Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

The Wild: Chapter 42

October 25th, 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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Distant mist. Artist: Sarah Adams
Chapter 42

Lanyon held Bennek at a distance when he would have embraced her. Her angry fists crumpled the fabric of his shirt as she struggled to push him away. “Why are you here?” she demanded. “Why have you come? Why?”
Bennek refused to give way, holding tight to the collar of her coat, determined she should not escape from him and vanish again. In their struggle they turned one about the other, like children wrestling, while Kina cavorted about them, barking, as if it were a fine game.

“Do not struggle so, Lanyon! I came to find you. Surely you knew I was coming?”

“No!” Tears welled in her eyes. “You are supposed to be with Jahallon! Safe under his protection! This path I walk can have no good end. Bennek! I did not want you to come.”

He shook his head. “Do not be unkind to me, Lanyon, I beg you. Do not misread me. I would have stayed with you all this time if I could have. I wanted nothing more than to return to you. Don’t be angry. Please. You must forgive me.”

She grew still, but she would not let him closer. “It was my comfort to know you were with Jahallon.”

“That seems a cold comfort to me. Know that I can offer more comfort to you with my presence, than as a memory.”

She was startled. Then a bemused smile touched her lips. “Sir, you should not speak so boldly.”

“Now you are laughing at me. What have I said?”

She just sighed and hugged him, and Bennek forgot his puzzlement for the beauty of her coppery hair in the leaf-filtered light. After a minute, she took a step back to study him. “You have cut your long hair short. You look like a man of Habaddon—but you are beautiful still. Oh Bennek, you were a boy when we parted. Now you have grown so much taller than me.”

“I am a man now,” he assured her.

“I know it.” A blush rose in her cheeks, and she turned away. “How long have I been gone?”

“One year and a half. Perhaps a little longer.”

She caught a harsh breath. “So long. I was hoping it was but the turn of a season and yet . . .” She turned back to him. “You’re here, so it can’t be too late. I was so afraid I would be gone too long. I didn’t know how much time would pass, how many winters, how many springs. The plain was empty of arowl when I returned, and there was no sign of the Samokeäns of the Cavern—Bennek, there were people living in the north!”

“I know it.”

“There was no sign left for me by Pantheren.”

“He couldn’t leave you a sign—”

“He lives?”

“He does. We came north together to seek for you, but Édan is hunting you too, so Pantheren didn’t dare mark the place where you left the world.”

Her eyes grew haunted. “Where is Édan?”

“I don’t know. Lanyon, so many things have changed—”

Again she turned from him. “Do not think you have to tell me!”

Her harsh tone took him by surprise. He reached out to her. “What do you mean? What are you talking about?”

Instead of answering him, she gave her attention to Kina. Kneeling, she hugged the hound and whispered to her. Kina was greatly pleased, but Bennek was provoked. “Lanyon! It has been so long. You must listen to me!”

“It has been long.” She spoke softly now, and with her back turned to him he could barely hear her as she continued to stroke Kina’s great head. “You are a man now. I know you must have found yourself a wife in Habaddon.”

“What? Lanyon, of course not. I—”

“Then you have a lover waiting for you.”

No.” In real puzzlement, he asked, “How could I? When it is you who has always been in my heart?”

Still she cuddled Kina. “You must not speak so sweetly to me. I am an old woman. I don’t even know how old! Am I twenty? Or one and twenty? Or much older still?”

“I don’t care. You are not old and you are as lovely as ever. I am envying Kina. Please Lanyon, stand up. Look at me.” He caught her elbow. She didn’t resist as he turned her around into his arms. “I am so thankful you came back to the world. I thought . . . I thought I would not see you again. Not on this side. Now you are here and I am filled with joy.” He held her close again and he kissed her hair.

But just then the owl spirit glided into the clearing. Lanyon turned to stare at it with frightened eyes, as it alighted on a branch. “No doubt she has come to chide us for lingering here too long,” Bennek said gently.

“You know this Inyomere?”

“The Snow Chanter sent her to watch over us, but she has a tart tongue. Come. We’ll ride together and find Pantheren—he has been wretched since you were lost—he will be so pleased to see you.”

“And what of Marshal and Kit? And Jakurian too? Almost, I am afraid to ask.”

He called the horse to him. “They were well when I left. I pray they are so still.”

“You must tell me all that has happened to you, and to our friends.”

“And when we are with Pantheren tonight, you must tell us of your own trials.”

He helped her to mount and then he climbed up behind her. He was acutely aware of the talisman within its case, strapped to her back, but he put his dread of it aside and slipped his arms around her waist.

“Does its touch not chill you?” she asked him.

“How could it? All I feel is your warmth.”

A blush rose in her cheeks; he knew she was pleased.

As they rode, they spoke of their time apart, and if he held her more closely than need required she did not object, and if sometimes his cheek would touch hers, she only smiled.

Pantheren had climbed a low hill so that he could watch for Bennek. When he saw them coming he left his horse tethered in a glade and ran to meet them. “You have found her! Lanyon!”

She laughed for the joy of seeing him again. He lifted her down from the horse and hugged her. But when he felt the talisman in its case, he shuddered. “You have not lost it then.”

“No. It is with me still.”

“Did you find the bear?” Bennek asked. “Or learn if it was an Inyomere?”

“I saw it at a distance, but it would not speak to me. Still, I do not doubt it was a spirit.”

Lanyon nodded. “His name is Ark. I traveled with him four days. He bore me on his back so that we went with great speed, and he used his power to hide our trail.”

Then Pantheren and Bennek both groaned. Pantheren explained to Lanyon, “It was a great mystery to us how you were able to fare north so swiftly that we could not catch you, though we rode and you were afoot.”

“Or we thought you were afoot!” Bennek added.

Lanyon smiled. “I was blessed to find Ark. He is much like the Snow Chanter, despising Siddél for the havoc he has caused . . . but he will venture no closer to the Storm Lair.”

“Do you know where it is then?” Bennek asked her.

Lanyon’s eyes shone. “I think I know, but we will know for sure tonight. Let us push on now, until dusk.”

“I have something for you,” Pantheren said. He went to his horse to retrieve Lanyon’s bow. He strung it for her. Then he presented it formally, with both hands. “I didn’t always believe this day would come, when I could return this gift of the Snow Chanter to you, but here we are.”

She spoke no words, but accepted the bow with a bemused smile.

* * *

Late in the afternoon they came on a pretty stream that flowed sweetly through long, shallow pools. Though it was not yet dark, they decided to stop. Lanyon caught fish for their evening meal, while Pantheren gathered lily bulbs that grew at the edge of the water. Bennek tended the horses, and then he collected wood to make the fire.

He saw Lanyon coming back, carrying her catch of fish tied together by their silver tails. He looked at her across a carefully built stack of kindling, a half-smile on his face. His expression put her on guard; heat rose in her cheeks. “What is it?”

“I have learned the fire spell.” He fixed his mind on the spell and summoned it. The kindling caught fire with a rushing whoosh.

Lanyon’s eyes went wide. She stumbled back, dropping the fish. “Bennek!”

He had frightened her, when he only meant to win her praise. “Lanyon, are you all right?” He went to her. “Forgive me. I didn’t mean—”

She recoiled from his touch. “Who taught this to you? Where did you learn it? Who taught you to call a spell without words?”

The suspicion in her eyes wounded him. He bent to pick up the fish from the grass. “I’ll clean these for you.”

“Tell me, Bennek.”

Resentment stirred in him. “Why do you look at me with such mistrust? What is it you’re thinking?”

Pantheren came up from the stream as he was speaking. His sharp gaze shifted from Bennek to Lanyon, but he said nothing. Setting his net of lily bulbs in the grass, he crouched to tend the fire, which had already blazed through most of the kindling.

Lanyon looked away, shamefaced. “Forgive me. I am haunted. Of course it must have been Zavoy who taught you.”

“No, it was not Zavoy. I never met Zavoy.”

Pantheren looked up at her. “Zavoy is dead and Gonly as well. Édan killed them, that spring after you were taken.”

All warmth left her face. Reaching for the fish with a shaking hand, she took them back from Bennek. “I will clean them.”

“I’ll help you.”

“Cut some green sticks then.”

By the time Bennek returned Pantheren had the lily bulbs chopped and heating in the cooking pot. Lanyon had filleted half the fish. Crouching beside her, Bennek began to thread the fillets onto the green sticks. He spoke softly, “When I went to see Sage Hedril of Habaddon, she called the fire spell. Later, I found it lingering within the Fourth Way. At first I didn’t know it was a spell. I thought it was a spirit, but it was not awake. I still don’t know its name, but I know how to call it.”

“What else did this sage teach you?”

Bennek shook his head. “It was not her purpose to teach me. She bespelled me and tried to send me to Édan—”

“Oh Bennek!”

“Later the Snow Chanter sent the spirit of the tiger to teach me and I learned to hide myself within the Mere, just as you do. And soon after, Jahallon said I must learn to speak to the minds of men, just as Édan is said to do.”

Lanyon stopped her work to gaze at him in astonishment.

Again resentment stirred in his heart. He asked her, Are you so surprised? When I spoke to you thus on the first day we met?

She turned back to her work. “I should not be surprised by anything anymore.”

I know this is a skill Édan possessed, but I am not Édan.

“I know you are not.”

From across the fire, Pantheren watched them with a wary expression. Lanyon traded a look with him, and then she turned again to Bennek. “To use the talisman, you must be able to guide the spell it carries as it passes through the Mere . . . you know this?”

Bennek nodded cautiously.

“Bennek, if something should happen to me—”

“Lanyon, don’t speak of—”

She set a finger against his lips, cool and slick with the oils of the fish she was handling. “Don’t flinch from it. If something should happen to me, you must wield the talisman. You have the will to do it. You have the strength. Promise me!”

How could he object? “I promise. I swear it.”

She nodded. “We will do what we must, come what may.”

“As you say, Lanyon.”

Come what may.

* * *

While they ate, they spoke of small things: the beauty of the north land, the hardiness of the horses, Kina’s excitement as she discovered Lanyon’s trail.

Night fell. Bennek and Pantheren went to check the horses, while Lanyon washed the cooking pot in the stream. Bennek noticed a tiny yellow star, so low in the sky it seemed to sit on the summit of the highest peak in the northern range. He called Pantheren to look at it. “Have you ever seen that star before?”

It was new to Pantheren too, and they wondered greatly.

Lanyon came up from the stream to stand beside them. She too gazed at the star. Its golden light was reflected in her eyes. “As we came north, Ark told me we would soon see mountains in our path. ‘The Koro-kel runs from the east,’ he said, ‘until it meets the Tiyat-kel. Look upon these mountains on a clear evening, and on the highest peak that is still within sight of the Tiyat-kel, you will find the Storm Lair. You will see it from afar, for there is a light within it that never goes out. This is the seed of the lightning Siddél summons in his rages.’”

At first both men were left speechless, staring at the star that sat upon the summit. Pantheren was first to find his voice. “We have found him! Here is the mountain where he dwells. Here is the light within his lair.”

Bennek’s gaze remained fixed on the distant gleam. “I wonder how often Siddél may be found there?”

“Most often,” Lanyon said. “Siddél is a spirit of storm. His wrath cripples his judgment and allows him no rest. Ark said that for days at a time he will pace within his lair, his gaze turned south as he broods over his war. He also said that Mukarigenze will visit him there now and again, to shake the foundation of his home and remind him of his displeasure.”

“We also will visit him,” Bennek said. “But we will be his last memory.”

* * *

Back by the fire, Pantheren took up his blanket and his spear. “There is much for me to think on and I cannot sleep yet, so I will take the first watch.”

“Wake me when you grow tired,” Bennek told him.

Pantheren disappeared into the darkness.

Lanyon made ready to sleep, and Bennek did too. Lanyon had no blanket, but only the coat she wore to keep her warm. “I shall miss Ark’s grizzly fur.”

Bennek smiled. Taking his blanket, he invited her to lie beside him, so that they shared one another’s warmth. She slipped off the talisman, and set it between them in its case. The grass rustled as they settled. Lanyon lay on her back with her eyes closed, but Bennek listened to her breathing and knew she did not sleep. “I have always imagined that you love me,” he whispered. “But do you?”

She blinked, and starlight glittered in her eyes. “I wish we had been born in the same time, but we were not.”

“That doesn’t matter! We are both here now.”

She wriggled to her side, so that she faced him. Her fingers touched his lips. “Tomorrow we will ride into the mountains, and if all goes well, on the next day we will climb to the Storm Lair. I cannot see a time beyond that, Bennek.”

I can,” he whispered fiercely. He caught her fingers and kissed them. “Do you love me, Lanyon?”

“You know that I do.”

“Then will you have me for a husband? This night, and all the ones to follow?”

There was melancholy in her sigh. “And if I say that I will not have you? That you should not have come here? That my only desire is for you to set out tomorrow for the safety of Habaddon?”

He laughed softly. “That is not your desire, and it is not mine. Will you have me for your husband?”

“Is this truly your wish? Think on it carefully, Bennek. You know I do not treat my husbands kindly.”

He laughed again. “Do not jest! Say you will have me.”

“Wait then!” She sat up and slipped out of her coat. Then she picked up the talisman from between them, and wrapping it in the coat, she set it an arm’s reach away. “There. It is done.” She wriggled again under the blanket. “I have put him aside. Now, I will have you.”

He laughed for a third time, and the night seemed warm to them.

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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 25th, 2013 at 12:05 am
Categories: The Wild.

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