Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

The Wild: Chapter 20

May 24th, 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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River & slope. Artist: Sarah AdamsChapter 20

Jakurian pushed the horses hard, heedless of where they went, so long as they found a way in the darkness. He was shaken by horror, and shamed by the cruel blessing of his own survival. Lanyon must depend now on him alone, and he did not feel worthy. He, who had left behind living men!
“Jakurian! Jakurian, listen to me! Slow a moment, and listen.”

He had taken the reins of Lanyon’s horse. He had cut them from her hands when she had tried to turn back. “Jakurian, please stop!”

“Do not call out!” he warned her in a hard voice. “Do not give us away.” He did not stop, but the horses had run hard, so he let them slow to a walk.

In the darkness Lanyon was a hunched silhouette, clinging to the mane of her mare. “I will not shout, if you will listen. They are not pursuing us! We must go back.”

“There is nothing to go back for! And they will come after us. They will bay on our trail after they have sated themselves. We must be far away by then.”

“Jakurian, hear me! They were not arowl! They were sorcerers. They had enchanted themselves with a living disguise, but they were people. Didn’t you hear them speak? Didn’t you see their hands?”

“I confess I did not. I saw only their faces.” He puzzled over it, and hope stirred in his heart. “If they were people, why did they attack us?”

“I don’t know, but we must go back. We cannot abandon our friends!”

Jakurian wanted nothing more. “Do you still have the talisman?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then we go on. That is our duty. Pantheren would say as much.”

Just then, faint on a night breeze, there came a chilling howl out of the north. The howl repeated itself, and was answered by several more. Jakurian asked, “Was that a sorcerer’s lamentation?”

“You know that is the baying of arowl.”

He urged the horses to a faster walk. “Arowl ahead and sorcerers behind. Have you a spell to hide us?”

“There is not enough time to summon the hunter’s veil unless . . .” Resolve entered her voice: “I may not be able to hide both horses. Will you let me ride behind you?”

“Come.” He held out his arm to help her climb over, and then he took the supply sack from her saddle. “Lilya is a sweet mare, but if we have to sacrifice her to the arowl before this night is over, so be it. Are you ready?”

“A moment.”

She took the talisman from its case. “Édan could hide many men at once. I will try to borrow some of his power to hide the two of us.”

Jakurian set the horses walking swiftly toward the southwest while Lanyon balanced behind him, chanting softly as she held Édan’s arrow across her lap.

Meanwhile, the howls of the arowl pack were drawing closer. Jakurian told himself it was just chance. The beasts could not have found their scent already—and yet he felt himself hunted.

After a time, a current stirred within the Mere. He felt the unseen force flow past him. Not long after, his eyesight began to trouble him. His horse, Vero, moved steadily beneath him, yet sometimes when he glanced down at Vero’s muscular neck, it did not seem to be there. Then he would reach out for what he could not see, and Vero’s steamy neck would appear again . . . but his own hand he could not perceive. If he raised that hand up before his tired eyes, he would see its silhouette . . . but in another moment it would fade away again.

“Arowl and sorcerers,” he whispered. How sweet the Wild would be if it contained neither!

Just then, a great howling cacophony erupted behind them, not a quarter mile away. Lanyon’s chant went on, unwavering, but Vero trembled. Lilya pulled back, snorting and fighting her lead. When Jakurian turned to sooth her, she shimmered on the edge of visibility. All around him the shapes of the night were solid, but the two horses wavered, as if undecided in their existence.

The yammering of the arowl bore down on them. Lilya shook her head and fought to break free. Vero’s hide was wet and shivering. Jakurian knew this by sound and by feel. He could not see the horses. He felt as if he rode on a memory of wind and speed. He felt as if he wrestled with ghosts.

“Lanyon!” he whispered. “The arowl are upon us. We must flee.”

Her chant did not waver, but she leaned against him and one arm went around his waist. “Go,” he whispered to Vero and the horse leaped away, running flat-out in the darkness with Lilya racing beside him.

Jakurian could not see the horses. He could hardly hear them. The pounding of their hooves was faint, and grew fainter still, until it vanished altogether. Even the fallen leaves kicked up in their wake fell back into place, leaving no trail for the arowl to follow. No longer did he ride a horse. He hurtled through the woodland on the back of a spirit that bore him soaring above the leaves and mossy stones, and nothing in the night could discern his passage.

The baying of the arowl fell far behind.

After a time he reined the horses in. Lilya snorted in exhaustion, and Vero’s chest heaved. Lanyon too was drained. Her chant had ceased sometime during their flight and now she leaned against Jakurian. “Help me down,” she said in a dry-throated whisper. “Let me walk.”

Jakurian slipped to the ground. He saw her as a faint, ghost-like being atop a ghost horse, but when he lifted her down, her weight was real.

She knelt on the damp ground. He could see her only if he looked half-away. She returned the arrow to its case. Then she stood again, and looked around. “What is this place?”

Jakurian had let the horses find their own way in the night. They had come to a stream that slid quietly through the woodland. Its silvery waters wound around large stones blackened with moss. A neat turf made up the banks. Not far to the south, he heard a strange bird chirping. “Lanyon, there is something amiss here. Climb atop Lilya now, and be ready.”

Lanyon did as she was told, while Jakurian returned to Vero’s back. They waited for the peril to reveal itself.

The sky was clear. The stars bright. No wind tossed the branches. Yet Jakurian saw shadows moving beneath the trees. Lilya saw them too. She danced nervously. Vero turned and snorted. Jakurian took up his bow, fitting an arrow to the string, and all movement ceased beneath the trees. Jakurian listened, but he heard only the murmur of the water, and the renewed chirping of the night bird calling to a companion that answered from somewhere upstream.

Then a breeze came sighing down above the water. Lilya did not like the messages it carried. She reared with a terrified whinny, but Lanyon kept her seat, and would not let her run.

All at once the night was shocked by a great outcry of men’s voices. The shouts came from upstream, beyond the shadows where Jakurian suspected the pack to be. “For Samokea! For Samokea!” they cried.

Goaded by this challenge, the arowl revealed themselves with an explosion of baying and barking among the trees. Some threw themselves on their attackers; but others remembered their original prey. These plunged toward Jakurian. He met them with a flurry of arrows and then he seized his spear. Vero could be still no longer. He burst into a gallop, charging the nearest arowl. Jakurian slew it with his spear, and then felled another. A third burst into flame, casting a blinding light through the woodland, and sending harsh shadows lancing between the trees. The air was full of the hiss of arrows, the shouts of men, the stink of burning flesh, and the blood-curdling howls of the arowl—but then the howls were extinguished, and only the voices of men remained.

Keeping his spear ready, Jakurian moved his horse closer to Lanyon.

Alongside the stream, a cautious distance away, there stood a pale, slender warrior. In one hand he held what looked to be the smooth, silvery head of an Inyomere of the Water, be it lake, or stream, or high mountain pool. In the other he carried a spear, though he gripped it casually, and did not seem to offer Jakurian any challenge. He did not have Jakurian’s height, or the breadth of his shoulders, but even just in standing he had a dangerous grace . . . like a leopard Jakurian had once seen, south of Habaddon. “That is a wicked object your woman carries,” he said softly. “It has a dreadful weight within the Mere.”

Lanyon answered him. “Sir, why do you waylay us? What harm have you brought to our friends?”

“None that will last, but your own well-being is less certain. The ghosts know who you are, Lanyon Kyramanthes, and they do not love you. They clamor at me to leave you in the forest for the arowl—but this does not seem right to me. You were first to remind us of our duties to one another, and your concern is for your friends. These are not signs of a wicked heart.”

“Be cautious, sir!” she answered sharply. “It is not always easy to perceive evil.” But then her voice gentled. “Still I mean no harm to you or any here. As for your ghosts, I knew some of them in life and I have no fear of confronting them in death.”

The pale warrior smiled. “I called your horses to me—I do not want you or your companion to be food for the arowl—but I don’t think I can hold you against your will. So I ask you respectfully—as perhaps I should have done first—to come with us and be safe, for there are more arowl than these in Beyna Forest.”

“And our friends?”

“You will meet them again in our keep.”

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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 24th, 2013 at 12:05 am
Categories: Read THE WILD.

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