Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


The Wild: Chapter 44

November 8th, 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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Owl on branch. Artist: Sarah Adams
Chapter 44

Bennek stared dumbfounded at Kit. His heart was racing and despite the fog his throat was dry. “Kit! You thought I was Édan? But I made the same mistake with you. How is it you are here? How is it I could not see you with my spirit sight?”
Kit looked beyond Bennek with an affectionate smile. “Lehe is a powerful witch. She has cast a glamour on my presence in the Mere.” Then he turned to Lanyon and hugged her with one arm around her shoulder. “Lanyon, greetings! I knew you would find your way back.”

“Kit!” With tentative fingers she stroked his hideously scarred cheek where the arowl had ravaged him. “I have heard somewhat of this story.”

Kit answered with a cocksure smile, his arm still wrapped around her shoulder. “We will tell a better tale this time.”

Bennek stepped forward, feeling more annoyance than joy now that his fear had passed. “Lanyon is my wife now.”

Kit looked at Lanyon with an affected sympathy. “I foresaw it long ago. It is a hard fate, but I wish you joy.”

She smiled despite the shadow in her eyes. “Still the same Kit.” Then she ducked free of his arm. “Be assured, I have known joy.”

“As have I.” He turned to Lehe with a flirtatious smile and she ran to him, huddling under the arm that had so recently embraced Lanyon. “Lehe is my wife now.”

“Another dire fate long foreseen,” Pantheren said, surprising them all with the hard edge in his voice. “Lehe! You were to go south with the boats.”

Lehe flinched. Her worried gaze went to the Inyomere of mist that presently watched over them. “We set out in the boats, but the mist on the river was so thick we put ashore again. Then when the sun came out we lingered, hoping for news.”

“And so I found her,” Kit said, as if to defy Pantheren’s judgment. “You remember? After the battle I left with Jakurian to hunt Édan.”

“Uleál sent couriers. You were supposed to turn back.”

“Jakurian’s brother is not my chieftain.”

“Nor is he mine,” Lehe said softly. “Jakurian returned, but we went on, following Édan’s trail even to this mountain.”

“Then he truly is here?” Lanyon asked, her fear quickening again. “We thought . . . when Kina ran off . . . but then she found you—”

“Where is Édan now?” Pantheren interrupted.

“We don’t know,” Kit said. “Lehe kept us well hidden”—his gaze turned thoughtfully to Bennek—“even from you, my cousin. Do not scowl! When Kina found me just now I was sure you must be dead. Forgive me if I am pleased it is not so.”

Then Bennek was ashamed. “I am sorry. It’s only that we are on edge. We thought Kina was following Édan’s trail.”

“Édan began to hide his trail two days ago. At first I feared he was aware of us, but now I think it’s because he knew Lanyon would come.”

“How far ahead was he?” Pantheren asked. “How many ride with him?”

Lehe answered. “He rides alone. At first he had several of his warriors with him, but after two days he sent them back. We had to make the horse lie down in the grass or they would have seen us as they went south.”

Kit added, “There was little threat from the arowl, and Lehe says it’s easier for Édan to hide from Siddél when he is alone . . . maybe it was easier for him to go swiftly too. He always rode on into the night, while we were forced to stop each evening when it was too dark to find his trail. We were at least two days behind him, the last time we found a camp. Perhaps he is not even on this mountain—but two nights past we saw a light at the summit and we guessed it had to do with him. So we came.”

“That was the light of the Storm Lair,” Bennek said. “Siddél’s lightning pot.”

Lanyon spoke in a flat voice that masked despair. “Édan must be there now if he was two days ahead of you. He is waiting for us.”

Pantheren saw it differently. “Why would he go to the Storm Lair and risk Siddél’s notice when he still doesn’t have the talisman? No, he will have found some lower vantage where he can wait, and watch for you to come.”

“Now we know he is here,” Bennek said. He looked at Pantheren. “We draw him out.”

Pantheren nodded, while Lanyon looked from one to the other without understanding. “What? What are you thinking?”

Pantheren lifted the fine chain he wore around his neck, drawing out the amulet hidden beneath his shirt—a tiny golden bird that flashed and sparkled despite the gloom. Lanyon drew back, eyes wide. “That is a spell.” Suspicion entered her voice. “Where did you get it? What is it for?”

“Édan gave it to me that night Zavoy died.”

Kit scowled. “I was there. I don’t remember an amulet.”

“You were in no fit state to remember.” Pantheren turned again to Lanyon. “Édan gave it to me that I might summon him if ever I should find you again.”

“You kept it. Why?”

“Not to betray you.” She flushed and looked away. “But against such a chance as this. Lanyon, truly, the time has come for you to climb the mountain. Now you will not be alone. Kit and Lehe will go with you. It is your task to seek out and slay Siddél. Bennek will come with me. It is our task to lure Édan away, and to stop him if we can.”

“No.” Lanyon turned to Bennek. “No, no, no. You do not need to do this.” She appealed to the spirit of mist who still loomed above them, entangled in the branches. “What can be seen past your veils?”

The mist answered in a whispery voice that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. “Nothing may be seen if I will it.”

“Long ago you listened to Édan’s prayer and you raised your veils around me. I was lost and could not go home. Hear my prayer now. Wrap us in your mists and fogs so we may climb unseen to the summit. The Snow Chanter would make the same prayer, she who has danced with you at season’s turning ever since you were wakened to the Wild.”

“This prayer I have already granted, little sister. Climb now, while I am strong.”

“Climb,” Pantheren echoed. “Go with Kit and Lehe while the veils of the mist can hide you.”

“But we can all go,” Lanyon insisted. “Bennek—”

He took her hands. “I know the spell that will bring down Édan. This is my task. But don’t be afraid. Afterward, we’ll follow you. Lanyon. Do not look at me so. We will be together again.”

“I know we will be.”

But it was not belief he saw in her eyes.

* * *

Silence was necessary, but it was also a mercy not having to speak. Kit went first, and Lehe after him, with Lanyon trailing behind. They climbed steadily higher through the woodland. The mist was so thick they could see no more than two spear lengths on any side, so it was only the slope of the land that let them guess where they were going. Kit had them stop every few minutes to listen, and to sniff the air. Much against her will, Kina had come with them. She stayed with them only because Kit held her close on a leash. She too sniffed the air, but gave no sign that anything was amiss.

Then Lanyon heard a faint voice crying. She held her breath to listen. Lehe too stopped, her head cocked, though Kit went on, turning back only after he realized they no longer followed. Lehe was puzzled. “That was a voice within the Mere, yet it was not a spirit.”

Lanyon caught her breath. “The spell Pantheren carried! That was its voice. They have released it—and summoned Édan.” A dire curiosity came over her. She had to know, even if it was only a glimpse, if Édan was truly there. She let her glamour slip. He was alert, of course. He was seeking her, and he sensed her at once. Lanyon! At last. Do not be afr— With a moan she hid herself again, enfolding her spirit in a glamour so deep that no voice could reach her and no spirit perceive where she passed.

Lehe saw her distress. She came and hugged her. “Don’t fear. He can’t see you. He can only follow the voice of the spell.”

Lanyon nodded weakly. “It must be so.” But how could she hope for it? How could she hope he would seek out Bennek and Pantheren?

How could she hope he would not?

Her voice shook. “We must hurry. Kit—”

“Come, we’ll try to go faster, but we need to keep silent. He could be above us still.”

Before long the trees thinned, and after a time the woods gave way altogether to austere, stony slopes where spindly trees huddled among shrubs with tiny quivering leaves. Mist wrapped close. All was dripping. Water clung to the leaves and to their hair, and though it had not truly rained, their coats were soaked through. But the endless dripping had also softened the leaf litter beneath their feet, quieting their passage, and the constant patter masked the small sounds they did make.

Perhaps an hour had gone by when suddenly Kina lunged against her leash, whining frantically as she struggled to escape back down the mountain. In a panic, Kit grabbed her nose to silence her. “Kina!” And then the Mere shuddered. A spirit wind swept through it . . . and when it was gone a sickening emptiness was left behind.

Lehe was on her knees, breathing hard. Lanyon was reeling. “What?” Kit whispered. “What has happened?”

Lanyon shook her head. She didn’t know.

* * *

Bennek and Pantheren traversed the mountain, going west until the fog was left behind. They came to a small meadow with a tumble of boulders on one side, the remnant of a long-ago avalanche. Pantheren had no idea what would happen when he released the spell, but he hoped the open ground of the meadow would give them a chance to see Édan coming . . . if it was possible to see Édan at all.

“Stay quiet,” he warned Bennek. “Do not raise your weapons against him. Don’t let him know you’re here. Your only task is to unbind the spell that holds him to the world.”

The owl spirit appeared out of nowhere as Bennek went to hide in the rocks. She soared in a slow circle just above the waist-high grass, and when Bennek had hidden himself in the debris of the old avalanche, she went to join him, disappearing among the stones.

Pantheren was vexed. Why had she come now? If he had seen her sooner, if he had known where she was, he would have sent her with Lanyon . . . assuming the tart little spirit would ever consent to do what he asked. As he made his way through the trees to the south end of the meadow, he prayed Bennek would not rile her, and that she would not give his position away.

A few drops of rain were falling from black clouds that promised much more to come, when he took a position within thickets just at the edge of the trees. He hoped his distance from Bennek would spare the boy any ill effects from the summoning spell.

He lifted the chain from his neck. The air was still, yet the tiny bird spun and swayed, glimmering impatiently on its leash. Release this bird, Édan had said, long ago. I will hear its song.

With a sharp jerk, Pantheren broke the chain. The bird went free. It spread its wings and soared, and within a heartbeat it shimmered out of sight into the Fourth Way.

A second passed, then another, and a handful more. Pantheren heard a voice speaking—but he did not hear it with his ears. This voice spoke within his own thoughts. You are hidden from me . . . why? . . . but stay, stay. The spell has left a path for me to follow.

Relief washed over Pantheren and he let go a breath he had not realized he was holding. Édan was coming! He was following the spell back to its source. Oh, how he had feared the little bird would somehow fly to Lanyon and mark her—thank the One it was not so . . . .

He stepped into the open, signaling to Bennek that the hunt had begun. Then he faded back into the thicket and waited. The rain drizzled harder as most of an hour passed. Then, without scent or sound to warn him, he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and the cold sting of a sharp blade against his throat. Édan’s heartbeat was suddenly loud in his ears. He smelled the sweat and the rain on Édan’s coat and felt his warm breath. Pantheren held himself perfectly still as warm blood trickled from the point of the knife.

Édan spoke softly. “I know Jahallon kept a young sorcerer at his right hand. Is he here with you?”

Pantheren was sure the flush of heat across his skin betrayed him. “I am alone.”

Édan affected puzzlement. “It was hard for me to find you. A glamour hides you from my sight within the Mere. Is this your own skill, War Father?”

“Lanyon protects me.”

“She is not here!”

“She is hidden.”

“The talisman is not here! Its presence cannot be hidden. You lured me here . . . to open the way for her?”

When Pantheren didn’t answer, Édan’s grip on his shoulder tightened. “Summon this young sorcerer.”

“I am alone.”

Across the meadow an owl took flight. Pantheren watched it, as did Édan. It soared toward them, until it reached the edge of the meadow. It hovered, and then it settled to the grass—an owl no longer, but a little girl—gazing up at them as they stood locked together. “Why have you come, little sister?” Édan asked her.

Disdain showed in her eyes. “Are you one among the Inyomere, to speak to me as kin? But I have come to unbind the glamour I laid on this one at the prayer of the Snow Chanter, now that it does him no good.”

“It was you,” Édan mused in real surprise. The knife drifted from Pantheren’s throat. He felt the lapse and wrenched away and Édan let him go. The owl was his quarry now. Even as she became a bird again and took flight, Édan hurled his knife.

The blade struck her in the chest and disappeared, hilt and all, leaving behind a gaping black hole. It was as if the knife pinned her in the air, for there she hung, a little girl again but with wings for arms and a death pallor on her face. Pantheren staggered, overcome with horror.

With a whirr and a rush her spirit unwound. A vortex of feathers spewed from her black wound, and behind that hurtling storm came Darkness, a light-swallowing flood that swept under the trees, advancing so swiftly Pantheren was caught even as he turned to flee. Darkness tangled his feet, it tumbled him to the forest floor and then it flowed over him, stealing his vision. Its familiar, reverberant voice rattled his bones. “Be still.

He went limp, counting his heartbeats, their pace frantic at first but quickly slowing. He could hear nothing else; he could see nothing; smell nothing. He lost count past a thousand and started counting again.

The Darkness rolled away.

Pantheren found himself on his back, staring up at the forest canopy as daylight burst over him, and though it was only the gray daylight beneath black clouds and looming trees, his eyes saw a violent brightness. With a stiff cry he flung himself over to hide from it. Darkness still shadowed the forest floor, but as he watched it sank into the leaf litter, returning to the underworld, leaving no trace.

Bennek came running. “War Father? Ah, you’re bleeding!” He dropped to his knees, to check the wound at Pantheren’s throat.

“Leave it! It’s nothing. Where is Édan?”

Bennek sat back on his heels. “I never saw him, but I found the spell that binds him. It’s ominous—horrible and dark—and it’s protected. A glamour wraps it that pushed my will away. I was trying to find a way past it when I saw . . . no, I felt . . . the owl, she . . . . War Father, what happened? Your own glamour vanished, and darkness rose up beneath the trees. I thought Édan had murdered you.”

Pantheren got to his feet. He picked up the bow he had dropped. “Édan murdered her . . . the little owl spirit. The Darkness passed through her blackened heart and threw his cloak over me. If not for him I know Édan would have murdered me too. He had no reason to let me live . . . but what reason did the Darkness have to help me?”

Bennek looked plaintive. “I think the Darkness does only what Mukarigenze commands, but please. There is no time to puzzle it out. I failed to stop Édan and now he will surely make straight for the summit.”

“We will catch him,” Pantheren promised. “And you will have a second chance.”

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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, November 8th, 2013 at 12:05 am
Categories: The Wild.

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