Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


The Wild: Chapter 38

September 27th, 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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* * *

Snowy Mountains. Artist: Sarah Adams
Chapter 38

That night the men of Habaddon groped their way north through darkness and rain until they were deep in Samokea . . . and with every mile they advanced the dread afflicting Bennek grew worse. He could not ignore it as he had resolved to do. Finally he spoke to Jahallon. “Sir, there is something awaiting us. I know it. I cannot see it, I cannot name it, yet it is worse than the onslaught of arowl, and more dreadful than the talisman.”
“Would you have us turn back?” Jahallon asked him.

“We cannot turn back.”

“Then have courage, Bennek. We must have victory, no matter what happens.”

Dawn came reluctantly, its light filtered and dimmed by the rain. The captains commanded their men into cover on whatever high ground they could find. They didn’t have long to wait before a desperate baying of arowl was heard up and down the long battlefront, even over the rain. Kina trembled. A low growl rumbled in her throat. Bennek set his hand on her head to sooth her.

He stood shivering in his sodden coat, hidden with Jahallon’s company halfway up a low hill. They looked down on a meadow netted with glistening streams. Gyellen’s company was below them, concealed along with their horses in a thicket bright with new growth. Bahir’s men were in the trees across the meadow.

It was Bennek’s task to ensure the arowl came through this meadow, and through all the other places where ambush awaited them. He could not use fear against these arowl but he could guide them by igniting their blood-hunger, directing the battle as Édan had directed battles in days of old. And yet as he struggled to watch all the packs, and to coax them where he would have them go, and to whisper their whereabouts into the minds of those captains who could hear him, and to relate all that passed to Jahallon, who was crouched beside him, Bennek was sure Édan had never felt so overwhelmed.

The battle commenced. Bennek saw it on a dozen fronts at once. Volleys of arrows flew from trees and brush and from behind boulders, cutting through the packs. Great were-beasts roared their rage, turning to charge with spear and sword, their teeth bared at their attackers. With fearsome snarls, the war dogs of Habaddon raced to meet them. Bennek felt Kina scramble from his side; she disappeared amid the chaos. More arrows were fired by Habaddon’s warriors. Hundreds of beasts were felled—and yet hordes of arowl still remained. Bennek could not slow their advance. He could not make them turn away. All along the battlefront men were overwhelmed.

* * *

Pantheren was uneasy in his heart.

The Snow Chanter had sent her crow-minions again to Beyna Forest. In their croaking voices the pair had warned the Samokeäns of the Cavern to make ready. A great battle was brewing. Soon Siddél would summon all his arowl and then the way south would open. If the people willed it, they might escape their exile and make their way to Habaddon. To this the Samokeäns swiftly agreed, but Pantheren balked. “Lanyon will return here someday. It’s my duty to wait for her.” Kit felt the same, but in the end both men agreed to go as far as Kesh, for the land was dangerous, and they could contribute much to the defense.

Before long the day came when the baying of the arowl was no longer heard beyond the mist. Then the Samokeäns set out, taking only the food, the clothing, the blankets, the weapons, and the histories that could be carried on their backs. Pantheren had with him Lanyon’s bow, left behind by her that night the arowl had breached the keep. All that first day, the leopard shadowed them, but by evening it was gone. They neither saw nor heard any arowl.

The Snow Chanter met them at Kesh; and she spoke against Pantheren’s plan to return north. “Can you hide yourself from Édan? No! He will only need to look for you, to find her. Do not aid him! Go south instead. Find Édan. Do not allow him to return to Samokea.”

So Pantheren put aside his misgivings, and agreed.

The Snow Chanter had prepared small boats with sails and in these they set off on the River Talahnon, with a strong north wind speeding them on their way. The days were fair at first, until a dark storm roared down from the north. Rain poured onto the plain. The river grew wide and muddy. In the evening they had to navigate past stands of drowning thickets to bring the boats ashore. They used the sails to make shelters against the rain.

Late that night and despite the rain, there came a faint stench of acrid smoke on the air. Lehe was first to notice it, and she arose, trembling. “This is haunted smoke! It seeps from the Mere and speaks of some great evil.”

“No, I think not,” Luven said in puzzled wonder. “It’s like and yet unlike the smoke we send up from the burning of arowl. Surely it speaks of some great evil undone?” For many seconds she stared into the night, as if listening to something barely perceivable beyond the thrumming of the falling rain. “I cannot be sure, but I think the arowl pits of Édan have been set afire.”

“If they have,” Pantheren said, “Édan is surely retreating north, safely hidden from us by this rain.”

It was in his heart to turn back and Kit felt the same. Kit had challenged Édan once and lost. He was reminded of it always by the deep scars that disfigured the right side of his face. The arowl had nearly killed him that night. It was only Édan’s inexplicable mercy that had kept him alive. But instead of softening his heart, Édan’s mercy had made Kit even more fiercely determined to finally bring the sorcerer down.

But as the gray light of morning filtered into their wet encampment, they heard for the first time in days the baying of arowl. At first the loathsome sound was faint, almost lost behind the hiss of rain and the boil of the river, but between the grumblings of thunder they heard it again. Louder, and mixed with the screams of men.

* * *

Bennek was in despair as he looked on the battlefield. In the meadow below, horsemen in ones and twos battled were-wolves and great dire wolves, and things that were like bears though they had the faces of people. All along the battlefront it was the same: brave men facing such an onslaught of arowl as few there had ever seen before, ten to one against the warriors of Habaddon. The beasts were mad, driven to an unassailable rage by their own terrible starvation. Bennek strove to set fear in them but he could not. He strove to check their fury, to afflict them with doubt, to slow their forward assault, but they were too many, far too many, and for all his struggles the battle slipped quickly from his control.

The warriors of Habaddon would be overwhelmed. He knew it. The men fought bravely, but the beasts were too many.

Then, as if they sensed imminent victory, the arowl surged forward in a berserk frenzy. Their rage overwhelmed their reason and madness took them. Some turned on one another. Others forsook the men closest to them to pursue those warriors concealed higher on the rain-slick slopes. The beasts howled and rampaged—all regard for their own survival was gone—and within minutes thousands fell with arrows in their throats.

It was the same all along the battlefront: raging, mindless beasts offering themselves up for slaughter—and all the while Bennek could affect nothing. Victory would soon come to the men of Habaddon, even as Bennek’s will was utterly ignored.

Over a cacophony of the mingled screams of men, the baying of arowl, the shrill neighs of horses, he turned to Jahallon and shouted, “I cannot affect the beasts! There is another will here that steers them to their doom. War Father, I think Édan is on the field.”

“Then get up on your horse! Let us find him.”

* * *

When Pantheren heard the sounds of battle, he went at once to arm himself. “This is no small conflict,” he warned the others. “Habaddon’s army has crossed the Glycian and fights now in Samokea.”

Jakurian was a man of Habaddon and he too fetched his weapons. Kit and Marshal also took up arms, as did most of the people of the Cavern, even many of the women, but Jakurian said to them, “Put up your arms and return to the boats. I would not have you come so near to the Protected Lands only to fall in battle. Continue on the river, and when you come to Habaddon, bring word of all that has passed in the north.”

This speech did not please the Samokeäns. Luven said, “We have not journeyed south to seek the protection of a greater people. We have come to join our strength with that of Habaddon.” She had not taken up weapons, for her daughter was still a babe-in-arms, hardly a year old, but the people had made her their Chieftain, and now they voiced their agreement.

So after swift discussion it was decided that the men would join the battle, while the women took the boats—for all were concerned that their few possessions and their precious histories should survive.

The hunter’s veil was called over the warriors. Tearful goodbyes followed. Marshal shared a tender embrace with Luven, whispering to her his steadfast love. Then he kissed his daughter and he set off with the other men.

Luven stood with the women and watched them go. After only a few steps the rain washed away the faint outlines of their figures. Luven waited until the last shimmer of motion was gone across a grassy field, and then she turned to Gorem. Her voice was unmarred by frail sentiment. “You will see that the boats are taken safely onward.”

The older woman nodded, but the others besieged her with questions. “Luven, what do you mean?” “What are you planning?” “If you intend to stay and fight, then we will stay as well!”

“No.” Luven was their chieftain; her hard gaze quelled dissent. “You will all go on as we agreed. Don’t fear for me. It’s not my plan to join the battle, but only to speak a spell that will aid our cause.”

Some still questioned her, but she would say no more on it, only bidding them to make the boats ready. Then she called to Lehe and gave her daughter into her care. “Lehe, do not be afraid. I know where your heart is turned. You have waited with great patience. Know that I will do all I can to protect your hopes, and the future of our people.”

With tears in her eyes and a flush in her cheeks Lehe took the baby and fled to the boats.

Luven bade farewell to the others. She took no arms with her as set out into the rain, but in her hand she carried the mask of the water spirit.

* * *

Bennek let his mare find her own footing in the muddy hills as he galloped east after Jahallon. He gave all his attention to his vision of the Mere. Habaddon’s warriors were still scattered throughout the hills. Some were hard pressed—Bennek tried to help them when he could—but now that the numbers of men and beasts were nearly even, the progress of the battle had turned hard against the arowl.

His mare had carried him almost to the edge of the fighting when he noticed a gathering of riders on a grassy hillside even farther to the east. They were set apart from all the other warriors by their stillness. There were men and women among them, all watching the battle from afar.

He called out to Jahallon. “Sir!”

“Have you found him?”

“Not him, sir. Édan is hidden from my sight, but I have found those who serve him.”

* * *

The Samokeän warriors had gone southwest, but Luven stayed among the hills close to the river. It was not her purpose to join the battle. She was hunting Édan.

She knew the sorcerer was accustomed to cross the River Talahnon into Samokea; it seemed likely to her that he kept a hidden ferry. If so, his crossing point was fixed, and she could hope to find him pinched between the battle and the river.

She didn’t fear that Édan would discover her—like all her people, and like the Inyomere too, a glamour hid her presence within the Mere. Her only fear was that Édan would evade her hunt or cross the river at some more northern point.

The tall grass was bent low and sodden in the rain. She crept through it, feeling half-transformed already into a water spirit though she hadn’t yet called on any spell. She made her way to a hilltop where she hoped to gain a vantage, but as she crested she heard voices from below. Raising her head above the grass, she peered down.

Riders were gathered on the slope a bow-shot below her. They were seven in number. All sat astride their horses in a swale of deep grass that hid them from any eyes gazing up from below. They spoke quietly to one another. She heard the rumblings of their voices, though she couldn’t make out the words.

One sat apart. He wore coat and hood and his back was turned to her so she could see nothing of his face, but it was clear by the posture of the others, and by the lines of their attention, that he was their leader.

Not for a moment did she doubt this was Édan. Wonder came over her. Surely Zavoy’s spirit guided her?

In silence, she shed her coat. She put on the mask of the water spirit. Then she whispered the spell that would bring it to life.

* * *

Bennek and Jahallon rode hard, weaving between thickets as they descended a hillside through pouring rain, and then pounding across a wide swath of grass, the hooves of their horses splashing in a thousand rivulets.

Jahallon’s horse was taller than Bennek’s mare. Its stride was longer, and Jahallon gradually pulled away. Rain stung Bennek’s eyes as he tried to see what lay ahead. Were the riders on the hillside moving? Yes! Fear twisted his gut. The riders were skidding and sliding down the grassy slope. Not fleeing. No. They were coming down to meet Jahallon.

* * *

Pantheren had rounded a hillside when he saw two riders galloping east, going with great speed despite the rain-slick ground. From his boyhood Pantheren had looked up to Jahallon; he had served him from the age of thirteen. He knew Jahallon’s voice; he knew his gait; he knew his posture in the saddle. Even at such a distance, glimpsed through pouring rain, he recognized Jahallon astride the lead horse.

“Jakurian, it’s your father!”

Jakurian looked to the distant riders in astonishment. “Why does he leave the battle?”

“I think he’s found prey more dangerous than arowl. Come! Let us go to his aid.”

* * *

Jahallon reined his horse in so hard it skidded in the grass, leaving scars of mud. He pulled his spear, and, standing in the stirrups as his horse danced and snorted beneath him, he cocked his arm back, ready to throw. Bennek rode up beside him. He set an arrow to his bowstring, but he held the weapon loosely. He didn’t believe the arrow would ever reach Édan, even if dared to shoot.

Certainly Édan showed no fear as he sat his horse, facing Jahallon, with his riders arrayed behind him. They were three men and three women. None were young. Most seemed close to Pantheren in age. By their dress and their braids Bennek recognized them as Samokeän. The three women and one of the men answered Jahallon’s challenge by drawing their bows. The gleaming tips of their arrows were aimed at Jahallon’s heart. But Édan scowled at them and shook his head. “You may not kill him.”

Reluctantly, they lowered their bows and Bennek was able to breathe again.

The sorcerer had pushed back his hood, revealing a face less scarred than it had been at Kesh. Édan glanced at Bennek and his eyes narrowed—perhaps he remembered that day Bennek had stood in the rocks beside Lanyon—but he said nothing of it as his guarded gaze returned to Jahallon and to the spear he still held, ready to throw. “It’s a quandary,” he said, his voice soft, yet carrying easily over the falling rain. “Should you love me or hate me?”

Jahallon did not throw the spear, but he hurled words at Édan. “I love you as my son! But you have aided Siddél. You have taken his arowl as your own, making them fiercer, and more cunning. My men have died, consumed by your dire wolves! Your own kin have fallen to these beasts that were nurtured by you.”

Bennek had never seen Jahallon so lost to rage. His horse trembled at its master’s fury. And yet Jahallon did not hurl the spear.

By contrast Édan was neither angry nor frightened. He spoke with perfect calm. “My far father, I do not claim innocence. The arowl were the only army left to me as I lay in the mud and the darkness, deep within the pits of Nendaganon. I would be there still if I had not learned the spell of their making.”

Jahallon shook his spear, but still he did not throw it. “I do not hold you guilty for using Siddél’s own corrupt beasts to escape! But why then did you not return to me? Did you fear to confess what you had done? Did you think I would not forgive you?”

“I did only what was needful, and for that I ask the forgiveness of no one.” Édan glanced to the west, and as he did so, Bennek realized that the baying of the arowl had fallen into silence. Édan spoke again. “My far father, I am not the man you knew. A hundred times I died in Nendaganon and a hundred times I was made to live again. I endured what no other man has ever endured . . . because I was given a purpose in this world. How then could I return to you and fight in yet another petty war?”

A petty war? Bennek looked at Jahallon. How could Édan name this a petty war, when the army of Habaddon had been nearly overcome? But Jahallon’s raw fury had faded. He lowered his spear. Bennek thought he saw defeat on his face . . . but when Jahallon spoke again, it was in an unforgiving voice. “Édan, by that last night in the Citadel you had already forgotten what it is to be one among the people.”

Édan shook his head. “I have never been one among the people.”

Just then there came a most unexpected sound: the voice of a woman, chanting in a high place. Bennek looked up, and to his astonishment he saw an Inyomere standing on the hilltop, out in the open for all to see. She was a blue water spirit. Rain sheathed her smooth body as she raised her palms to the storm.

Édan jerked his horse back, half-turning to look at her. Shock overcame him. “She summons Siddél! Flee! Flee now, all of you!”

Only then did Jahallon hurl his spear.

But one of the women had already set heels to her horse. It leaped forward, carrying her into the spear’s path just as a bolt of lightning deep within the clouds set all the sky ablaze. The blade sliced through her shoulder, knocking her to the ground. Thunder exploded above their heads. Bennek thought his ears would burst. The other riders scattered, but Édan remained behind. He jumped down from his horse. Pulling the spear from the woman’s shoulder, he hurled it away. Then he hauled her to her feet and heaved her onto his own horse’s back. Bennek saw his lips move in the spell of healing, and then he slapped the horse, commanding it to “Run!

By this time Jahallon had pulled his sword from its scabbard. He set his horse charging toward Édan. Bennek knew he intended to take the sorcerer’s head—but before Jahallon could reach him, Édan spoke the name of another spell, one Bennek had never heard before. It came at the sorcerer’s command, bringing with it a horrid, crushing, congealing pressure. Even as Bennek cringed, struggling just to breathe, he remembered a long-ago dawn when he’d stood on Habaddon’s ice-slick north wall and felt the terrible force of the spell of time that carried Lanyon from the world.

This was the same spell.

A loud snap rent the air, and Édan was gone from the world.

Jahallon swung his sword, but he found only empty air. Wheeling his horse around, he shouted, “Bennek, run! Run now!”

Clouds writhed above them. Bennek was full-ready to go; he was only waiting for Jahallon. But in the few seconds it took for Jahallon to gallop back, the sky went dark. Night loomed, hours before it was due. A terrible, roaring noise like some vast cataract came out of the clouds. Bennek looked up, to see the whirlwind. It was a slender white funnel as it dropped from the cloud bellies, but when it struck the ground it turned black.

Ride!” Jahallon shouted.

Bennek tried to turn his mare to match pace with Jahallon’s horse, but the whirlwind was too much for her. She reared, her eyes rolling white. Jahallon yanked his horse around. He meant to come back, to help Bennek, but the horse fought him. It bucked, and then it bolted, carrying Jahallon away.

Bennek felt his mare slip in the mud.

He kicked out of the stirrups, leaping clear as she went down. He landed hard on his shoulder. Mud splashed around him as the tumbled mare surged back to her feet and raced away. More mud was flung through the air by the roaring whirlwind. He scrambled to his feet and started to run—but then he saw Jahallon returning.

Jahallon had the reins in his teeth and his bow in his hands. He drove his horse past its own fear, galloping back to face the whirlwind.

The dread haunting Bennek began here. He knew it. This was the moment they had been warned against.

Jahallon shot one arrow, and then another, at the roaring pillar of mud and rain. His horse was wild-eyed, still running hard when it lost its footing on the muddy slope. Jahallon was thrown beneath it as it fell. Thrashing hooves pawed at the rain. Then the horse righted itself and regained its feet, fleeing west after the mare, but Jahallon remained crumpled in the mud

Bennek cried out in horror, a lamentation that went unheard even by his own ears, so loud was the roaring of the whirlwind. He scrambled to Jahallon’s side, to find him awake and aware, though his face was clenched in pain.

No matter his injuries, Jahallon could not die. Bennek knew this. With time he would recover. But Bennek had known great pain himself and he dreaded such suffering in another.

Jahallon though, wanted nothing of his sympathy. He seized Bennek’s coat, forcing words past clenched teeth. “I told you to flee! Go! Go now. Siddél is here.”

Bennek looked for the monster . . . but then he realized Jahallon meant the whirlwind.

The swirling funnel slowed. Mud rained down from the sky. Bennek leaned over Jahallon to shelter him from it as the whirlwind unraveled into a fierce, coursing gale that howled through the grass with the sound of a hundred haunting voices. “Go!” Jahallon told him again.

Bennek shook his head. “War Father, I will not leave you.”

The voices in the grass rolled together. They became one, a deep rumbling bluster of triumph: “Jahallon-the-treacherous! I sought Édan, but I have found you! With your bowmen frightened away, your spears all broken! Hear me now as I speak my will.”

“No!” Bennek screamed, standing to confront the gale. Here was the fate predicted by the Darkness. Siddél had come to unwind his curse. Bennek could not let it happen. Jahallon must be protected. But the monster had spoken truly. Bennek’s bow was gone with the whirlwind. His spear was still on his horse. “Go away!” he shouted in helpless protest. “Go a-way!”

He had only his sword left.

He pulled it from his back scabbard.

Jahallon forced himself onto his side. He looked up. His anger was all for Bennek. “What will you do? Will you battle the wind? Obey me now and go!

Bennek pleaded with the swirling gale, “Show yourself!”

The Inyomere was not so foolish as that. Siddél spoke with the gale’s voice. He called to an oppressive spell well-hidden in the deep places of the Mere. Bennek heard his summons. He felt the spell awaken. Siddél called it a second time and this time the ponderous spell rose up—and yet no power was left in it. To Bennek’s astonishment the spell unraveled, dissolving like mist burning away in sunlight—

—and somewhere within the Mere a gate that had been held open for years upon years was finally allowed to close.

Bennek shuddered, knowing something had been lost.

Jahallon shivered too. A deep sigh ran through him. His eyes closed, and he slumped against the grass.

* * *

The wind eased. The storm clouds broke apart. The rain tapered to a drizzle, and sunshine spilled down to touch Jahallon’s face. It gleamed on his cheeks and his closed eyelids, and on the lips where no breath stirred. “He has fainted,” Bennek whispered.

He returned his sword to its scabbard, but he drew it out again as a glistening figure came running at him through the steaming grass. It was the Inyomere who had chanted from the hilltop, a lithe and graceful water spirit—or so she appeared until she took off an enchanted mask, revealing herself to be no Inyomere at all, but a sorceress of pale face, with hair nearly the shade of moonlight. He couldn’t see her within the Mere. Her glamour-wrapped spirit was hidden there, just as he was hidden, just as all the Inyomere were hidden. Even Édan had been unaware of her until she began her chant.

She looked down in distaste at Jahallon’s still form. “Is he dead?” she asked coldly. “Is Édan finally dead?”

“This is not Édan,” Bennek whispered. “It is Jahallon.”

Horror overcame her. A keening wail arose from her throat and she stumbled, collapsing to her knees. Bennek shook his head. “No, please! Do not grieve!” He sheathed his sword and knelt again beside Jahallon, touching his cold cheek. “There’s no need to grieve. Jahallon is not dead. He can’t die. He’s cursed by Siddél to live forever. I tell you, he cannot die.”

She did not heed him. Still on her knees, she covered her face with her hands and moaned, “What have I done? What have I done?”

Her grief swept Bennek, a terrible pressure that closed around his heart and dizzied him. Or was it grief? For a moment—just a moment—he thought he saw Édan.

Édan—returned to the world, standing again in the place he had been when he disappeared into time, his hood thrown back, his braided hair sodden with rain . . . and on his face a look of shock and grief as he gazed down at Jahallon’s fallen figure.

Yet surely this vision was nothing more than a waking dream? For in an eye blink Édan was gone again. A rogue wind swirled in the place he had been standing. It shook loose droplets of water from the grass, and then the wind sighed away to the east, rounding the hill, leaving a trail like footsteps in the wet grass.

“Bennek!”

He started, thinking he had heard Marshal call his name, but when he looked, there was only the woman weeping. Then a whirl of ethereal, shimmering motion caught his eye as half-seen figures—ghost warriors—raced toward him through the grass. They surrounded him. They spoke his name. They spoke Jahallon’s name. Unseen hands touched his shoulders, and then at last a voice uttered a word Lanyon had once used, tirvallian, and within the Fourth Way a breeze stirred. It sighed through the world, blowing away the warriors’ veils, revealing them to his sight.

Most were strangers to Bennek—a lithe, lean people, each as pale as the weeping sorceress—but with them were others that he knew.

Kit was revealed, kneeling beside him, but when Bennek saw such a depth of concern in his cousin’s eyes he drew back, doubting his senses. His gaze took in the deep scars that ravaged Kit’s face and throat, and he wondered aloud, “Are you a ghost?”

“It was close,” Kit admitted.

Then both were startled by Pantheren’s grief-choked lamentation. “War Father! You cannot leave us.” He went to his knees on Jahallon’s other side. Jakurian was beside him, his expression a mix of fury and disbelief.

Pantheren wept as he eased a hand under Jahallon’s head, lifting it a little from the crumpled grass. “War Father, hear me! Your life reaches back to Hahví. You were with the first of the people to set foot in the Wild. You cannot leave us. You cannot. Jahallon, waken!”

Jahallon did not stir. Bennek felt his own heart beating faster. He did not want to admit what he knew to be true. He did not want to think on it, but Jakurian leaned forward, reaching over his father’s body to place a heavy hand on Bennek’s shoulder. His voice trembled. “Bennek, what has been done here?”

Bennek shook his head. “He said this would not happen!”

“What? What has happened?”

“The Darkness warned him. It came two nights past to warn him that Siddél meant to unbind his curse, but Jahallon said that would be no easy thing to do.”

“And still it was done,” a woman said.

Jakurian looked up at her. Bennek followed his gaze to the sorceress. She had risen to her feet. Marshal stood beside her. Bennek looked on them both in astonishment. He had never seen a woman like her before, so thin and so pale, but though her eyes were red from tears, she was done now with her weeping and her voice was steady when she said, “It should have been Édan. He was here.”

“Was he here, Bennek?” Marshal asked, and Bennek nodded.

Kit fixed him with a sharp gaze. “Where has he gone? Did Siddél take him?”

“No. Édan was gone when Siddél came.”

Kit looked to Jakurian. “We must go after him.”

“No!” the sorceress said. “Kit, you cannot defeat him. Only Siddél has power enough to bring down Édan.”

Bennek blinked, remembering her chant. Siddél had been her weapon. She had summoned the monster against Édan and yet it was Jahallon who was left behind on the battlefield.

Kit answered her in anger. “If we can’t stop Édan, we at least can hinder him. It’s the will of the Snow Chanter that we try!”

“We’ll need horses,” Jakurian said. “I’ll speak to my people.” He arose and strode away, leaving Pantheren weeping beside the body.

Kit slipped a possessive arm around Bennek’s shoulders. “Come with me, Bennek. We’ll walk about and you’ll tell me all you remember of Édan.”

Bennek did not resist Kit’s guidance. He was too stunned to know what he should do. “I couldn’t stop it,” he whispered as he clambered to his feet. “Siddél spoke the name of an old spell and at once it was undone and a gate closed—”

“What of Édan?” Kit asked impatiently.

“Gone! Gone away into time. Kit, he knows Lanyon’s spell!”

“He has escaped us?” Kit asked in near despair.

“No. I don’t know! He was gone scant minutes and then . . . I mistook it at first, but I felt him return. I saw him again. It was only a glimpse and then—” He clutched at Kit’s arm. “And then he was veiled from my sight, just as you were veiled! I see it now . . . he went east around the hill. The grass was stirred as if by footsteps. He had no horse.”

A look of cold fire was in Kit’s eyes. “Then we will have a chance.”

There were many more people around them now. They were Jahallon’s people, coming from the battlefield. Some spoke to Bennek. They had heard rumors, wild rumors. Their eyes were haunted. Did he know what had become of Jahallon?

He didn’t know how to answer them.

He didn’t know how to put words together to explain the nature of Siddél’s curse . . . though he understood it now—now it was too late. Jahallon’s life was sustained by the Mere. So it was for all living creatures. In the natural course a gate would close, the life force flowing from the Mere would cease, and the spirit would pass from the world . . . but Siddél’s spell had held open the gate through which Jahallon’s life flowed, turning away any fate that might have destroyed his body and healing all his wounds so that his life was drawn out far beyond the span of any of the people. But the spell had crumbled when Siddél called its name, and the gate had closed.

Bennek could put none of this into words, and when he could offer no answers to Jahallon’s warriors, their fear and their confusion led them to speak against the strangers in their midst. “What sort of people are these?” “Did they come with Siddél?” “What have they done to Jahallon?”

“It was not them!” Bennek cried out, but grief had taken his voice and his words were no more than a whisper.

Jakurian returned then, leading two horses, and it was he who answered the angry speech. “Who here knows me? Who remembers me?”

Many there acknowledged him.

“I have been gone almost two years, but now I am come back from the north with old allies rediscovered. Not all of Samokea was able to flee south when the Citadel fell. These few stayed and survived, and I tell you now, they are our friends.”

Kit squeezed Bennek around the shoulders. “Take care, my cousin. We will speak more when I return.”

“Kit—”

But Kit was already away among the press of warriors. He took one of the horses from Jakurian and the two rode off with many men accompanying them.

Bennek watched them go. He didn’t know what to do. His head was all abuzz. He felt as if a fever had taken his body, and it was all he could do to stay on his feet.

* * *

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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, September 27th, 2013 at 12:01 am
Categories: The Wild.

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