Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

The Wild: Chapter 40

October 11th, 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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* * *

Mountains & River. Artist: Sarah Adams
Chapter 40

Samokea was still a dangerous land. Each day as Pantheren and Bennek rode north, they heard the mournful baying of small packs of arowl that had come too late for battle. Pantheren refused to hunt them. “If we kill them, it will only draw more.” He was done with battle. His only purpose was to find Lanyon. He carried her bow with him, the one made for her by the Snow Chanter, hoping he might return it to her in some near season. So it became Bennek’s task to watch for the arowl packs, and to guide them away.

They set out each day at dawn, stopping only when the horses needed rest. One evening they saw in the distance the great palisade they had climbed in their quest to find the Snow Chanter. Bennek’s heart beat faster, knowing they were drawing near to Kesh. That night clouds came from the east to veil the stars. His sleep was uneasy. He dreamed the stars wavered, as if waves of light and shadow rolled through them. And next the night sky shattered, its broken pieces falling down to the world, falling on him so that he was crushed beneath their terrible weight.

He sat up, gasping for air.

Pantheren was startled out of sleep. He leaped to his feet, sword in hand. “What is it?”

Bennek didn’t answer. All his senses were turned to the Mere, seeking, seeking . . . and then she whispered hush.

At once he was on his feet. He wanted to shout, but he whispered instead, “War Father! She is returned!”

Neither wanted more sleep that night. They saddled the horses, setting out long before the sun rose.

* * *

It was a day of billowing gray clouds and fine rain showers. With his spirit sight Bennek searched for some further hint of Lanyon’s presence, but she was veiled. This left him disgruntled. He said to Pantheren, “I know she must do all she can to hide herself from Édan, but it isn’t right that she is hidden from me as well.”

“She isn’t hidden from me,” Pantheren said with a sly look. “I know exactly the place she returned to the world, though Édan does not know it.”

Bennek saw the truth in this, and laughed. “You must lead us then! Ah, how I wish our horses were well-rested, that we might travel with better speed!”

Late that afternoon two birds appeared in the gloomy sky, flying swiftly from the north. At first they were no more than black spots, but as they drew near, it could be seen that they were crows. To Bennek’s surprise, Pantheren stood in his stirrups to wave at them. They circled around with rattling feathers. In the treeless fields there was no place for them to alight, so Pantheren held out his arm for a perch. Bennek looked on in amazement as the crows became tiny, black-feathered people standing balanced on Pantheren’s arm.

“How fares the Snow Chanter?” Pantheren asked them.

“Fearful! Sad!” croaked the one that was like a tiny man.

The woman-spirit turned to Bennek and addressed him in a scolding tone. “Bennek of Samokea, long have you tarried!”

Bennek was stung by this rebuke. “I could not come before! I would have come if I could, but I was bound by a promise to Jahallon.”

“Grief has freed you!” she agreed. “Jahallon has gone away on the path all the people follow in time.”

“Time! Time!” croaked the other. “Time is the message we bring. The Little Sister is returned to the world, but time is short!”

“Time is short,” the woman-spirit confirmed. “Ride on into the darkness if you must, but come to Kesh this evening! Our blessed Tayeraisa bids you hurry on! Hurry on!”

Then they leaped into the air and, becoming crows once more, they winged away north, leaving Pantheren and Bennek to follow at a pace their horses could endure.

* * *

Night fell. The peaks of the Tiyat-kel stood tall to the west, silhouetted against a net of stars. Bennek smelled the forest where it descended from the foothills; he listened to the trickling splash of a stream . . . but was it the stream that ran past the cottage at Kesh? He and Pantheren were both uncertain in the darkness. “Kesh lies farther on,” Pantheren decided. They splashed across the shallow stream and went on.

After a time Kina whined, waggling her tail anxiously. “Look there,” Pantheren whispered. A faint light had appeared ahead of them, low in the grass where none should be.

Bennek looked on it anxiously. “Could it be the Snow Chanter, come to greet us?”

“Perhaps it is the encampment of Édan.”

Bennek drew his spear and Pantheren set arrow to bowstring, but as they went forward Bennek saw that their caution was overplayed. The light gleamed from a lantern, held in the hand of a little girl—one whom Bennek had seen before. Her wide eyes blinked unhappily in the glow that welled up over her slender figure. She was just as Bennek remembered: not three feet high, dressed in a gown of brown feathers with a crown of feathers to confine her long brown hair. She was the owl-spirit that had come to chide him on that long ago dawn as he kept watch at the fisher’s cove at Habaddon.

“At last you are here!” she cried in her faint and whispery voice. “I have waited for you, to make sure you find your way in the dark, for you are simple creatures, ill-suited to the Wild.”

Bennek glanced at Pantheren, and thought he saw the flash of a smile. “We thank you for your kindness,” he said, with all the forbearance he could muster, “though you need not have troubled. When the night is very dark, then Kina will find the way for us.”

The little Inyomere gazed curiously at the hound. Kina noticed her attention, and lay down in the grass before her. This pleased the owl-spirit. She set a tiny hand on the hound’s great head, and smiled. “You may walk with me, brave one.”

The owl spirit set out with Kina at her side, leaving Bennek and Pantheren no choice but to follow. She walked with uncanny speed, so that Bennek had to urge his horse to keep up with her . . . until she heard the sound of some night creature rustling in the grass. Then she halted so abruptly Bennek’s horse nearly walked over her. He reined the mare aside as she stood listening, poised to strike, but after a few seconds she cast an annoyed look at Bennek. “You have frightened it away.”

“I did not know we were hunting such.”

“Come,” she said to Kina, and set out again.

Bennek was prepared when next he heard a rustle in the grass. He reined in his mare as the owl spirit stopped once again, cocking her head to listen. Bennek waited patiently with Pantheren beside him until, with a wistful sigh, the owl spirit moved on. In this way they fared for two miles or more, passing through low swales and crossing several small streams.

Then the owl spirit stopped again, though Bennek heard no rustle. They had come to the bank of a stream, no different from other streams they had crossed. “From here you can find your own way,” the owl spirit told them. “Come Bennek. Take the light.”

She handed the lantern up to him, and still he had to reach down far to receive it. “What is this place?” he asked. “This is not Kesh.”

She shook her head, setting her feathers shimmering in the lantern light. “Have you forgotten the voice of the water that sings so sweetly as it passes the house at Kesh? It is a wonder you can find your way at all.”

“We will follow the water,” Pantheren said with a chuckle in his voice. “Thank you for your guidance.”

She acknowledged this with a nod. Then she turned to Kina, laying her tiny hand again on the dog’s head. “Good hunting, brave one.” She looked up at the stars, and in the next moment an owl lofted into the air, disappearing into the darkness on silent wings.

* * *

Bennek and Pantheren followed the stream west toward the edge of the forest. They had nearly reached the trees when Bennek spied the bridge at last, gleaming faintly in starlight. He urged his mare forward, and as she clomped across it, warm lights shone out suddenly from the windows of a house that had not been there a moment before. Bennek slipped from the saddle and ran up the steps to the porch, with Kina at his heels. “Blessed Tayeraisa,” he called softly. “We have returned to you.”

There was no answer, nor any sound of movement from the house. Pantheren joined him as he opened the door. Inside was the same clean and cozy room he remembered. The candles on the table were lit, and on the hearth a small fire burned, keeping warm a simmering pot from which a luscious scent arose. The Snow Chanter though, was not there.

They went out again and walked around the porch, looking first toward the bath house and then to the orchard, but they did not see her. “I know her domain is vast,” Bennek said with a disappointment he could not hide, “but I thought she would be here. Why else did she bid us to ride on, so we would arrive tonight?”

“Perhaps other tasks have called her away. Let us be grateful for the shelter she offers us. Come. We will tend the horses, and then tend ourselves.”

They bathed and ate a hearty supper. Bennek was just laying his blanket out by the fire, when Kina whined softly from the porch. “She misses us,” Bennek said to Pantheren, who sat at the table adding still more lines of prayers to the long red banner he’d carried ever since Bennek had known him. “She’s not accustomed to keep the watch alone—”

His eyes went wide in surprise and he dropped to his knees, for seated in the chair beside the fire was Tayeraisa the Snow Chanter, dressed in a gown of summer green, her golden hair tinged red in the fire’s light. “Blessed One! Greetings! It’s such a joy to see you again, especially now, when Lanyon is returned to the world and our hope is renewed.”

She gazed at him gravely. “There is hope,” she conceded, “but time is against us. Bennek of Samokea, you have been long away from your homeland, when there was need of you here. And what have you done with your beautiful hair? You look like a man of Habaddon now.”

“My far mother, by necessity I have been a man of Habaddon. I have come to love the people there, but you must believe my loyalty has always been to you.”

She nodded. “Such are the tidings that have reached me. I know you have done much in the time you’ve been away, but now time grows short. Come, sit here beside me.” She beckoned with her hand, and on the hearth he noticed there was now a pillow.

Bennek sat as she directed, while Pantheren drew near and bowed to her. “Blessed Spirit of the Snow.”

Tayeraisa nodded graciously. “Sit with us, good sir, for the season is perilous, and there is need of your iron will.”

“Blessed mother,” Bennek said anxiously, “is there no joy in your heart at Lanyon’s return? Or is it the dire tidings of Jahallon’s fate that have stolen away the smile from your face?”

“Was Jahallon the soul of Habaddon?” she asked sharply. “Or does its soul arise from the love of each one of the people there?”

“We are confounded with grief, ma’am,” Pantheren answered her, “but Habaddon will not fall, though Jahallon is stolen from us.”

She nodded her agreement. “Jahallon has followed where Samoket went long ago. Such is the fate of the people. I will not grieve for the old. But for the young and those not yet born to the Wild, I am riven with fear. I say again, time grows short. We have tarried long and failed in what was promised. Siddél rages and thunders. My little sister went north to seek the Storm Lair, but she was driven from the world. Two winters have passed since that time. I say to you now, if you cannot make an end to the Long War in this grim season, you will not know another.”

Bennek rose again to his knees. He set his hand on the arm of her chair. “Blessed One, surely the season favors us? It is true we were undone by Jahallon’s death, but even so Habaddon won a great battle—”

“There has been no victory,” she said in bitterness. “Already Siddél has begun to despoil more land as he summons into existence the arowl pits where he will brew new beasts to replace those that have been killed. Siddél himself must be brought down! An end must be made and soon—or an end will be made for you by one who cares little for the fate of the people.”

Bennek lowered his gaze. “You speak of Mukarigenze.”

“Do not speak his name lightly.”

He looked up at her again, seeking some sign of hope in her grim gaze. “Does he know Lanyon is returned to the world?”

“He knows, but it is the spirits of the Wild he listens to more and more as they cry out in their suffering, as they pray to him to end this trespass of the people.”

“But it is not the people who have despoiled the Wild!”

The Snow Chanter touched his cheek as grief finally softened the stern set of her face. “I love all my children, yet I say to you, the Wild was complete before ever the people set foot on its shore. The Inyomere remember this. So we ask, where is your place here? What is your purpose? Was it the will of the One that you should enter into the Wild? Or was it by the treachery of those spirits who were your guardians that you were allowed to enter here? I do not know the answers to these questions, but Mukarigenze has made up his mind. If it falls to him to end the Long War, he will end it in Siddél’s favor, and let the land find its own balance, as it has done in Beyna Forest, and as it did in all the golden ages before the people came.”

“It was the people who brought life back to Beyna Forest,” Pantheren said.

The Snow Chanter sighed. “The lives of the people are fleeting. It is not their way to wait for the healing of time. The cleansing of Beyna Forest was a great deed. A thousand years of healing was done in a single winter, allowing the forest to waken to itself.”

“You’re saying it would have happened without us?” Pantheren asked. “Just more slowly?”

She nodded. “That is the judgment of Mukarigenze.”

The fire hissed and crackled, while outside Kina could he heard pacing the porch. “There is time yet,” Pantheren said. “We will leave at dawn. We will find Lanyon, and we will go on to the Storm Lair.”

“Yet you, War Father, will become a danger to her when you pass beyond my reach.”

Pantheren drew back, affronted. His hand rose to touch the pendant beneath his tunic. “It is my duty and my desire to serve Lanyon. I would never bring harm to her.”

Tayeraisa looked on him with a probing gaze before asking, “Have you learned to veil yourself from Édan’s sight?”

“That is not my skill, Blessed One.”

She nodded. “Édan must not find her through you. I cast veils around your spirit as you journeyed north, but soon you will be beyond my reach.” She considered for a moment. “I think I will send the owl spirit with you. She will cast her veils over you, even as she hunts the land for signs of Édan.”

Bennek scowled. He did not care much for the owl spirit. The Snow Chanter smiled at him as if she knew his mind, but she did not chide him. “I love my children,” she told him again. “And I would have them with me in the Wild for all of time to come.”

Bennek bowed his head. “I will do all I can to serve you.”

She nodded. “Now sleep while you can. Time is short, and dawn is not so far away.”

* * *

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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, October 11th, 2013 at 12:05 am
Categories: The Wild.

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