Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


The Wild: Chapter 34

August 30th, 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
Chapter 34

For all his life Kit had lived side-by-side with Marshal. Everything they did was shared, be it work or play or the danger of the hunt. Zavoy had grown up much the same way, with his sister Luven as his constant companion and confidante. But Marshal and Luven now preferred one another’s company, and as the spring advanced they were often gone away together into the forest. So it was natural that Zavoy and Kit should find companionship with one another.
It became their custom to hunt together. In these forays they would leave at dawn and not return until after dark, but days had passed since they had last found any arowl. The forest was grown so safe that on a morning in mid-spring Zavoy gave in to the pleas of his young cousin Lehe, and consented to take her along on a hunt. Kit was not altogether pleased. Lehe was not accustomed to venturing in the woods, and perforce went slowly and needed to rest, but even his hard heart could not hold on to resentment long in the face of her winsome spirit, and nor was he immune to her admiration.

It was a bright morning, with the trees wearing their new green, and flowers blooming amid the grass. They had stopped at a stream to drink, and were lying together in the sun-warmed grass when a faint, plaintive wail sounded from the east. Lehe sat up, at once on her guard. “The arowl are hunting!”

“They are far away,” Zavoy assured her. “Beyond the wall of enchanted mist that bounds the forest.”

“We should go forth to hunt them,” Kit said.

The solitary voice was answered by a chorus of distant howls. Kit was incensed. He sat up. “Listen to them! They call to us. Ah, I cannot abide this quiet existence, hidden away behind the mist while the Wild still endures the abomination of Siddél.”

“But we’re safe here,” Lehe said in quiet protest. “I wouldn’t want to venture out into peril.”

“You should be safe always,” Zavoy assured her.

Kit started to say more, but he was distracted by a rustle in the forest, back along the way they had come. All three rose to their feet. Kit and Zavoy readied their bows.

Several minutes passed without event. Finally Kit said, “This is not the first time today I have heard a sound out of place.”

Zavoy nodded. “It seems we are followed, and not by our usual friend who moves ever in graceful silence.”

This “friend” they had glimpsed many times in recent days. It was a large cat, always half-seen as it slipped from shadow to shadow beneath the trees. It offered them no threat, seeming only curious over their doings, and both were convinced it was the Inyomere-that-Awakened. But something else followed them now.

Very softly, Kit said, “Let’s flush it out. You wait here. I’ll circle around.”

Zavoy was reluctant. “We have to stay together for Lehe’s protection.”

Lehe had wandered several steps farther along the stream, where she’d crouched to examine something on the ground, but she stood up suddenly, turning to look for them with frightened eyes. “Come see this!” she whispered, beckoning with her hand.

They went to look. She directed their attention to the soft ground on the stream’s bank. “Are these arowl tracks? They’re so large and deep!”

Each print was in two parts, right and left, together making a rounded triangle with the narrow part leading. Zavoy puzzled over them, measuring them with his fingers, but Kit glanced at them and announced, “They are deer tracks.”

Zavoy gave him an angry look. “That’s not something to be joked about! You know there are no deer here. They were hunted out even before my father was born.”

“I know it! But these are exactly like tracks I have pursued a thousand times in Fathalia . . . though I confess I don’t know how such a thing could be. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it’s only some sort of hoofed arowl—but let us discover the truth of it.” He set an arrow to his bowstring and then he crossed the water, following the tracks as they meandered up the far bank. Zavoy came after him, whispering to Lehe to stay close.

They had gone only a little way beneath the trees when Kit sensed a stir of motion amid a scattering of light and shadow. He froze. Zavoy crouched beside him. Several seconds passed. And then Kit spied a fawn, its tiny tail wagging, and nearby, almost invisible in the mottled light, a doe, moving in unhurried steps through the undergrowth. He gazed into the deeper shadows, and discovered two more does, each with its own fawn. As they moved away there came behind two young stags.

Kit bent his bow, taking careful aim, but the stags were startled by a loud and jarring caw! from among the trees so that they leaped away just as Kit released his arrow. His shot hit wood. Next, two large crows careened beneath the branches, settling on a nearby limb with a rattle of wings.

“They were deer!” Zavoy cried in astonishment.

Lehe was less sure. “Kit? Is it so? Were those deer?”

Kit was breathless with astonishment. “It is sorcery! Sorcery that we have seen deer! And sorcery that I have missed them!”

Zavoy said, “If it is sorcery, it’s far beyond my learning.”

The crows cawed and rattled their wings, walking up and down on their branch. Kit scowled at them. “You two would have had the leavings, if you’d waited but a moment longer to parade yourselves before us.”

They quieted, watching him closely with intent black eyes.

“A crow is a crow,” Zavoy said softly. “And still I recall a pair of birds that came to watch us question the arowl on that day Lanyon disappeared. They too displayed no shyness before the people.”

Lehe was intrigued. “They listen to us. See how the smaller cocks its head as we speak?”

“I have never seen birds behave thus,” Zavoy agreed.

Kit held onto his resentment. “Let us go on quietly, and we may find these deer settled again.” He went to retrieve his arrow, but the crows took flight, sweeping past his shoulder and calling loudly as if to warn the deer, before circling about and landing again on the very same branch.

“They don’t want you to go on!” Lehe said in great excitement, as if it were a game. “Perhaps there is some danger ahead.”

But the danger came from behind them. From the corner of his eye Zavoy sensed movement where none should be. He turned, an arrow cradled in his bow.

“Hold up!” a frightened voice called to him. “Zavoy, it’s only me!” Young Penrik showed himself amid the brush beside the stream.

Gonly stood up beside him, saying, “We saw you hunting and did not call out lest we disturb your prey.”

“And for how long have you held off?” Kit wondered as they drew near. “It’s sometime since we began to hear behind us the crackling of your passage.”

Penrik’s eyes flashed at this reproach. “I wonder you did not lay in wait for us. Here you are with Lehe to defend, and we might have been arowl.” He turned to her. “Lehe, you look as if you’ve had a fright. You are all right?”

She drew back, not seeming at all pleased with his attention. “I am with Zavoy and Kit. Of course I am just fine.”

Kit glanced at Zavoy and they agreed silently to say nothing just yet of the deer.

The pair of crows watched all this from their branch, discussing it between themselves in a soft warbling tongue. Kit studied them with suspicion, and after a moment he addressed them again, “Will you not show yourselves?”

The crows cawed softly. Then there was a shimmer, and where the birds had been, two Inyomere now appeared on the branch. Lehe gasped, and Gonly reached for his bow, but Zavoy gestured at him to hold off.

In form the two spirits were like people, but tiny. If they’d been standing side-by-side with Kit, their heads would not have reached his knee. They were covered in fine black feathers; their bright eyes were black, and so were their lips. They laughed at the surprise they’d caused, and the sound was full of harsh, croaking humor.

The smaller of the two displayed a perfect sense of balance as she stood up on the branch and addressed herself to Kit. “The Snow Chanter sends her greetings,” she said in a rough, grating voice.

“The Snow Chanter!” Kit cried in joy. “How does she fare, our beloved far mother? Has she endured the assaults of Siddél?”

The two feathered Inyomere laughed again. The one that was still seated rocked back and forth on the branch in his merriment. “It has been a terrible winter!” he lamented. “Terrible! Terrible! Who can recall such deep snows? Save for the Snow Chanter! Ha ha, she has drawn such strength from Siddél’s raging. Like to the Tayeraisa of old, she has become, she has!”

The tiny feathered woman then added. “All this winter we have breathed the smoke of your burnings! The taste of it is merriment.”

“It was meant to spread terror among the arowl,” Gonly said, disgruntled.

Both of the little Inyomere laughed uproariously. “More than terror!” one cried. “Stolen magic!” chortled the other.

“What is stolen?” Zavoy wanted to know.

“Siddél’s magic is stolen away from him by these fine spells,” the woman-spirit answered.

“Fine indeed! Fine indeed!”

She smiled at her companion. “The life Siddél breathed into each one of his beasts is freed by your fires. It returns to the Wild, and the Wild remembers what it should be. Life returns.”

“We are full of wonder,” Zavoy told them. “In our ignorance and folly we slew the Inyomere that once tended the life of this place and they never can return, yet a new spirit has arisen in their stead.”

“It is true! It is true!” sang the larger of the two.

The woman-spirit smiled joyfully. “It is a mystery we cannot explain,” she confessed. “The Inyomere were wakened in the beginning of the world, and not since has another come forth within the Wild—until now! For this land is awake! It speaks not. Yet it listens. It watches. Tayeraisa will be much intrigued when we bring her this news.”

“Good news! Good news!” her companion cawed. “Good news to sooth her anger!”

The woman spirit became suddenly stern. “Her anger is very great! She says to Kit, ‘You failed to guard the little sister. Shall Siddél remain ever in the world?’”

At this, Kit was stricken with guilt, but Zavoy said, “Lanyon will come back, and it will not be so long. It cannot be. She knows our need.”

Soon now, soon now,” warbled the tiny man-spirit. “Mukarigenze agrees.”

The woman paced the branch. “Our Tayeraisa has gone again to Mukarigenze. Again she has spoken for her children. She has said to him, there is a new magic in this burning. The prayers that arise from it are a poison to Siddél.”

Wait and see. Wait and see.”

“Wait and see what will become of it. Wait and see if the talisman will return in some near season.”

“It is our hope,” Zavoy answered. “We wait for it as you do.”

“The Snow Chanter says it is not enough to wait—”

“Tell us then what we can do!” Kit pleaded.

“Go forth!”

He is coming. He is coming.”

“For he is coming! Édan is coming. And maybe he knows more than we do of our little sister and her return. Go forth and thwart him that he may not stand again in defense of Siddél!”

Find him! Find him!

“Find him! Meet him on the plain! He is there even now, with three of his warriors, seeking for our little sister. Do not let him be there when she returns. Cut him. Hurt him. Make him speak the spell that will separate him from his life! Send him forever away!”

“We will do this,” Kit agreed. “But will you guide us? Will you show us where he is?”

“Go through the mist, the mist. Beyond it we will find you again.”

He is coming. He is coming.”

Then together the two feathered Inyomere leaped from their branch, and in a twinkling they were transformed again into crows of glittering black, and they sped away east beneath the branches.

* * *

Zavoy told Gonly to take both Penrik and Lehe back to the safety of the cavern, but Gonly would not hear of it. “If it’s the command of our far mother the Snow Chanter that we should go forth in this hour to face Édan and his warriors, I will not shirk it. Let Penrik care for Lehe. He is young, but adept with a bow and she will be safe in his company.”

Lehe was not pleased, but Penrik was happy to do it. He had always hoped Lehe would someday be his wife and it caused him great ire to see her gaze so often turned to Kit. “When Lehe is safe, then I’ll come after you,” Penrik promised, “and I’ll bring more warriors with me.”

This Zavoy denied at once. “The crows didn’t fly to the cavern. They came here to us. They came to Kit. They gave us this task. It’s not meant for all of our people to risk this venture. We three are enough.” Then he told Gonly and Penrik of the deer they had seen; he showed them the tracks. He instructed Penrik to say they were following the deer and they might well be out throughout the night.

Penrik looked uneasy at this lie and Lehe protested it, but Zavoy asked her if she would prefer that her brother Halméd, and Marshal, and all the other men should risk their lives on the plain, and what if none of them came back? Then Lehe was in tears, but she promised to keep silent, though she begged that they should all return safe.

So they parted. And in less than an hour Kit, Zavoy and Gonly came to the wall of mist that fenced in the forest. It huddled beneath the branches, a heavy gray fog that refused to be driven off by the warmth of the sun. The shapes of trees could be seen just within it, but after a few steps nothing could be made out.

Kit went first into it, and as the tendrils curled about him he felt confusion descend, and within a few steps he could not recall from what direction he had come, and in what direction he was going. Close behind him Zavoy whispered, “I feel I am going mad.” While Gonly said, “We must find a landmark!”

Then Kit saw a shadow moving within the mist. It was a great cat. It paused to look back at them, its tail twitching. “Come,” Kit said, starting after it. “Our friend is here to show us the way.”

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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, August 30th, 2013 at 12:04 am
Categories: The Wild.

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