” he said without much hope. He helped her carry water and then he returned to the battleground, but before long he was back with the wounded—Kaliel, Bahir, and Alhimbra who had suffered a spear-thrust as he fought from his horse—all but Bennek, who must be carried on a litter.

* * *

The men of Habaddon took turns bearing the litter. Jakurian would have it no other way. To Marshal he said, “We owe Bennek our lives. We were sorely out-numbered this day, and we live now only because he has learned to confound the arowl like Édan of old.”

“This gift has come down to him from Samoket, not from Édan,” Marshal said, in a voice faint with grief. “Know that Bennek has never abandoned his duty.”

Kina trotted beside the litter, leaving Bennek’s side only when Pantheren called to her to scout the path ahead.

Though the clouds were still heavy, the rain relented as they left the foothills and drew near to the cottage. The hour was close to noon and the sun strove to make itself known as a ghostly circle behind the clouds. Lanyon had been watching, and when she saw them bearing the litter she ran through the wet grass to meet them—but the Snow Chanter greeted them first.

The men of Habaddon were much startled at her appearance, for though the Snow Chanter awaited them in a rain-wet field, her garments and even her shoes were clean and dry, and no rain had dampened her golden hair. Jakurian knew her at once as one of the Inyomere. Mistrusting her kind, he reached for his sword, but Pantheren stopped him. “Your mother is Samokeän. Look with her eyes.”

Then wonder overcame him and he folded to his knees. “I know you! You are the Mother of Samokea, Tayeraisa the Snow Chanter . . . though I do not know how such a thing can be.”

The Snow Chanter looked on him, seeming both curious and sad. “Your face I have seen before, for it is so like the face of Samoket that I tremble in remembrance.”

Pantheren said to her, “This is Jakurian, Blessed One, who is the son of Jahallon and of Nurea of Clan Samoket.”

“Well met, Jakurian, though my heart is heavy this day.” Her gaze turned to Bennek. “Here lies my child who has redeemed and defended me, now grievously wounded—”

“Can you help him, Blessed One?” Marshal pleaded.

Tayeraisa laid her hand against Bennek’s cheek. He stirred at her touch and Marshal imagined he saw a blush of warmth, but Tayeraisa told him, “It was Samoket’s will that all should live or die in their turn. So I did not ever learn this mystery.”

Lanyon came running up then, and she dropped to her knees beside the litter. “Bennek,” she whispered. “Do you still live? Show me that you live.”

His eyes fluttered open and his gaze fixed on her—but only for a moment. “You must not leave us, Bennek. I beg you. Please stay with us awhile yet.”

The Snow Chanter took her hand. “Rise up, my Little Sister. There is not time to grieve, for the Long War has come to a dangerous tipping point.”

Lanyon turned to her, wide-eyed, fearing what she had to say.

“Hearken to me now, my Little Sister, my far sons. Hear me, fell warriors of Habaddon. My news is dire. On this day, before the sun rose, I was summoned by one who is great among my kind. He is called Mukarigenze, though if his name is known to the people, I cannot say.”

“It is known,” Lanyon whispered.

Pantheren added warily, “It is known, but rarely spoken.”

The Inyomere of the Wild were of many kinds. The petty Inyomere were most common: small, nameless spirits, confined to tiny realms, and ignorant and uncaring of the larger land around them. The greater Inyomere—and the Snow Chanter and Siddél were among these—were possessed by a pervasive awareness of the Wild, and of each other. They knew one another by name and they spoke together across the Expanse. Some had made the fate of the people their concern, but all had learned from the people the concepts of time and purpose and consequence.

Rarest of all were the fundamental spirits, like Mukarigenze. These were the hidden Inyomere, unconcerned with the people, and unseen by them. The name of Mukarigenze was known to the people only because the lesser Inyomere would speak now and then of He Who Held Up the Mountains. Mukarigenze was weighty stone and dreadful time. He ruled the deep places, and could shake the very roots of the mountains.

The Snow Chanter told them, “It is within the power of Mukarigenze to re-make the face of the Wild: to tear the mountains down or build them higher, to flood the coasts or raise them far above the reach of the ocean, or to shake Habaddon and Hallah and the sad ruins of the Citadel so that not one stone stands any more atop another.

“Such has always been his power, but soon it may be his will.

“As I stood before him, even as Siddél brought his thunder here to threaten you, Mukarigenze said to me, ‘No more.’ He will endure the weeping of the Wild no longer. He told me:

‘Once upon a time I believed the Long War would reveal the intent of the One who wakened us. If the people were meant to live within the Wild, they would overcome Siddél’s abomination, but if they trespassed against the will of the One, they would be destroyed. So I waited and watched. For too long! The Wild can hardly endure its wounds. An end must be made.’

The Snow Chanter looked at Lanyon. “Mukarigenze knows who you are, Little Sister. He knows what you intend. I have prayed to him for time that you may try. But if it falls to Mukarigenze to end the Long War, I tell all of you now that it will not be ended in the people’s favor.”

“It is our purpose to end it,” Lanyon protested. “It is our task. It should have ended this very day, but—Far Mother, please, we will do all we can to make it so, just please persuade him to wait.”

“I will pray to him,” the Snow Chanter promised. “But in the end he will make up his own mind.”

* * *

Bennek was brought inside the cottage, and his litter was placed near the fire, though apart from the other wounded men. Then the men of Habaddon went out again, to the bath house and to tend the horses, leaving Lanyon alone with the wounded.

The fire crackled and popped, while on the stove a great pot of water hissed as it boiled. Lanyon took off her wet coat and boots and squeezed the water from her hair. There was nothing she could do this day to sooth or satisfy Mukarigenze but there was much she could do for Bennek.

She got a dry blanket, and gingerly, she pulled away the damp one that was still tucked around him. The gold pendant he always wore gleamed in the firelight. She saw that Pantheren had bound his ribs and set his leg, bandaging the wound made by the broken ends of bone, but scarlet blood seeped through the cloth. Lanyon covered him again with the dry blanket. Outside, Kina paced restlessly on the porch, whining as she passed the door.

As Lanyon was hanging coats and blankets to dry, Kit came in, fresh from the bath house. He went to Bennek and sat cross-legged on the floor beside him, cupping his hand. “Does he look better?”

Lanyon knelt on Bennek’s other side. “It’s the firelight. It puts color in his cheeks, but his face is cold.”

Then Kit was miserable again. “Marshal said the Snow Chanter doesn’t know any spell that will help.”

“Tayeraisa is our beloved far mother, but she is not of the people.”

“You are,” Kit said, sitting up straighter and looking at her with keen eyes. He glanced at the other wounded men, but they were asleep. “Is there something you know to do for him?”

“It will take some time.”

“I will help you.”

She looked up at the sound of footsteps on the porch. The door opened, and Pantheren came in with Jakurian.

Lanyon had been surprised to learn that Jakurian was Jahallon’s son, for Jahallon had taken no wife in all the many generations since Samoket’s mother died. Until he met Nurea of Clan Samoket it had been the common belief of his people that he would never marry again.

“Lanyon, come,” Pantheren said. “Jakurian would speak with you.”

So she arose and bowed to him, and he bowed to her in turn. “I have heard your story, Lanyon Kyramanthes, and I have seen your face before, in a painting that hangs within my father’s keep.”

“Jahallon said he made such paintings to help him remember the past.”

“That is still his way. Lanyon, I thank you for tending my men.”

“The people care for one another, War Father. It is our way.”

She returned to Bennek, kneeling at the head of the litter. Kit watched her closely. “I will help you,” he said again.

“I have a healing spell. I do not know if it’s strong enough—”

Try it.

She nodded. “These Habaddon men are not accustomed to sorcery. They may be fearful, and I cannot be interrupted.”

“I will watch over you.”

So Lanyon placed her palms one atop the other on Bennek’s forehead, and closing her eyes, she began a soft chant.

Pantheren had been heading outside to see that the watch was set, but when he heard Lanyon’s voice he turned back. “Lanyon! What spell do you work on him?”

“Leave her in peace!” Kit warned. “She seeks to save him.”

“Save him how? Lanyon, answer me!”

“It’s a healing spell,” Kit said. “You know she wouldn’t harm him.”

Jakurian returned to stand beside Pantheren, who was not satisfied with Kit’s answers. “Lanyon, even the Snow Chanter does not know how to heal . . . though Édan does. Marshal told me what you saw in the thickets. Édan is cursed, isn’t he? Just as Jahallon is cursed. I will not let you heal Bennek in that way.”

Kit rose in anger, but as he did Lanyon’s voice began to tremble. All waited to see if she would speak. She kept on to the end of a long verse of syllables, and then she stopped her chant and opened her eyes. “You think I would do such a thing?” she asked Pantheren.

“Why did you tell us Édan was dead?”

“Because he was! Yes, Siddél has cursed him, but I did not know it until today.”

“There are other things you have not told us.”

“I confess this is true, and I promise I will tell you everything that happened that night—but not now. Please, War Father.” Her gaze lowered, to fix on Bennek’s waxen face. “I think he does not have much time, and I am already tired.”

“Let her try,” Kit pleaded.

Pantheren did not look convinced, but he nodded reluctant agreement. “Very well. But do not reach farther than you can . . . or farther than you should.”

* * *

There was much coming and going throughout the afternoon as the men took turns in the bath house. Gear was sorted, swords were sharpened, supper was prepared, and soft words traded with the wounded. None of this touched Lanyon. Her chant persisted in unvarying rhythm.

In the evening, Tayeraisa came in and listened for a time. Then she went out again, seeming thoughtful.

Kaliel was one of those who had been wounded. As night fell, he rested by the fire with his companions, and as he listened to Lanyon’s voice a new awareness touched him. “Can you feel that?” he wondered aloud. “Bahir? Alhimbra? Can you feel a current moving in the Mere?”

“I can,” Alhimbra said. “It’s a subtle thing, with a sweetness to it. It gives me ease.”

“It’s a seduction,” Bahir countered. He cast a suspicious gaze on Lanyon. “There is too much that is strange in this place. I fear we will lose our way.”

“Sorcery is an Inyomere art,” Alhimbra said uneasily, “but it is not always evil.”

Kaliel nodded his agreement. “Even in Habaddon there is sorcery, for Jahallon himself has the gift of farseeing.”

“That is not sorcery,” Bahir answered. “Jahallon’s gift was his before ever the people were tainted by the Inyomere of the Wild.”

“Speak gently, Bahir,” Alhimbra urged. “For the Samokeäns love their Snow Chanter. Even Jakurian proudly claims his descent.”

“I do not speak against Samokea,” Bahir said. “But sorcery is the art of the Inyomere and I will never trust it.”

* * *

That night, Marshal volunteered to take the first watch, but Pantheren said they would share it. The night was cold and fog-bound. There was nothing to be seen but darkness all around. “Kina will patrol the field,” Pantheren said, “and you and I will watch with our ears.”

At first they stood on the porch. Marshal heard the chatter of the stream, the stamp of the horses, the blur of soft conversation from the house. Mostly he listened for Lanyon’s faint voice, chanting endless rounds of words that had no meaning that he knew. Finally he could bear it no longer. “I can hear nothing but our own noise. Let us walk about.”

“If you can see to put one step in front of another, you can see more than me.”

“Let us call Kina then. Darkness is nothing to her.”

So they summoned Kina and she led them across the bridge. There they heard the sound of their boots in the wet grass and now and then the call of some lonely night bird.

“I am tired,” Pantheren said at last. “More tired than I can ever remember being. It’s said men weaken if they are allowed to grow old. Perhaps it’s true.”

“There is no sleep in me,” Marshal answered.

“You are haunted by this day.” Marshal said nothing to this. “Why have you not been into the house to see your brother?”

“I cannot look on him,” Marshal admitted. “I cannot bear it.”

“Because you blame yourself for it.”

“It is my fault. I let it happen.”

“And did you imagine you could protect him always?”

“Sir, you misunderstand me. I have not such a high regard for myself. Not even Jahallon could guarantee the life of any man. But Bennek did not fall in battle. I asked him to confound the arowl—”

“It was I who asked him, Marshal.”

“And he was reluctant, but I made him do it. Sir, he is helpless when he works that spell. I promised I would watch over him . . . but he did not trust me to do it. He put his weapons close at hand, saying I might become distracted. He knew I would fail. He foresaw it.”

“He understood the chaos of battle, Marshal. That is all. We were in a desperate fight. Jakurian spoke truly when he said that he and his men would all be consumed now if Bennek had not confounded the pack. You did as much as any man could.”

“And still Bennek lies on his deathbed.”

Pantheren sighed in the darkness. “Marshal, if you had wanted him to remain unharmed you should have sent him south to Hallah when he was still a small boy. But that you could not do, for Bennek is a warrior of the north, and if he dies, he will die as a warrior. It is the same for all of us. On the day we are born our mothers know what our ends will be. It does not fall to us to ask why one man lives, when another makes the crossing. That is known only to the One who wakened us, if it is known at all. Our duty is to defend the Wild and our place in it. We must vanquish the blasphemy of Siddél so that the Wild may flourish again. Put aside your guilt, for it weakens you. You are an honorable man, with many tasks left to do before you make your own crossing.”

Marshal made no answer to this, but when the watch was done he went into the house. Kit had fallen asleep at Bennek’s side, but Lanyon still sat at his head, chanting now in a hoarse whisper. Marshal put more wood on the fire. Then he sat beside his brother and listened to his soft breathing, weighing again what Pantheren had said and letting himself feel the truth of it. He kissed Bennek’s hand. “I am not sad,” he said, “for all will be set right when we cross over.”

“But when you are all gone away, I will still be here.”

He looked up, surprised to see Tayeraisa for he had not heard her approach. The firelight cast a warm glow on her skin that reminded him of the flush of dawn among the peaks. “Blessed One, I did not mean we would abandon you.”

“Still, it is true time will take you away. But though you are gone, the Wild will remain. Do not leave it a broken thing! It is the duty of the people, of my people, to rid the Wild of the evil of the arowl. Do not flee this task!”

“Far Mother, we will serve you in this, for as long as fate allows.”

“I know you will, and Kit and Bennek too.”

“Bennek would serve you longer if he could.”

“Does he not look better to you?” She stepped around Kit’s sleeping figure, to crouch beside Lanyon, who showed no awareness of her. “My little sister has done much for him this night, but she is weary. Her will fades. But I have learned the name of this spell, and I will call it until the dawn. Take Lanyon to sleep now, for she is at the end of her strength.”

Hope was renewed in Marshal’s heart. He scrambled to his feet. “My far mother, never will I forget this kindness.”

“Never will I forget your faith.” She held her hands poised above Bennek’s forehead, setting them on his brow when Marshal lifted Lanyon’s hands away. Tayeraisa took up the chant, while Lanyon crumpled in Marshal’s arms. He carried her to the corner where she had left her things, and he covered her in a blanket. Then finally he gave into sleep himself, drifting away to the soft, strong music of Tayeraisa’s voice.

* * *

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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, May 3rd, 2013 at 12:05 am
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