Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


The Wild: Chapter 26

July 5th, 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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* * *

Tree and stones; artist Sarah Adams

~ Part 4: Habaddon ~

Chapter 26

Bennek? Do you remember the chant I spoke over you?

Bennek smiled to hear her voice, so close and intimate in his ear. “I remember it perfectly.” To prove it, he envisioned her, seated behind him, her hands on his forehead as she chanted from beginning to end a long verse of strange syllables. “I don’t know the meaning of any of those words,” he admitted.

They are not words. They are the name of a spell that lives within the Fourth Way. Speak the name, and if you can find within yourself the will of the Inyomere, you will call the spell to you.

At first the syllables were awkward on his tongue, but he practiced the name again and again until at last the spell stirred, and came to him. In a flush of warmth it swept past his skin, through his flesh, all the way to his bones. His awareness turned inward to follow it. It led him deep within the astonishing structure of his body. He saw the flaws that were in him, split bone and riven flesh, and he tasted a looming poison; but the spell carried the poison away, even as it smoothed the torn edges of his wounds.

Again he spoke the spell’s name. Again it came in a warm, healing rush. Goodness and order increased wherever it passed.

He spoke the spell’s name and it came, wending along a fixed path in the Mere. Bit by bit, it mended his wounds. Bit by bit, it washed away his pain. Bit by bit, it dissolved strain and disorder.

He spoke the spell’s name and it came flowing through him, again and again, and again.

* * *

Bennek was startled awake by a jolt. He sat up, reaching for a weapon that was not there, and a fiery pain ignited in his ribs. He gasped, hunched over in anguish in the bed of the canoe, his splinted leg stretched out awkwardly before him.

Meriton, the Habaddon man who handled the canoe, had just put ashore. He was taken by surprise at Bennek’s sudden awakening. “Easy, son! You’re among friends here.” He stepped over the gunwale and onto a shallow bank. Evening was nigh and behind him the sky had turned to deepest blue. “All is well. It’s just we’ve stopped to camp for the night. Ah, here is someone to greet you.”

To Bennek’s astonishment Kina appeared at the side of the canoe, her tail wagging in joy. Despite his pain, he reached to stroke the smooth fur of her cheek. “Kina! How is it you are here? Why are you not watching over Lanyon?”

“The hound refused to go north,” Meriton told him as he set to unloading gear. “She has watched this canoe all afternoon.”

Bennek gazed into her warm brown eyes. “You should have gone with Pantheren,” he told her, but he said it gently, and she wagged her tail.

Meriton had brought the canoe ashore at a place where a small stream joined the greater river. The other men were already gathered there, and a camp was being prepared in the grass.

“Hullo Bennek!” one of the men called as he came down to meet the canoe. He was quite tall, and very broad in shoulder, with powerful arms, and a wide, merry face. “You look a bit more lively than when I put you in this canoe at noon. I’ve carried you twice already, and this evening will be the third time—yet I think you still do not know my name!”

“I ask your pardon,” Bennek said, appalled that he might have given offense, but he was soon reassured.

“My name is Fen, and there is no need to ask the pardon of anyone here. We all owe our lives to the enchantment you worked on the arowl. But how is it you have gained such strength in only one afternoon?”

“It is the healing spell.”

“A mighty spell indeed! To keep working when Pantheren’s witch is far away.”

“Lanyon taught it to me,” Bennek explained. “I called its name myself.”

“You summoned the spell?” Meriton asked. He traded a smile with Fen. “It is plain your dreams were sweet.”

“No, truly,” Bennek said.

“If only we had made a staff for you while we were in the forest, you could walk this night,” Fen teased.

Bennek thought he could probably walk if he had to—that is, until Fen lifted him from the canoe. Then he cried out at the pain in his leg and he knew his recovery still had far to go.

* * *

Day by day the canoes fared south on the River Talahnon, while the horsemen followed on the riverbank. Bennek slept—or seemed to—lying quietly in a nest of blankets, his eyes closed and a serene expression on his face. He did not speak the healing spell aloud. He didn’t need to. He called the spell from within the Mere.

He kept watch from within the Mere as well, venturing now and then as a spirit among the low hills along the river. He sought for the arowl but he did not find them, not in all that land through which they passed.

Only when the canoe touched shore each evening did he stir.

The men of Habaddon were amazed at the swift pace of his recovery. On an evening when Fen came to lift him out of the canoe Bennek insisted he would try to walk, and with Fen supporting him he managed the short trek to the camp, though the effort drained him.

After that Fen went looking for a sturdy piece of driftwood, and that evening he smoothed it into a staff. In the morning Bennek used it to walk on his own, back to the boats.

It was late on the next day when the company saw ahead of them the edge of the forest that enfolded the Glycian River. The men cheered, for they were almost home. Bennek roused, and sitting up in the canoe, he told Meriton of two riders among the hills to the west. Meriton called this news to Bahir, who rode out to meet them. They were scouts out of Habaddon, and they released a dove bearing the news that Jakurian’s company had returned from the north.

That evening, camp was made under the eaves of the forest and early on the next day the canoes glided into the confluence of the Glycian. Here the current quickened, bearing them swiftly west. Bennek was awake, watching the forest slip past. He thought back to the night he and Marshal and Kit had floated their gear across the river, and he promised himself it would not be long before he made that crossing again.

All that morning the horsemen could be seen only rarely among the trees, but in early afternoon a cheer was heard, and news was shouted to the boats that Jahallon had come to meet them. As the canoe rounded a wide bow in the river Bennek saw for himself the gathering of men and horses on the northern bank, where a ferry waited to take them across. The returning warriors were greeted with embraces, but it was a quiet reunion, for the company had left men behind.

“Look there,” Meriton said. “Jahallon has taken Bahir aside to explain why Jakurian is not with us.”

“Will he be angry?” Bennek wondered.

“I think he will not be pleased.”

Meriton guided the canoe to the southern shore, where a stockade stood guard over the ferry landing. Fen came over on the ferry’s first crossing, and hurried to meet them. “Be warned,” he said under his breath as he offered Bennek a hand. “Jahallon is not at all pleased with the news we have brought him, and he is in a rare, dark temper.”

With Fen’s help, Bennek clambered from the canoe.

Meriton looked uneasily across the river to where Jahallon waited with the rest of the men and horses. The ferry had just returned to fetch them. “We did all we could to persuade Jakurian to come back with us.”

“Jakurian’s absence I think he can forgive. Not so the dreadful tale of Édan. I cannot make it out if he is angry because he believes it, or because he does not.”

“He doesn’t want to believe it,” Meriton decided. “No one wants to hear such a story. Pantheren’s witch knew it would be this way, but I heard her speak and I do not doubt that what she told us is the truth.”

Fen turned to Bennek. “Here we say goodbye to the canoes but our journey is not done yet.”

“I remember it is a long way to Habaddon,” Bennek said doubtfully, testing his staff.

Fen grinned. “Indeed and we will not be home until near mid-night—but fear not!” He winked. “Though Bennek I do not doubt you could walk to Habaddon, a wagon has come to bear you.”

While Fen and Meriton unloaded the canoe, Bennek hobbled up the riverbank to where the wagon was waiting. It had a long, narrow bed, mounted on four high, spoked wheels. Two great horses had the work of drawing it. Bennek stood aside as Fen loaded it with gear from the canoes. He took care in the arrangement, leaving room for Bennek to sit with his leg stretched out.

Meanwhile, the ferry had reached the southern landing. Even before it was moored, Jahallon stepped onto the platform and came at once to meet Bennek.

Bennek had seen Jahallon-the-Undying only one time before, and that from a distance, as he rode with his men out of Habaddon in early summer, so now he looked on him in some curiosity. In appearance, Jahallon was younger by far than Pantheren, seeming close to Jakurian in age. He was neither tall nor short, but powerfully built, with great shoulders forged in the smithy where he had made the first weapons known to the world. He did not much resemble Jakurian.

Leaning on his staff, Bennek made a polite bow. Only when he looked again on the oldest of all men did it strike him that it was Lanyon he saw in Jahallon’s eyes and in the shape of his face . . . even in his coppery hair, though that was shaved very short. “You are thinking of someone else?” Jahallon asked.

“Forgive me, sir—”

“None of that.” He waved his hand. “We have much to discuss, you and I, and I would not have our speech hindered by an excess of courtesy. So I will begin by saying that I know you are called Bennek of Clan Samoket.”

“My name is Bennek of Samokea, sir.”

Jahallon’s eyes narrowed, for none among the Samokeäns had made that claim since their ancestors fled south of the Glycian.

By way of explanation, Bennek added. “I serve the Snow Chanter, sir.”

“I have heard some of this story from Bahir, but I would hear all of it from you.”

“Yes, sir. I am pleased to tell the tale, for our blessed mother of Samokea would have the truth known.”

Jahallon’s gaze grew stern. “You make it clear your allegiance is not to me, Bennek of Samokea.”

“I mean no offense, sir.”

“Did Pantheren give you such instruction?”

“War Father, no. Pantheren said I should offer you my oath, but that I cannot do. I must return north, sir, as soon as I can walk without this staff, for my brother and my cousin are there . . . and Lanyon.”

“Fate decrees where we fight our battles, Bennek, and fate has brought you south.”

“Sir—”

Jahallon raised his hand again. “Is it true you have looked on the face of this sorcerer Aidin?”

“It was Édan, sir. And yes, I saw him.”

“Lanyon said it was him?”

“She did, sir. Siddél knew him too.”

Siddél?

“He was there, sir. He came to see who had misled his arowl. Lanyon had the talisman aimed at him. She could have ended the Long War, but Édan stopped her. He spoiled her shot! And Siddél—he was furious when he discovered Édan. He thought he was still imprisoned at Nendaganon. The monster would have taken him back there too but for Pantheren, who assaulted him with arrows and drove him away.”

“And did you speak to Édan after?”

Bennek shook his head. “We thought he was dead. I saw his body and it was broken and crushed by Siddél. No one could have survived such injuries, but afterward Lanyon and Marshal saw that he still lived. So we know he is cursed by Siddél, just as—”

Bennek remembered to whom he was speaking, but Jahallon finished the thought for him. “Just as I am cursed?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. Lanyon and Pantheren agreed it must be so.”

The gear had all been loaded. As the men brought up their horses, Jahallon said, “Let us get you on the wagon, but I ask that on the way you tell me your story in full.”

So as the wagon lurched and rumbled along the rough track, Bennek recounted the details of his journey. Jahallon drove the wagon but he also listened closely, often looking back over the seat, and he asked many questions. He even had Bennek chant the healing spell. “Lanyon didn’t teach me the fire spell,” Bennek added, with some disappointment.

Jahallon’s expression was guarded. “Sorcery is a grave blessing.”

“I am no sorcerer, sir.”

The sun was pale and cool, peeking through a canopy of autumn leaves. The horsemen had gone ahead. Jahallon said, “I first heard of Aidin some eleven years ago. I sent an emissary to Ohtangia to visit him. He is said to be a scarred man.”

“That is true, sir.”

“He would not speak of his past except to say he had been savaged by the arowl.”

“I think that must be true as well.”

“It is so hard for me to believe Édan would betray us.”

There was such grief in Jahallon’s voice that Bennek could not think how to answer him, but in a moment Jahallon spoke again in a steadier tone. “Bennek, there is a sage in Habaddon who knows something of sorcery. She is very old, with memories that have made her bitter, but it may be we can prevail on her to teach you something.”

Bennek hesitated. “Sir? I think I met her. The night before we left Habaddon there was just such a woman in the library. She wasn’t pleased with me, though. She wouldn’t talk to me about the spell she called.”

“That is her way. Sage Hedril is bitter, and convinced the Samokeäns are a lesser people than they once were . . . although now that you have found the Snow Chanter, perhaps she will look on you more kindly.”

Bennek did not miss the teasing glint in Jahallon’s eyes. Nevertheless he could not help asking, “Do you think we are a lesser people, sir?”

“I do not. There is less sorcery, but I think there is more courage.”

After that they spoke little and Bennek soon fell asleep, but Jahallon thought long on all that he had heard.

* * *

Night came upon them, clear and cool, as they passed through a forest of great trees. The tree trunks stood far apart, holding up a lacy canopy. A vast chorus of stars gathered in the dark vault beyond.

The horses kept the path by starlight, and gradually their pace quickened as they sensed their home drawing near. The wagon’s great wheels splashed through a shallow stream. Bennek glimpsed a tiny, silver-skinned Inyomere in the shape of a woman, slipping among the shadows on the bank. Then the trees fell behind, and they were among fields of wheat, shimmering in the night. Looking ahead, he saw the tall walls of the fortress of Habaddon standing black against the starry sky. Atop the battlements, the prayer flags were long, dark ribbons tethered to slender poles. Bennek could just hear the bass roar of the sea.

They passed a few houses set among the fields. It was late, and no candles gleamed behind the paper screens that covered the windows. Still, their approach was heard, and at each house a woman, and sometimes her husband with her, came forth to call soft greetings. Once a dog barked, but then it ran happily among them, and sniffed noses with Kina.

Habaddon was built on a sea cliff, at the highest point on a headland that looked out on the western ocean. It had begun as a tall keep, built long ago by Jahallon’s people when they first came to that land. Later, a curtain wall was raised around the keep and many more dwellings were constructed within its shelter. But as time passed, still more room was needed. A second wall was added, with seven square watchtowers around it. The gate was placed so that anyone wishing to enter must pass along a narrow way at the cliff’s edge.

The riders went first on this path and the wagon followed. At the gate, the women who kept the night watch bade them welcome, but when they counted the returning men, sorrow showed in their faces.

Despite the hour, many of the people of Habaddon came out to greet them. Some faces showed quiet joy as they recognized loved ones. Others grieved, as Bahir gave them to know that a brother, a husband, or a son would not be returning.

One by one the men turned aside to their own homes, so that by the time the procession approached the old keep, only Bahir, Jahallon, and Bennek remained. They were greeted by the men and women of Jahallon’s household. Among these was Uleál, who was Jakurian’s elder brother, and Jahallon’s oldest living son. Like Jahallon, Uleál was of common height but powerfully built, and though his hair was dark, he kept it cropped close, further extending his resemblance to his father. It seemed strange to Bennek that they should be father and son. They looked like brothers, with Uleál the eldest.

The wagon and horses were led away. Jahallon consulted with an older woman called Mari, and soon Bennek was enjoying a hearty supper in the kitchen of her house, which stood at the end of a street beside the keep. Kina was given a bone to chew in the walled garden that lay just off the kitchen.

After Bennek had eaten his fill, Mari took him into the garden, where there was a bath house lit by three fat candles. “Ah, you’re so thin!” she said, as she poured water over his back. “I can see every rib. Did your provisions run out along the way?”

“We were hungry at times.”

“You will not be hungry in my house. My daughters keep us well provided. They have all married, and each to a fine man. When the time comes for you to seek a wife, you must find someone who can keep your children well-fed and safe. Remember that.”

Bennek thought of Lanyon and her skill at catching fish, and trapping rabbits. “I will remember it.”

He accepted from Mari a clean nightshirt to wear in trade for his own worn clothing. “These have served you well,” she said with a kindly smile, “but you have been doing some growing, have you not?”

“I do not think so,” Bennek said. “Not much anyway, for my brother Marshal is ever the same measure taller than I am.”

“And how much older is Marshal than you?”

“Two years. He is seventeen.”

“Seventeen? Bennek, might it be that he is still growing too?”

Bennek found no comfort in this suggestion. “If Marshal should grow even taller, I will never catch him!”

Mari’s old eyes sparkled. “Don’t despair! You might still.” Then she took his worn clothes. “I will need these for size. In the morning I’ll bring you new clothes that will not pinch your shoulders, nor leave your wrists so exposed.”

Bennek thanked her. Then he dressed himself in the nightshirt, and made up his hair again into a neat braid. He did not replace the splint on his leg, for he judged the bone strong enough for hobbling around in Habaddon.

Mari showed him to a room just off the garden. “This is yours, my boy, for as long as you are with us in Habaddon.”

“I thank you. You are kind and generous, but I won’t be imposing on you for long. I am returning to Samokea as soon as may be.”

These words brought a shadow of concern to Mari’s kindly face. “Jahallon said this night that no one is to follow Jakurian north.”

“He said this to the men of Habaddon, but I am a man of Samokea, and it is the Snow Chanter whom I serve.”

Mari accepted this with a solemn nod. “Good night then, Bennek. And know that if your plans should change, you are welcome here.”

When she had gone, Bennek felt the fatigue of the long day descend on him. He closed the sliding door. Then he lowered himself awkwardly to the sleeping pallet.

He had last slept under roof at Kesh, in the cottage of the Snow Chanter. His thoughts ran to that place and the lands beyond. Where were Marshal and Kit? Where was Lanyon? The Wild was so very large. He wondered if he would ever be able to find them in all the vastness of the north. Still, he was determined to try.

* * *

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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, July 5th, 2013 at 12:05 am
Categories: Read THE WILD.

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