Book: Fortress of Dragons

Previous: CHAPTER 1
Next: CHAPTER 3

The storm wind came in the night and howled around the eaves and rattled shutters, a new wind, from a different direction, and singing with a different sound, on this, the night before the anniversary of his first night in the world. Tristen sat up in bed and listened, feeling no threat in it, hearing no ominous voice in it, only the banging of a shutter somewhere distant.
Thunder cracked.
That, he thought, sounded more like rain than snow, and he rose from bed, flung on a robe, and went out to the heart of his apartments, already feeling the air warmer than the bone-deep chill of recent days.
Lightning flared in the seam of the draperies before he touched them.
He parted them, and with a loud boom of thunder, light blazed down the clear sides of the windows, lit the Aswydd heraldry in colored glass in the center of the window and flashed repeatedly, bringing the dragons within it to fitful life, casting shadows about the room.
Rain spattered the panes, spotting the colored glass, glistening beads on the clear side panes. Lightning lit the adjacent roofs, and the rain came down hard. Droplets, lightning-lit, crawled down the glass.
In the same way rain had come to Ynefel and made crooked trails over the horn panes of his small window.
So the thunder had walked above Ynefel's broken roofs, and the trees outside the walls had sighed with hundreds of voices. Balconies had creaked and beams had moved. Shadows ran along the seams of the stones.
But there in Ynefel he had not known Uwen's presence… as now there was approaching behind his back a very sleepy Uwen, drawn by the sound of the storm, stumbling faithfully from his bed. Emuin, too, was awake at this recasting of the weather, and Paisi had waked, as Tarien and Orien had, as all through the fortress and the town and the camps sleepers waked to the wind and the rain and the thunder that heralded another turn in the fickle, wizard-driven weather.
Uwen came, blanket-cloaked, past the shadows of brazen dragons the lightning made lively with repeated flashes as Tristen looked back at him. Uwen had his hair loose: he raked at it, but achieved little better.
In outline he looked like Emuin at his untidiest.
"South wind," Uwen said, and so it was. "It don't sound that cold."
"It doesn't feel cold," Tristen said, turning to put his hand on the glass. As he had gone to bed, frost had patterned the panes. Now these meandering streams of water cast crooked shadows against the lightning.
A prodigious crack of thunder made him jump.
—Rain on the horn-paned window. A hole in the roof of the loft.
—A hole in the Quinaltine roof. Fatal anger of the barons, a threat to Cefwyn that did not go away.
"Oh, 'at were a good 'un," Uwen said. "This is a warmin' rain, this is."
Spring was back. He had gained it once and now gained it back again, as if all influence to the contrary had waned and on this night he reached his ascendancy.
He had all but come full circle now, past sunset and into the night.
Morning would bring the anniversary of his beginning, the evening hours, the precise hour of his own origin, likely at sundown.
Tomorrow night, Emuin had said the birth of Tarien's child would be most portentous… and now the weather turned.
He listened for disturbance in the gray space, but Tarien's child slept quietly in his mother's womb this stormy night—a week and more away from entering the world, so Gran Sedlyn insisted. It might not, then, happen tomorrow, on that date Emuin called portentous: there were no signs of it happening, and Tarien's time Tristen understood could not be rushed, even by wizardry: the babe was as the babe was, and at the moment it seemed quiet.
So the Zeide, too, rested quietly, anxious as these days were for him.
One more day before the dreaded day.
He had feared the day of his birth as long ago this fall, wondering Would the wizardry that had brought him forth from the dark give him yet another year. When he had feared that, he had had no imagining even of winter and all it might bring. Now for all his dread, he was indeed approaching that point, and, lo! the weather turned back again in his favor. After holding the land by fitful bursts of bitter cold, after his wishing day after day for the spring to come, lo! the skies turned violent and rainy as they had been in his first memories: full circle, and tomorrow he would truly be able to say, offhandedly, oh, it was thus last year, like any ordinary Man.
" 'Twill wash the snow away before morning," he said.
"If it don't turn all to ice again," Uwen said, "as it did. If old North Wind wins the contest one more time an' comes back in force, there'll be slippin' and slidin' from here to the river."
Let the rain for good and all erase the snow, Tristen wished, passing his hand across the colored glass panes, and this time feeling power leap to his will.
Let the spring come, he said to himself. Winter had had its day and more. It was time for that season of rain and leaves whispering and roaring in the storm.
It was time for the tracery of water on windows and the crack of thunder in the night.
It was time again for the sheer beauty of a green leaf stuck to gray stone, and the terror of Mauryl's staff, like thunder, crack! against the pavings.
He had forgotten his clothes that day, and Mauryl had chided him, patiently, always patiently and with a faint sense of grief and disappointment that had stung so keenly then. It still did.
He had remembered a robe tonight—but his heart yearned toward the outside and the rain and the memory of chill water on his skin, and Mauryl's cloak after, and the fire at Ynefel. If he failed there, Mauryl would forgive him, wrap him in warmth, make all things right.
If he failed here, in his war for Cefwyn's lady, there was no mercy.
He would have come full circle tomorrow evening, but Mauryl would not come back. Had not Uwen told him—that men did not do over the things they had done, but that the seasons did?
So there was both change and sameness, there was progress and endless circles. The Great Year and the Year of Years themselves produced the same result: Men changed; Men died; babes were born, and grew; and died; the seasons varied little.
Thunder rattled the leaded windows, fit to shake the stones.
Owl called.
And elsewhere and to the west a wizardling babe waked, and moved in startlement, heart leaping.
Then pain began, an alarming pain, a sense of sliding inevitability—and change that could not be called back.
Tristen rested his hands on the marble beneath the window, dreaded the thunder he felt imminent, and winced to its rapid crack, feeling it through all his bones at once.
"M'lord?" Uwen said, seizing his arm.
He had felt pain before. This was different. This, this was the pain of a babe attempting to be born in haste, by wizardry.
This was the fear of a woman distraught and alarmed, a woman who well knew the risks.
He heard a voice urging, Let it be now, let it be now.
Now was not the time Orien would choose. But the voice continued relentlessly, striving to coax the babe into the world, urging the mother to join her efforts.
Master Emuin, he called out into the gray space.
Emuin was there, aware and alarmed.
She's trying to force it, Emuin said. She must not. It must not, young lord.
It's too early.
In every way. It wants not to come at all. She begins now to ensure the day of the calendar at least. No,— damn! Midnight! She strives for midnight! And she must not succeed. Make it quiet! Hush! Be still!
He had no idea how to calm the babe and the mother, while the thunder cracked and the winds of chance and wizardry roared.
In the gray space Orien's voice urged haste, urged the babe toward birth, and the pain began, stealing his breath.
"Tassand!"
Uwen called for help, thinking him ill, but he drew in a great breath and willed Tarien still, asleep, if nothing else, and the babe to be well.
He was aware of Orien shaking Tarien's shoulder, encouraging her.
Then she perceived him, and the anger that swept through the gray place was potent as the storm above the roof. Defiance met him. And pain, Tarien's pain… that came.
He felt the cold marble table surface under his hand, realizing he had shaken Uwen off, and that Uwen was behind him, concerned and not knowing what to do.
Be still, he willed the babe, and drew in a breath and straightened back, willed against all Orien's determination that Tarien's pains cease. Her breaths and his came as one, and be slowed them, slowed all that was happening.
But in his hearing Orien was urging her sister now, that Tarien, having the pangs that heralded the birth, must set to it, must deliver the child or lose it, adding panic and fear for the child to Tarien's gray presence.
—No, he willed. Neither will happen.
The gray stilled for a heartbeat, a breath, and another, labored, heartbeat.
"What's happened?" he heard Tassand ask, but he saw Tarien's surroundings, and in one place he stood, and in another sat, aching and out of breath.
"I don't know," Uwen said, " 'cept it's a takin' of some sort, an' he ain't in his own mind. Set 'im down. Here, m'lord. Here's a chair."
He trusted, and sat. Having both bodies doing the same thing made it easier to manage. He gathered his awareness, stretched out fine and far, and found Orien's angry presence in the gray space, elusive, clever, governing her sister in ways mysterious to him.
He had no need to send to Emuin. Emuin had sent for the midwife, both in the gray space and on Paisi's quick feet—for thinking the babe a week away, Gran Sedlyn had gone home tonight, as she did one day in seven. Paisi ran, to bring her up the hill, in the storm and the lightning. He was aware of Paisi racing out the West Gate barefoot as he had lived much of his life, slipping on the cobbles, running in icemelt, rapidly insensible of pain.
And at Emuin's lancing inquiry, he knew Gran Sedlyn's unfamiliar touch, an old woman roused out of a warm bed and searching, he thought, for stockings, even before Paisi was past the first uptown street.
"There we are, m'lord," Uwen said, and pressed a warm cup into his hand. He trusted anything from Uwen, and sipped at it, brought to a realization of soldiers and resources at his command.
"The Aswydds," he said. "Orien's trying to bring the baby. Go tell the abbot." The man's workings were small, but the man knew the Aswydds, too, and the abbot was closer and fleeter of foot than Gran Sedlyn.
He said so, and in the gray space Orien tried to bar him from doing that. So did Tarien, following her sister's lead blindly, desperately, in her pain. For a moment a storm raged, but harm was all too easy if it came to a struggle, and he disarmed himself and kept out of the gray space except the most minuscule awareness, wishing no harm at all to the baby. Orien might assail him and cause him pain, but he sat and sipped hot tea and bore with it, for rage as she would Orien made no gains against his determination to hold things as they were.
It was Tarien that afflicted him worst, Tarien with her pain, and her fear, and her anger: she tore at him and pleaded for everything to be done.
Mine! she cried. My son! My baby! Let him alone! Let me alone!
You're killing my baby!
Your sister will harm him, Tristen answered her. It's your sister's time, not his. Hear him. Hear him, not Orien!
But Tarien was blind in her fear and deaf. Orien was her life, and Orien said now was the time. Orien said to wait was to kill her child—and so he wished them all quiet, smothered Orien's dire warnings under stifling silence, smothered Tarien's fears and even the babe's silent struggle.
A distressed guard came to his door to report screams from the Aswydds within the apartment, and that the baby might be coming.
And at the same moment Uwen had returned, reporting the abbot was awake.
"As he's prayin', or whatever he can do. Ye want me to go over there?" Uwen asked, meaning the other wing. "A midwife I ain't, but babes an' foals is some alike."
"It won't be tonight," Tristen said into what seemed a great hush.
"Orien wishes it. But I wish otherwise."
"M'lord," Uwen said with some evident misgiving. "A baby once't it starts comin' ain't amenable to arguments. Ye stop it, an' ye might kill the baby."
"The babe's alive," he said, staring into that gray distance, "and so is Tarien."
"It ain't good," Uwen said. "It ain't a good thing, m'lord, if there's a choice."
"There isn't," he said, and drew a deep breath, aware of Orien and Tarien and the babe all at once.
"What are they at?" Uwen asked him. "Is it the baby comin'?"
" Orien wishes it," he said, and went back to his chair in the study, picked up a just-poured cup of tea as thunder cracked and boomed above the roof, wizardous and uncertain. The gray space opened wide to him, and Orien was there, and Tarien appeared, a hurt, small presence with the child wrapped close, not yet free. "But the time is wrong."
"The babe's?" Uwen asked, "Or master Emuin's?"
"Both," Tristen said, with utter assurance, sipped his tea, and Uwen's expression eased.
He knew others had waked, now. Emuin was there, and from a greater distance, Crissand roused out of a sound sleep, confused and alarmed and half-awake. Cevulirn had sat up, in his bed in the camp outside the walls.
They consented to what he wished so strongly—supported him, as if they had set arms about him, not questioning what his wish was.
Their trust in him was a heady drink, and gave him strength against Orien.
And not just Orien. He became aware of a presence elsewhere, from far away, from the north, from Tasmôrden's direction, and that presence was thin and subtle and laced with excitement and desire.
He would not have that. He flung himself from the chair with a crash of the teacup, sent a table over as he flung out a hand to the nearest wall and willed the wards to life, strong, stronger than any intrusion.
The wards sprang up blue and strong as he could make them, from here to the town gates: he felt them, and as he turned about, hearing outcries and questions, he saw astonished faces, Tassand's, and one of the guards from upstairs. But Uwen was there, too, calm and steady, saying to the rest, " 'At's all right, His Grace is seein' to what's amiss, just ye stan' still and don't fret."
In that moment violence lanced between the fortress and the heavens, and Emuin's will deflected it. Thunder boomed and shook the very stones, and men cried aloud in fright.
"We're inside," Uwen said, "an' Ts Grace is watchin' out for us, so the lightnin's ain't to fear. An' if he don't want that babe born tonight, 'e won't be."
Crack! went the thunder above them, and Emuin flung out an angry wish to the heavens, chiding the storm… and Orien Aswydd.
So Tristen did, and stood fast while three more sharp cracks pealed and boomed through the stones. The very air seemed charged, and the smell of thunderstorms and wet stone permeated the apartment, as if a window were open.
A woman's voice cried out in agony, and that pain went through the gray space.
Bring him into the world! Orien cried, defying him as the lightning whited the windows. Do nothing they wish!
Lightning flared beyond the window, such as he had never seen, whitening everything in the room, and blinding him, deafening him with the crack of thunder.
The blindness lingered a moment in the gray space, and in the world of Men. His sight cleared slowly on Uwen and the frightened staff, sight shot through with drifting fire. And the wards were under assault, from within and from without.
"I'll go to her," he said, and forgot, as once on the parapets of Ynefel, that he had left his clothing. It was his servants and Uwen who pressed that necessity on him, and dressed him in haste, a few moments' delay while he shivered in the cold, as his sight within the world and within the gray space slowly returned, and all the while the wards rang and echoed to the assault. Emuin held it. He did. He was aware of Cevulirn and Crissand, both dim and far and confused about the source, both in danger.
Silence! he bade them harshly. Be still! Hold the wards!
In that, their efforts aided him. The ringing grew more distant. Tarien grew quiet, but he was aware of Orien prowling the wards of a physical room, her room, Cefwyn's room, the room where the babe had begun its life. She attempted the window, and opened it, bringing in a gust of rain-laden air. It did not breach their protection: he would not permit it, and, dressed at least to his servants' insistence, he left his apartment, went down the hall and down the stairs, then up again, to the wing that housed the women, while Orien raged at the barriers of the sisters' prison.
Owl whisked up the stairs, a fleeting Shadow of an Owl, as he came to the floor where the women were. Guards were at sharp attention as he passed them, going toward the doors.
Earl Prushan was waked from his sleep, the Aswydds' neighbor in that hall: the old man had come out in his night robe, with his bodyguard and his servants, and farther down the hall, so had Earl Marmaschen and some of the lesser residents, like shopkeepers gap-ing at some parade in the streets, for he brought himself, and Uwen, and his guard.
"Open the door," he said to the guards who watched the doors.
Orien had opened every window, to judge by the cold wet blast that met him in the foyer and the windblown flare of drapery as he Went into the room. The candles within had all but a few gone out, and in that semidarkness sat Tarien in a chair by the billowing draperies, with Orien leaning over her, arms about her heaving shoulders.
"Let her be!" Tristen ordered Orien.
"She is my sister!" Orien cried in indignation. "My sister! The babe is coming! Let her be! This is women's work!"
Tristen strode to the open window vent and shut it, stopping at least that source of draft and harm, and the ringing of the wards grew dim.
The thunder still muttered above them, and lightning flashes made the roofs a tangled maze outside the clear and stained panes of the leaded glass.
Then he turned to the women, and willed the child quiet.
Orien willed otherwise, and held to her sister, cornered as they were.
They were down to two candles, and those fluttering, the wards he set threatened, if not overwhelmed, until Uwen shut that vent as well.
His guards stood in the doorway. And Orien hated them, op^ posed them with all her might, as Tarien's face showed pale in the candlelight, and Tarien's hands made fists that battered the chair arms.
"Let me be!" she cried in the grip of renewed pain. "Let him come!
Oh, gods!"
She convulsed, but the babe resisted: his time was not yet, and he wanted help not to leave the shelter he had, not to move to Orien Aswydd's bidding. And Tarien breathed in great, rapid gasps, her hands clenched on the chair now like claws, and the breath stopped, as if she could not get another.
" Out!" Orien screamed at them, and at him: "Don't touch her! Don't touch her!"
"Be easy," he said, and touched Tarien's hand nonetheless. A breath came. "Be still."
"Don't hear him!" Orien said. "Bring the child into the world!"
They were linked, these twins: Tarien's body clenched in pain, answering her sister.
"No," he said. He feared for the guards, and Uwen; and he turned on Orien himself, gathering force, wishing not to harm the one twin, but resolved now to sever them.
No! Orien cried, and flung all she had at him.
But he saw how in the gray space a delicate knot bound them, delicate but strong and of lifelong standing. It was not force that would sever it, or the keenest knife, only a delicate undoing, and both twins resisted, Tarien with sobs and interrupted breath, half-fainting in her sister's arms.
He would not that Orien force her sister. He would not, and Orien fought back with burning eyes and a grip in this world and the gray that defied him to untangle her.
He began to do so, in the gray space, prying the two apart, but it was agony for Tarien, who clung to her sister, and would not let her go.
Then he knew Emuin was aware, and was on his arthritic way up the stairs toward him, already in this wing. Paisi, too, was hastening Gran Sedlyn out her door. Thunder cracked, the heavens riven and battering the windows with rain.
Let him come! Orien cried. This is the mixing of bloods, this is the heir of the High Kings, this is the vessel of the great lord, and in him is the prophecy, greater than Mauryl's working, longer than Mauryl's working!
Hasufin Heltain's vessel, Emuin said, at distance, overcome with a pain in his side. Orien struck at him, intending a mortal wound, struck at Uwen, who could not perceive it, struck at him, at every living thing in her reach, randomly and without reason.
" No!" Tarien screamed, as a crack of thunder ripped the air. Her back arched away from the chair and Tristen flung himself to his knees, seized Tarien's clawed hand in his, and willed her pain to ebb.
Threat lanced at his back; and Uwen was there, quick as Orien's strike.
A silver knife struck the floor and spun away across the figured carpet, ending under a chest. Orien struggled in Uwen's grip, but Tristen willed her silent and her curses void. Her strength was ebbing, like the thunder that muttered in the distance now, after that last violence. He held Tarien's clammy fingers in his, tenderly, quietly.
"Be still," he said, sorry for her pain. "Hush. Hush."
"My prince," Tarien said between pangs and on sobbing breaths. "He was my prince, before he was hers—and I have his son. I have his son! She can't take that away!"
"Hush," Tristen said, and rode the waves of pain with her: he could do that, now, in the quiet that settled around them. He smoothed the waves, stilled them to a flat sameness of discomfort, until she leaned her head against the chair and drew deep breaths, sweat beading her white brow.
The child within grew quiet.
"Your sister wants your child," Emuin said harshly, and he was there in the room, a shadow against the last two candles. "She wants him for Hasufin Heltain, and to be his, the babe must die—open your eyes, woman! You have a little of the craft and a smattering of the wisdom! You'd have more if you didn't blind yourself! See her! Look at what she truly wishes!"
"Let my sister alone!" Orien cried from across the room, where Uwen and the guards had taken her. "Let me go! Damn you!"
She was exhausted now, not an imminent threat. "Shut that window!"
Emuin said, and Gweyl moved, shut the last of the window vents, at the far end of the row. That stopped the bitter draft. "Fool!" Emuin said, and meant Orien Aswydd.
"Murderer!" Orien screamed back, and wished Emuin dead, as she had wished him dead at summer's end, and moved one of her servants to murder him. "I curse you!" she cried, and tried things she had read in ancient parchments, a treasure trove of Mauryl's letters, but Emuin swept that aside with hardly more effort.
"It's not the words," Emuin said, "it's the wisdom, and that doesn't come by wishing, woman! It doesn't come by spite! Come, gather it up! Can you?"
She could not. All her efforts scattered to the winds. The storm was gone, the violence within it was gone, and what was within Orien ebbed and dissipated like the force of the wind. The air had that feeling.
"Take her to the guardhouse," Emuin said, "and stand guard over her.
You, Gweyl, yourself."
"No!" Orien cried, outraged. "Tarien!"
Tristen made no move to intervene. Emuin had the matter in hand, and the wrongness within Tarien's body was the greatest concern, the distress of the child. He dimly heard the commotion of Orien's forcible departure, but he held Tarien's hand and willed her safe and the baby safe until he lost all feeling in his knees—and until finally a more friendly fuss in the room heralded Gran Sedlyn's arrival, a peasant woman with strong, competent hands and a comforting voice.
"Get the lady to bed," was Gran Sedlyn's quick order, and Tristen gathered himself up as Uwen helped Tarien to rise, and between the two of them, one on a side, they took Lady Tarien to her bed in the next room—the same that had been Cefwyn's bed when he was here.
There Gran settled her and tucked pillows beneath her back and made her comfortable. "No place here for men," Uwen said, and drew him back.
But Tarien's hands moved upon those sheets, and he sensed, in that haze to which her mind had retreated as the pain had eased, the memory in her of that bed, her bed, a hint of remembered scent, that was Cefwyn.
There was love, a woman's love, at once foreign to him and comprehensible: love and loss of a man, and a bond to the child within.
No place here for men, Uwen had said, and he felt strange and lost in Tarien's grief, yet understanding the loss, which was his own loss.
Neither of them had kept Cefwyn here. No one could. His Place was elsewhere, his love elsewhere bestowed…
"Summat warm to drink," Gran Sedlyn wished, whether for herself or for her charge was unsure. Paisi hovered over his gran, and Cook was there, summoned by the abbot, so she said, but little needed now as a midwife: Cook had made sweet tea, and brought it, but Tarien turned her face away angrily and swore she could take no such thing, even as that real scent chased the beloved, remembered scent away. Her spell was broken. She suffered loss again. Women bedeviled her, her sister, Gran, Cook: they hovered and chided and would not let her lie alone in her grief.
It was women's magic. He felt the soothing influence in the gray space; but elsewhere, at the limits of his awareness, Orien Aswydd raged in her new confinement, full of violence, trying desperately to have Tarien's attention, and attacking her guards.
He feared for Uwen—acutely, in that instant. He cast Emuin only a glance.
"Orien's threatened Uwen."
"Go," Emuin said, and he left matters in the apartment to Emuin's care and went out, almost without a guard, for the ones at the door had no orders regarding him and the ones guarding him had all gone downstairs with Uwen.
The wards lower down rang to Orien's efforts. They had shut her behind an iron door and it did nothing to prevent her curses. He ran to the end of the hall, sped down the west stairs and down and down to the guardroom steps, where Uwen was.
Safe, he was glad to see, but not for any of Orien's wishing.
"There's an unhappy woman," Uwen said with a jerk of his thumb toward the closed door.
"She's done all she can to breach the wards," Tristen said, and went down himself, and laid a firm binding on the door and all about.
Within, Orien flung herself at the door and hammered at it with her fists, cursed him and raged at the barrier until her voice cracked.
But she would not get out and no Shadow would get in. Tristen turned and looked at the corners of the small nook where the guardhouse stairs came down, at the dark places beyond the smoking tallow candles.
Reeking of death and slaughter, Emuin had said in rejecting such candles, and reek they did. This entire stairwell did. The Aswydds had made this a place of pain, and so it was now: Shadows lurked in the seams of the stone and in the nooks beyond the light—murdered Elwynim, some; malefactors, murderers, thieves, and traitors… the innocent and the guilty and the unfortunate: all the pain suffered in this place, all the lives that had ended in this small room.
Be free, he said to some, and others he bound, for it Unfolded to him how to do that, as he had not known when he was confined here himself. She might have rallied such Shadows. He removed them from her reach.
Then the place was quieter, save only Orien Aswydd's hoarse shrieks and occasional and faltering strikes at the door.
Last of all he felt a presence, a Shadow among other Shadows, and from the tail of his eye thought he saw one he knew—Heryn Aswydd, bloodied and burned as he had died. Cefwyn had sent away all the Aswydd dead and tried to dispossess them of their Place in the world, but the living Aswydds had come here, and brought the dead ones back, or waked this one from sleep, so he feared.
Heryn he bound to the hallway of this little nook, finding no pity for the man who had sought Cefwyn's life and betrayed so many. A shriek followed; and that was Orien; and silence came after that.
He gazed at Uwen's shocked face, at the guards who had defied sorcery carrying out his orders—scared men, troubled men. He reached out a hand and touched Uwen's arm, and then touched one after the other of the rest of them, wishing them well.
A muffled thump attested Orien's rage at his small magic. Rather than desist he made it a greater one, wishing good to all the soldiers, good to all the house. It was a war of curses and well-wishes, and so it went on for a moment until with a final hammering at the door, Orien desisted.
"Come upstairs," he said then quietly.
"There ain't much comfort in that cell," Uwen said. " 'Cept we left a light an' a pail of water. Shall we fetch a blanket an' a bench?"
The gate-guards had left the same for him once: a candle in an iron cage, that cast great squares of light about ceiling and walls, and straw to ease the cold of the stones. It seemed too cruel, even for Orien; but she had sped wishes for the baby… she owned it, in her thinking, and it was too hazardous to open that door and engage with her until the dawn. A banished spirit had found its way into the royal house of Althalen: Hasufin Heltain had made his bid for life in a stillborn babe. He had no wish to see it happen here, to Cefwyn's child.
"Not until dawn," he said. By then it would be his day, and his evening, and the sun would shine and the darker forces would find less strength. Shadows—and Hasufin was such a Shadow—found the dark far friendlier.
He did not know how long it might be, the watch they had to keep, but Orien had not given up the struggle for the babe's life, Hasufin's threat was not yet abated.
And by his will, they would not open that cell door until both things were so.
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Next: CHAPTER 3