Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

The Wild: Chapter 22

June 7th, 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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Distant mist. Artist: Sarah AdamsChapter 22

From the stairs Pantheren saw Lanyon among the pale warriors, and Jakurian was with her. He called out to her, and they met in an embrace at the bottom of the stairs. “Are you all right?” he asked her anxiously.

“We are well. And all of you—?”

“No lasting damage,” Kit assured her, but his jest did not disguise his sullen fury.

The pale warriors had put their spears aside and removed their masks and their enchantments. Pantheren was surprised to see as many women as men among their number. All were rail-thin, with hair so light in color it was nearly white, and beautiful, delicate faces. So similar were they to one another that they might have been brothers and sisters. Their clothes were all in shades of gray and they looked young, in their teens and twenties, save for one woman who appeared a few years older, and another, who might have been close to Pantheren in age. The only child he saw was the girl, Lehe, though Marshal had reported another youngster in the kitchen. Pantheren made a quick count of everyone present and found their number to be twenty-nine.

One of the young men stepped forward. Pantheren remembered him by the mask he carried clipped to his belt—it was the face of the Inyomere of the Water. Luven met him, taking his arm. “This is my brother, Zavoy, who is the Chieftain of Samokea.”

Kit was in no mood to hear such claims, nor to heed Pantheren’s restraining hand. “Samokea has had no chieftain since Édan.”

Zavoy answered this in a soft, measured voice. “Samokea is diminished, and my authority does not extend far, but I will have it here.”

“If so, then defend us!” This demand came from one of Zavoy’s own warriors, who stepped up then to air his anger. He was a man of no great height, but he was broad in shoulder and possessed a frightening aspect, for half his face was ravaged with scars.

Zavoy did not even look at him, but instead addressed his guests. “That is my cousin Gonly, whose fear has led him to speak out of turn.”

But Gonly did not yield. “It is not disrespect, Zavoy, to ask that you defend Samokea against the witch that brought on our downfall. The ghosts of the Citadel remember her. She is the Kyramanthes woman!” And as he said this he flung out his arm to point at Lanyon, so that his fingers—still stained with arowl blood—were but inches from her face.

At this affront she turned away and Pantheren moved to shelter her, but Zavoy was faster: he seized Gonly’s wrist and twisted it, so that Gonly was forced to step back to keep his balance. Startled cries were heard on all sides, and rebukes against Gonly. In his soft voice, Zavoy said, “I have promised this woman safety in our home and I will not be made a liar.”

Sweat gleamed on Gonly’s cheeks, but he didn’t cry out or back down. “The ghosts know her,” he insisted.

“What do they know? They can conjure no evidence of guilt. I have heard only desperate guesses.”

“Her existence is evidence enough! She has cheated death! She still lives after all these generations, while our lives rarely see thirty years. How is such a wonder possible except by the intervention of Siddél?”

“That is one question of many that I would ask. Be at peace, my cousin, and be assured that I will defend you when need requires.” Only then did he release Gonly, and after taking a moment to gather himself, he turned again to his guests. “We are all weary. Let us refresh ourselves with a meal, and then you will tell us of yourselves and how you came to be in Samokea.”

Pantheren bowed to him. “And we would hear your own history, sir, for we have long believed that no one survived the fall of the Citadel, who did not reach the Glycian.”

* * *

They gathered around the hearth, among pillows, furs and soft furnishings. The company was close and warm, the more so, because in the shadows beyond the firelight the gleam of ghosts could be seen, outnumbering the people. They stayed well back, but Pantheren still could feel the chill of their presence.

A meal was made of dried fish and baked potatoes, with spring water as their only drink. Pantheren was given a seat in a leather arm chair that he drew back into the shadows beside the hearth. Lanyon sat on the floor between Jakurian and Kit, a little closer to the light. Kit was nodding in the firelight, half-asleep, but Marshal, who sat apart from them, was wakeful. Pantheren did not like the way his attention was fixed on the comings and goings of Luven as she helped in the kitchen. He liked it less when the last of the dishes were cleared away and Luven took a seat very near to Marshal.

Once more he made a count of the wraith people, and this time he numbered them at thirty-one, including Luven and the baby from the kitchen.

“Are you wondering if there are more of us?” Zavoy asked him. The young chieftain leaned back in his own chair, his weary gaze studying Pantheren as all the small conversations around them fell into silence. “Do you ask yourself if there might be more of us asleep in the rooms upstairs? Or maybe we have a second keep a day’s walk away?”

“This cannot be all of you,” Pantheren answered.

Zavoy smiled, but it was bitter. “There are no others. We are the last of the people still alive in the north. But the Long War goes on, doesn’t it? That you are here tells me it is so. Please speak. Tell us of yourselves, War Father Pantheren. We know your names, but little else about you. Is it Hallah that you call home?”

“Indeed no.” Pantheren stood, so that he might address all who were gathered there. “Both myself and Jakurian are men of Habaddon.”

Zavoy looked on him in astonishment. A stir ran through the assembly, and many were filled with doubt. “Habaddon is fallen!” a young warrior insisted. “All the ghosts have said it is so.” Another cried, “Habaddon was ever a lesser fortress than the Citadel! It is impossible that it still stands.” And a third demanded to know, “Does Jahallon live?”

“Jahallon does live!” Pantheren answered them. “And Habaddon did not fall with the Citadel of the Snow Chanter. Habaddon stood before ever the Citadel was made, and to this day its great walls have never been breached.”

Zavoy arose then, and looked past his kin to where the ghost of the sorcerer Renthian stood among the other specters. At first he appeared to listen, but then he answered softly, “I know when a living man does not speak the truth. It is only the dead that are hard to read.”

He turned again to Pantheren. “Forgive us, War Father. The ghosts have ever assured us Habaddon must have fallen in the same assault that destroyed the Citadel. That it has not is wondrous news, though bitter too, for it makes our own failure more stark.”

“I cannot make the truth sweeter.”

Zavoy sat down again, and for several seconds he was lost in thought. Then he remembered himself, and he attended again to Pantheren. “What of Kit and Marshal? You have not named them as men of Habaddon.”

“That is because they are Clan Samoket, though both were born south of the Glycian.”

This ignited another flurry of questions, but this time Zavoy called for patience. “Tell us the story of Samokea as you know it, War Father, and I promise we will hold our questions until you are through.”

So Pantheren complied, beginning the tale on the day Jahallon brought Lanyon home to the Citadel with her newborn daughter and her son who was not yet two. He told the story as Lanyon had revealed it at Kesh, disclosing the sacrifice of her children to Édan’s ambition, the absence of the watch upon the walls, and Siddél’s assault, when chance turned against Édan and nothing went as he expected. “In the end it was Jahallon who rallied the survivors and who led them south where their descendants remain.”

Then the Samokeäns of the Cavern looked on Kit and Marshal as brethren, and for a few minutes they questioned Pantheren on the names and numbers of those who had escaped the Citadel, but it was long ago, and there was little Pantheren could tell them.

Next Zavoy looked at Lanyon and said, “I know that this talisman—made at such great cost—is even now in your possession.”

Kit and Jakurian grew tense, while Lanyon, who was between them, met Zavoy’s gaze with wary eyes. She had not removed her coat, despite her proximity to the fire, and she still had the talisman in its case, strapped to her back.

“I have said you are safe here,” Zavoy reminded her. “Though I would like to know how it is that time has left you untouched. Indeed, there is that about you which reminds me of those few Inyomere I have seen.”

These words did not please her. She answered him shortly, “You might see more of the Inyomere if you did not hunt them and take their skins for masks.”

This drew angry murmurs, but Zavoy was unruffled. “Will you not tell me?”

It was easy to be confounded by his gentle voice. Lanyon seemed puzzled by her own anger. She answered him in a humbled tone. “I made a spell that carried me through time . . . but with the talisman in my hands it went awry and was more powerful by far than I intended.”

These were sorcerers, but not one had ever imagined such a thing could be and they responded in wonder and disbelief, but she would say no more on it. So Pantheren reclaimed the narrative and he spoke of the Snow Chanter and her return to the Wild—but this was too much for Gonly. He met Pantheren’s words with dark laughter. “These are children’s tales, and not to be believed!” But he was hushed by many voices.

Pantheren judged the moment had come. “The Snow Chanter will not forgive Siddél nor overlook the suffering of her beloved Samokeän people. She would see the Wild restored, and to this end she has given all her blessing to Lanyon Kyramanthes. For Zavoy is correct—Lanyon possesses the talisman. But time is pressing. It is our purpose to find the Storm Lair as soon as may be, and there to use this wicked spell as it was intended, against Siddél himself—to break the monster that has broken the Wild.”

* * *

The people of the cavern were greatly affected by all they had heard, and while they were moved with wonder, there was also sadness, anger, and despair. Zavoy arose from his chair. “War Father, you cannot imagine the grief you bring us . . . and the bitter hope.” He beckoned to his sister. “Luven, come.” She arose and went to him. “It’s our turn. Luven, you will tell our own history to our guests.”

In the inconstant light of the fire she appeared wan and insubstantial, half a ghost herself, but her voice was strong. “It is well known that Clan Samoket was created in the union of Jahallon’s last son, Samoket, with the Inyomere, Tayeraisa the Snow Chanter.” Here her troubled gaze sought Pantheren. “If it is true our far mother has returned to the Wild, then we rejoice, for every man and woman of Samokea can claim descent from someone among Samoket’s many children.

“Still, the title of chieftain is held by only one in each generation. It is not always father to child, but Édan became our chieftain when he was sixteen, after his own father was taken by the arowl.

“In those days there was great friendship between Samokea and the last warriors of Clan Kyramanthes, who were ever the fiercest fighters on the battlefield. So when Inder, who was then Chieftain of Kyramanthes, called on Édan to safeguard the women of his household if he should not return from battle, Édan readily agreed, never suspecting the cost.

“In that spring Édan went to Ohtangia to fulfill his promise, and there he met Lanyon Kyramanthes . . . who was Inder’s daughter.” Luven seemed suddenly unsure of herself, but Zavoy told her, “Tell it as we were taught, for we have no other excuse for our rough greeting.”

Luven nodded. “Lanyon Kyramanthes was only eleven but she was a child-witch of great power who was secretly tutored by Siddél—”

Here Kit started to rise from the floor, but Lanyon caught his arm and whispered, “Let us hear it all.”

Luven straightened her shoulders. “Our history says that Lanyon Kyramanthes beguiled Édan so that ever after he would have no other woman, and in time they were married, and they had a child. But she regretted her choice, and when Édan was gone to campaign against the arowl, she left the Citadel and returned to Habaddon where she had lived for many years—but Jahallon would not let her stay.”

Pantheren glanced at Lanyon—and was startled to see her sitting with her head bowed against her hand. So he knew there was something of truth in Luven’s story.

“But by her betrayal, Édan’s heart was changed. When he saw her again, he perceived her wickedness and rebuked her, and said he would have her no longer as his wife.” Here, Lanyon looked up again, and there was such fierce anger on her face that Pantheren half-rose, fearing what she might do . . . but she only closed her eyes again, while Luven went on speaking. “A great wrath came over her. She attacked Édan and drew away his strength, and Siddél came at her summons, and murdered him.” Luven turned to Pantheren. “This is the history of Édan that we have been taught. It’s why we mistrusted you.”

“It is false,” Pantheren said, “as you have already heard.”

Luven lifted her chin. “I have only done as my brother asked, that you may understand us better. It is not my pleasure to say such things about a woman who sits here before me.”

“Nor is it my pleasure to hear these things recounted,” Lanyon said bitterly. “It is a degradation to be required to deny them. My honor is spent. But I will make the denial anyway, so that no one here may later say I left any doubt. I did not betray my husband, I did not murder him, and I did not make alliance with Siddél who is forever my enemy. I am guilty of returning to Habaddon that year when Édan was gone away. How different the world would be now if I had refused to let Jahallon take me home!”

“The world is as it is,” Pantheren said gently. “At least Jahallon was there, and many hundreds came safely to the Glycian.” Then he turned to Luven. “How is it your ancestors escaped the Citadel and yet did not go with Jahallon?”

“They were not at the Citadel. Our family lived in the Armory Peaks, where we worked the iron quarries, and forged the weapons that kept our armies strong. We are Édan’s closest kin, descendant of his younger brother Evron. Our home was far from the Citadel, but even on that accursed night we were not forgotten!

“A dove was sent to us. It arrived in the early morning, and by the message it carried we learned Édan was dead and the Citadel overrun. We made ready, for none doubted the arowl would come.” Her voice softened. “Come they did, in numbers that had never been seen before. We fought them, but they were too many. We knew we must flee, but Habaddon was too far. So we retreated over the mountains.”

All was silent in the hall, save for the crackling of the fire, and the restless swish of a horse’s tail. “Less than ninety survived that terrible journey,” Luven said. “We lived only because the blood of the Snow Chanter is in us. Our sorcery kept us warm in the snow and ice, and let us practice hiding and illusion when the arowl came across our trail. Many generations have passed since then, and still we live by the arts of hiding and illusion. We leave no trace of our presence in the forest, and we wear the arowl masks so the beasts will believe they fight other arowl, and will have no reason to linger, and seek us out.

“We hold it as our duty to hunt the arowl, for they are an abomination within the Wild. Yet as the years pass, our numbers dwindle.

“We have tried to escape this place. Three times we have put aside the council of the ghosts and set out for the south, on the slender hope that we could make our way to Hallah—for Habaddon we believed gone—but each time we were overwhelmed by the arowl and forced to turn back.

“The Citadel is fallen, and Samokea is reduced to the thirty-one members of our household who are gathered in this hall. Still, we remember who we are, and in each generation we name one among us to be our chieftain. Zavoy has that honor now, and perhaps he will be the last, but while any of us live, Samokea itself is not fallen.”

She returned to her seat, her face downcast. Zavoy spoke next. “We ask that you forgive us our rough greeting. We know now that we have been misled in many ways for many years. There is not much of comfort that we have to offer you, but what there is, is yours. I pray there may be peace between us.”

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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, June 7th, 2013 at 12:01 am
Categories: Read THE WILD.

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