Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


The Wild: Chapter 27

July 12th, 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_with_mist
Chapter 27

The sun was well up when Bennek wakened to a lively whispering in the garden court. When he looked around, he discovered two small shadows consulting together on the sliding door’s paper screen. The door was not pulled quite all the way shut; a moment later the face of a small boy appeared in the gap. He had close-cut dark-brown hair and bright eyes. “He is awake!” the boy announced to his companion. The door slid wide and a second boy—a year or two older than the first—stepped through. He paid Bennek a deep bow. “My name is Teller, sir, and this is my brother Anders.” Anders was bearing a great pile of clothes. He tried to bow, but he couldn’t do more than nod his head or he would have spilled his burden to the floor.
Bennek grinned. “Well met, Teller and Anders. My name is Bennek of Samokea.”

Teller waved Anders into the room and closed the door. “Grandmother Mari has asked us to bring you these clothes. They were for my father, but he did not come home. That was a long time ago. Grandmother was up early working on them.”

“I thank you. I don’t know how I shall repay the courtesy of your household.”

They had brought him a shirt, and a pair of heavy pants with many pockets. Each piece was both sturdy and soft, with fine, strong stitching. To Bennek’s wonder there was also a coat like those the men of Habaddon wore. It was longer than his old coat, reaching to his knees, with deep pockets in the front. It was extremely well made, and his heart beat a little faster, wondering if it was right to accept such a gift.

Anders sidled up to him. “Grandmother Mari says you are a warrior.” His eyes were very large. “Do you kill the arowl?”

“As often as I may.”

“The arowl killed my father. A long time ago, before I was born.”

“It was the same for me,” Bennek said.

“Our father was killed even before I was born,” Teller said. “My mother says I look just like him, but Anders looks like her, and our baby sister too.”

“Your mother has accepted a new husband, then?” Bennek asked, as he dressed.

“No,” Teller said proudly. “She says she will never marry again. Not while my father’s spirit comes to visit her, to give her more children.”

Bennek didn’t know what to make of this, but he said only, “Your mother must be a strong woman.”

“She is like Jahallon. Sometimes she can foresee what will be. Even Jahallon has said she is never wrong.”

And she is a fisher,” Anders said with a swagger. “She goes out in her boat each day when the weather is good.”

“I get to go with her,” Teller added.

“Not all the time!”

“But I went yesterday, and today there is fresh fish and porridge for breakfast. You must come eat with us. You will come?”

“It is my honor.” Bennek had finished dressing, even putting on the coat. Now he stood for the boys to admire him.

Teller frowned. “It’s all a little big.”

“Grandmother Mari said it would be,” Anders informed them. “Bennek is young and he is still growing, like me.”

“And me too! And anyway, I’m bigger than you.”

Bennek smiled, remembering his lament to Mari last night. “I am a little brother too, Anders, but Mari says I might someday be as tall as my brother.”

Teller scoffed at this, but Anders skipped merrily through the garden court as he led Bennek to breakfast.

* * *

Mari had two daughters who lived with her. One was Anjella, who was the mother of Teller and Anders, and their little sister who was just three. The other was Dina, who had two children of her own. Dina’s husband was away on a patrol along the Glycian, but Bennek was rescued from being the only man at table by the arrival of Bahir, whose wife Chane was Mari’s youngest daughter. All three sisters were tall and handsome women. Bennek felt a bit overwhelmed.

Bahir greeted Bennek with a handshake and a clasped shoulder. “So it is true,” he said, with a glance at Bennek’s leg. “You have put aside your splint. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Bahir remained as stern of countenance at table as he had been in the field, but when they all were seated, Chane turned to Bennek with a mischievous smile. “Be careful,” she warned. “I have heard the men are not pleased with you.”

Bahir gave her a weary look. “She is teasing.”

“But I am not,” Anjella said, her eyes sparkling with humor. Bennek had looked on her curiously when they first met, wondering at the nature of her foresight, but her merry disposition soon convinced him that whatever her visions might be, they were not all dire. “I talked to Fen’s wife this morning, and Fen has said ‘it will not do.’”

“What will not do?” Bennek asked, perplexed. “What does Fen require of me?”

“Fen requires nothing,” Bahir insisted. “Your only duty is to mend and regain your strength.”

“Will you not tell him?” Dina asked, as if she could hardly believe Bahir would withhold such critical news. “Give him time to prepare?”

“Prepare?” Bennek turned to Bahir. “Sir? I know I have been a burden these many days—”

Bahir raised his hands in defeat while the three sisters traded looks of triumph. “It is nothing like that. The men have been talking, and they’ve decided you must learn to ride, and fight from the back of a horse. When you are well we will teach you these skills, if you are willing to learn.”

Bennek could hardly believe his luck. “Sir, yes! You are all kindness to me. I would learn these things as soon as may be—this afternoon if you want.”

Bahir turned in exasperation to Chane, while all three sisters laughed behind their hands. “You see? It is just as I said. Now he will not rest until he is on a horse.”

Bennek was flustered. “Sir, I am rested, and my leg is much improved.”

“And is it your ambition to break that leg again?” Bahir demanded. “We will teach you to ride, but only when you are well. Not before.”

* * *

Later that day word came from Jahallon that the sage he had spoken of, who was called Hedril of Clan Samoket, had agreed to see Bennek. Anjella, who had let the messenger in, was not pleased with this news. When the gate to the courtyard was once again closed, she turned to Bennek. “Jahallon will see the good in all people. That is his way. But Hedril is an unhappy creature. No doubt there is much she could teach you, but she will try first to teach you to despise Habaddon as a refuge of the weak.”

Mari, who had come with Bennek into the courtyard, was scandalized at these words. “Anjella! You should not say such things.”

Bennek was in a fluster, confused by Anjella’s words, and also by the anger glinting in her eyes. But she took no notice of his discomposure. Crossing her arms, she said to her mother, “I agree the truth need not always be spoken, but Bennek should know the truth of Sage Hedril.”

She turned to him. “Please do not misunderstand what I will tell you. The Samokeäns are a good and courageous people. No one would deny this. And still there are a few among your distant kin who feel the people of Habaddon have never done enough to help recover what was lost when the Citadel fell. Sage Hedril is one of these. Bennek, when you go to see her I counsel you to take care. I have known you only a few hours, but it’s clear to me you have a kind heart. Don’t let such as her wound your spirit. Bitterness is like the bite of a snake that hurts only a little at first, but festers until the whole body is sick with it.”

“Anjella,” Mari objected, “you’re frightening him.”

Anjella shrugged. “Bennek is brave enough.” She fixed him with a sharp gaze. “Promise me you will be wary.”

And Bennek agreed to this demand at once.

* * *

He was to go to Sage Hedril in the evening. The day’s light was fading, just as it had been the first time he had seen her, in the summer. She was in a study off the library, and as he stood in the doorway looking in, she shuffled about the room on stiff limbs, pretending not to see him as she murmured under her breath; and at her words three small oil lamps ignited one after another. Apparently, she remembered their first meeting too.

At last Hedril looked at him. Her eyes were pale and small and deeply set in a wizened face, but their gaze was bright. And though she was gaunt, with shoulders stooped by age, she was tall still and her hair—white as the snow that had fallen at Kesh—was long and thick. Like Bennek she wore it in a single braid down her back. “Come in,” she told him in a low, airy voice. “Close the door. Sit down.”

He did as she said, sitting in one of two cushioned chairs. One of the oil lamps gleamed on a low table between them. Sage Hedril stood looking down at him. “Your fear is showing,” she remarked. “Has Anjella filled your head with suspicions?”

“It wasn’t like that.”

Hedril didn’t seem to care. “I misread you last summer. I should have seen it. You’re of the true Samokeän blood, aren’t you? Uncut by any lesser lineage out of Habaddon. There aren’t many of us left. Your grandparents knew what it was to be Samokeän. They refused to live within the safety of Habaddon’s walls. And so it was with your parents, and with you. You, who ventured to Samokea and found the Snow Chanter. She has waited long for the return of her people, has she not?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Bennek! The finding of the Snow Chanter was a great deed. Worthy of our forebears! But I should say your name properly—Bennek of Samokea. No ‘Clan Samoket’ for you. Not anymore.”

Bennek was made uneasy by her praise, but more so by her combative tone. He did not understand it. So he answered her softly. “It was not I alone, ma’am—”

She interrupted, as if he had not spoken. “And now you are come here to learn something of sorcery.”

“It is Jahallon’s wish.”

Slowly, with effort, Hedril sat down in the second chair. Her voice grew soft. “Tell me then, what do you already know?”

Bennek felt a powerful reluctance to speak; he had to remind himself Jahallon had sent him here. “I know how to seek the arowl. I know how to see them from within the Fourth Way. And when I find them, I know how to set fear and confusion among them, so they are easy to hunt.”

“Do you see only the arowl?” she asked, her gaze intent, as if she would draw the details out of him by will alone.

“Now that I know to turn in the Fourth Way, I see more. Animals, sometimes, though they’re hard to make out, but it has become easy to sense the presence of men and women, both near and far away.”

“Do you sense the Inyomere?”

“They are hidden.”

“And how far does your sight reach?”

He shrugged. “Farther now, though in truth, I don’t know.”

“You must have some idea. Can you see beyond the walls of the keep?”

“Oh. I can see much farther than that.”

“To the walls of Habaddon then? Or to the edge of the fields? Or . . . farther?”

When Bennek nodded, her eyes narrowed as if this was an outlandish boast. “I would like you to try.”

He looked down at the floor. He did not want to do it—yet how could he refuse?

“You are frightened, Bennek?”

“Ma’am, it’s just that I must leave myself to do this. It’s as if I become a vapor, or a ghost, and I can’t tell anymore what’s passing around me, since I’m not there.”

She nodded. “You truly are frightened of me.” This intrigued her. “Do you think I will harm you?”

“No! It’s just that Marshal or Kit always kept watch while I . . .” His voice trailed off as he saw her mocking smile. “I do not understand you,” he whispered. “Have I done a thing to offend you?”

“No, no, dear Bennek.” She leaned back in her chair with a tired sigh. “Unless I should blame you for being born too late.”

“I don’t know how I could have changed that, but it’s true. If I’d been born sooner I might have known my father.”

Sage Hedril heard these words and closed her eyes. Bennek thought he saw a faint tremble in her lip. When she spoke to him again her tone had softened. “I will watch and see that you are safe. Now go. See how far you can reach.”

He did not want to do it. But Jahallon had sent him here to learn. So he closed his eyes, and reluctantly, he set out in the Fourth Way.

At once he noticed a spirit. Or he thought it a spirit . . . but it was small and bright and did not know itself. It had nothing of its own volition, and he realized it was a spell. So he called to it: not in words, but in will—the will of the Inyomere that had come down to him from Tayeraisa the Snow Chanter—and the spell came to him. He realized it was the fire spell Hedril had summoned, still lingering in the room. It came to him, and he understood its way.

* * *

“Bennek!”

Hedril’s low, demanding voice came from some great distance. “Bennek, return! Return now before you are lost!”

There was fear behind her gruff tone. Bennek heard it, and returned to himself with a start. Hedril was crouched before him, her pale eyes suspicious. “What have you seen? Where have you gone?”

Bennek’s heart was beating harder than it should. “I was in Samokea, but not far—no more than a few miles past the river.”

“Samokea?” she echoed in astonishment.

Bennek was too agitated to pay her heed. “I don’t understand it. When we came south the land was empty, but now there are very many arowl gathering from east and west. Many more than we encountered in the summer. I don’t know how I will find a way past them.”

She shrugged absently. “The arowl come and they go.”

“Hedril, do you know a spell of concealment? One stronger than the hunter’s veil? One that will let me pass unseen through Samokea? I must return there to find my brother, and Lanyon.”

With some effort the old sage stood straight again, and now her face was guarded. “I know little of spells.”

“You know the fire spell.” He turned his gaze to the oil lamp on the table, and within the Mere he reached out and snuffed its flame. Hedril drew back, startled. Bennek glanced at her. Then he looked again at the lamp, and the flame returned to life. Hedril made a small cry of surprise. Bennek said to her, “If you make a spell of concealment, maybe I could learn it too.”

Hedril seemed more alarmed than pleased by this prospect. “Have you seen the talisman?” she asked. “Have you touched it?”

Bennek nodded, though he wondered if it was a thing he should speak of.

“There have only ever been a few who can command the spell it carries,” Hedril said. “Édan, of course. And maybe the Kyramanthes woman—”

“Lanyon can command it.”

“I think you could learn to command it, Bennek, though you would need better instruction than mine.”

As she spoke, Bennek sensed a faint presence brush past him. His thoughts became cloudy; he found himself confused. He felt he should do something, but he didn’t know what might be required of him—not until Hedril spoke again—and then her words brought a welcome clarity. “Édan is the only one worthy to teach you, Bennek. Go to him. He will embrace you.”

At first Bennek was surprised she knew about Édan, but then he realized Jahallon must have told her. And of course she was right. There could be no better teacher. Even Lanyon had learned from Édan. Bennek rose from his chair, determined to leave as soon as may be, even that very night. But then he remembered, “I don’t know where to find Édan.”

“He is in eastern Ohtangia. Ride there and he will find you.”

“I will have to walk. I do not have a horse.”

Hedril shrugged. “Just do not tell anyone that you are going.”

* * *

Bennek returned to Mari’s house. Anjella questioned him at supper but he said little, and afterward he returned to his room. He packed up his weapons. Then he sat cross-legged in the dark. He heard Anjella instructing her sons to watch their little sister, and then he heard her go out the courtyard gate. The house grew quiet.

It was time.

He picked up his pack and the staff Fen had made for him, and slipped out of his room. Only Kina was in the courtyard. She came with him as he hobbled to the gate. His leg ached, and that made it hard for him to walk in silence, but no one came to look. The gate sighed on its hinges, and then he was on the street.

The night sky blazed with stars. More light seeped from windows here and there where families had not yet gone to bed, but the street was empty. Leaning heavily on his staff, he set off for the city gate, but he had not gone far when running footsteps sounded behind him. “Bennek!”

It was Anjella, and Jahallon was with her. He looked at them in confusion. “Why are you about?” he asked, his voice quiet in the night.

She came to him, setting her hand on his arm. “I’ve asked Jahallon to come see you, Bennek. There’s something wrong. Ever since you came home tonight—”

“No. It makes sense. It does.” He peered at Jahallon’s shadowed face, impossible to read in the darkness. “War Father, I only follow my duty.”

“And what is your duty, Bennek?”

“You want me to learn something of sorcery, so I am to find Édan. He is the only one who can teach me.”

Anjella gasped, but Jahallon was calm. “What did you speak of with Sage Hedril?”

Bennek started to answer, but then he realized, “I don’t remember.” This frightened him a great deal. He had a powerful memory and except for his dreams, he could recall all things in fine detail.

“There is a spell bound to you,” Jahallon said softly. “I cannot see it. But I think you can. Look within the Mere.”

“A spell?”

Bennek was leaning heavily on his staff there in the dark street. Even so, he left himself. He turned within the Mere. And it was as Jahallon had said: entangled around his spirit was a binding spell. Its nature repulsed him. He sent his will against it, but it was endowed with a will of its own. He strove with it, learning its name and its way and slowly, slowly, his spirit slipped free. Then he sent the binding spell away, far away into the Mere.

He was trembling when he returned to himself. In part it was weariness—he felt spent—and in part it was pain—his leg ached so badly he was afraid it would give way beneath him. But more than these he trembled with fury as he realized what had been done to him—and that there was nothing he could do about it. Nothing. Hedril was a frail old woman. He could not vent his wrath on her.

“Bennek?” Jahallon asked him. “You are free now?”

“Yes, sir. But War Father, you must not ask me to visit Sage Hedril again. I will not do it. She has nothing to teach me that I wish to learn.”

“I won’t ask you to visit her again, but I think she has taught us both valuable lessons. You have learned to be cautious, and I have been reminded that not everyone in Habaddon is loyal to me.”

“It is true. She is loyal to Édan. She tried to send me to him! Why would she wish such evil on me?”

“I do not know yet what was in her heart, but I will discover it.”

* * *

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

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