After the deluge of rain came the west wind, from the evening of Tristen's day, blowing the clouds from the sky and warming the last piles of snow, drying the fields and banging at loose shutters. The banners atop the South Gate flew straight out, and the pigeons when they came to the window had hard work to maintain their places.
They were still as many as before: Tristen counted them as he did every day, worrying about Owl's appetite, and still they stayed safe.
And still Tarien's babe stayed safe, and slept, as Uwen assured him new babies did, and nursed and slept and slept some more. Gran Sedlyn refused to leave, having mislaid the baby once: she slept close by on the night of that day, and tended Tarien and Elfwyn both. It was passing strange to Tristen that now he must think of a new soul, a creature that had never existed before, but there he was, indisputably a baby.
As for Orien, she lay where she had died, and no one wanted to go into that fire-blackened cell. That very day, and on Emuin's advice, Tristen sent for masons to wall up the guardhouse, from the stairs on down. It was simple work, requiring no great time to accomplish it.
And when it was finished, he and Emuin both had warded it, for the sake of Tarien's soul, and Elfwyn's, and to give Orien's spirit what rest it might find—but Tristen doubted she wished peace at all.
Orien had lit her own funeral pyre that night. Shut behind the cell's iron door, guarded by men in the hall above, she had still, found an escape, a way for her spirit to go walking, cut free from her bonds—so she had imagined, to seize a new home in Tarien's body, but she had failed in that attempt. She had attempted to escape the wards altogether, riding an intruder spirit's will, and to fly all the way clear; but she had become lost, left behind. The wards had thrust her ambitious soul back into the cell from which it had extended itself—and now with the new wall and the wards, Tristen hoped they had bound it there, bound it and sealed it in such a way it would never escape.
But there was still a danger from the old mews. If some power came in by that and breached the wards there, then Orien might have help to free herself—for she had made herself a Shadow, and a dangerous one, potent and quick—dangerous especially to Tarien.
Tarien had rejected her sister's influence, had defended herself with unexpected strength, and utterly cast her out, terrified at what desire she now saw—but she had weak moments. She had ambitious moments. And she remained vulnerable to Orien's desires, a woman who mothered Cefwyn's son, and on whom they had to rely.
In the meanwhile, however, the contrary weather seemed now not to resist his wishes. The roads were drying, he knew from messages that Cevulirn's men were well established, and now he took it on faith that Cefwyn would do as he said and march to the river.
So he had done. But Tristen lingered here, waiting and waiting for a message from Cefwyn.
For the pride of the northern barons, Cefwyn had said, they must go first across the river.
But for the friendship that was between the two of them, Tristen believed a letter would come, and that from that letter he would learn things he needed to know.
So for two days more he found things to occupy him, the questions of supply, of weather damage, of disputes over scarce resources; and questions, too, of master Emuin, who would not march with the army. Emuin continued his scrutiny of the heavens and his consultation of dice. From time to time he made inquiries of master Haman on the behavior of horses and stable mice—and made them again, while Paisi had caught a mouse in the lower hall, and kept it in a cage: about that matter, Tristen had no understanding, but the mouse ate well, and took water from a silver dish.
The pond thawed, and the fish waked from their winter sleep. Amid all his more serious concerns, Tristen took them bread crumbs, and saw with delight that the small birds had come back to the barren trees in the garden.
Yet all of this filled a time of waiting—waiting for word from Cefwyn, worrying for what he knew of Ryssand's purposes, wondering what use Cefwyn might have made of what he could send to
Ninévrisë… or whether Ninévrisë' might have heard his messages at all; wondering whether Anwyll had reached the capital yet, and whether he was safe, and whether he had reached Idrys without incident. Of all messengers he could send, surely no one would assail a captain of the Dragons at the head of his company—and surely he would have a message soon, telling him he was free to cross the river.
But the third afternoon the gate bell rang, startling the pigeons into flight, a sudden wall of gray wings obscuring the sky, beating aloft; and at that iron sound of the bell his heart rose up, the same, and he quickly shut the window and latched it, caught up his sword and his cloak before his servants closed about him to put both on him, and was out the door of his apartment, papers and signatures and petitions of town nobles forgotten.
He was sure it was the messenger he awaited. He knew that Emuin was in his tower, that Tarien was in her room asleep: all these persons he was always aware of.
But he was suddenly astonished to understand that Ninévrisë wanted him, and was thinking of him at this very moment.
He stopped on the stairs in midstride, alarmed, casting about him to know what mischance had let him and Ninévrisë touch, so far apart, and whether dangerous wizardry had hurled them together: she felt so unaccustomedly strong, and distressed, and glad, and close…
She was at his own town gate.
He hurried down the stairs with his concomitant racket of guards and weapons overtaking him from behind—Uwen was elsewhere, about his duties, but Gweyl and the others were with him; and letting them follow as best they could he half ran down the lower hall to the west doors and out to the stable yard.
There he spied a stableboy with a sorrel horse at lead.
"Is he fit?" he asked the boy, who stammered yes, and without any regard of ownership or the boy's destination, he took the lead and with both hands vaulted onto the sorrel's bare back. "It's no great concern," he said to Gweyl and the guards, who had caught up. "Wait here!"
Those were certainly not their standing orders from Uwen; but Ninévrisë was already on her way uphill, and Tristen was in no mood to wait for saddles and four more horses. He turned the horse to the gate and rode out on the instant onto the street and down, bareheaded, bannerless, but bound for answers and an appearance he had never looked to see come to him.
At the midtown crossing he saw the weary visitors coming uphill, a rider in a muddy blue cloak—Ninévrisë—in the lead, with, of all men, Idrys, and ten guardsmen in plain armor, mud-spattered to a brown, dusty sameness with their horses.
Had Cefwyn come south to join him? he asked himself, with a dizzying flood of hopes and fears—together they could do anything, overcome the north, accomplish all his hopes—but if Cefwyn came south it meant calamity with the northern provinces.
And it was only Ninévrisë, only Idrys, which frightened him beyond words.
He rode up to Ninévrisë's heartfelt and weary gladness to see him, and the gray space opened, pouring out everything to him: her pain, her distress, his letter, his warning; and Cefwyn days advanced on the road to Elwynor… none of these things with words, and none in order, and all with her exhaustion and fear. He was as dazed at this Unfolding of dangers as if the sky had opened on him.
"Tristen," she said aloud, reaching out her hand. "Oh, Tristen!"
"Is Cefwyn safe?"
"To our knowledge," Idrys said in his low, calm voice. "He bade me bring Her Grace to Henas'amef for safety, but the roads so delayed us I looked to find you on the road north by now."
"I waited for his message, sir."
"None reached you?"
"No," he said, dismayed.
"One should have. I'll be off," Idrys said, "this hour, with the loan of horses."
"With the gift of anything you need," Tristen said fervently. "But what message should have come? And did Cefwyn not get mine, with Anwyll?"
"None from Anwyll," Idrys said, and by now they were riding side by side, bound uphill, with the curious stares of townfolk all around them. "But His Majesty will be at the river by now, and Anwyll may have to go there."
"Sir, Tasmôrden's plotting with Ryssand!"
"That, he knows."
"The letter told me," Ninévrisë said. "Your letter, the magical one.
Only I fear—I fear it didn't tell me everything, and there might have been news there for days that I didn't hear until the news about the baby."
He had never been sure it would tell her anything at all. He was vastly relieved to know that not all his efforts had gone astray, and he saw in what had gone amiss no mere chance, but a hostile wizardry.
And whose wizardry it was, since Elfwyn's birth, he now was sure.
"When we reach the Zeide," he said, "I'll tell you all of it. And I pray you wait, sir, and tell me everything that was in Cefwyn's letter. I'll order horses and supplies, all you need. But I need your advice, what I should do."
Riders were coming toward them at a fair speed, Uwen Lewen's-son, with Gweyl and the rest, and Lusin, all of them astonished to see who had arrived.
But they all knew how to take things in stride, and meeting them, simply reined about calmly and rode with them, without a question, while the townsfolk on the street that stood and watched did so in a certain solemnity, not sure what it all meant, perhaps, but knowing that visitors had come. Enough of them surely recognized Ninévrisë, and even more surely, the Lord Commander; and their arrival in such grim, unlordly guise must start rumors running the streets… rumors of danger to the kingdom, perhaps even of defeat in the north and disaster to Cefwyn… Tristen had feared the same in his own heart, had no doubt the townsfolk would fear the same—even that Uwen and his guard might guess Ninévrisë's appearance with Idrys portended calamity.
So at the crest of the hill, in the open square, Tristen turned the borrowed horse about to face the straggling curious in the street and gave them the things he could tell them.
"King Cefwyn's army has moved against Earl Tasmôrden! He's requested us to safeguard the Lady Regent, and so we will! Her Grace of Elwynor, our guest and ally, with the Lord Commander, her escort—the Lord Commander will rejoin the king, in Elwynor!"
A cheer went up at that report, relief on all the faces.
"Wise," Idrys said in his low, travel-worn voice, "and a wonder to the people of Henas'amef to be so trusted by His Majesty, to be sure."
That ironic observation might be the underlying truth, but the people waved in unfeigned jubilation, and with the bells ringing and the echoing commotion outside, Tristen brought his small party inside the gates.
"The Lord Commander and his men are riding back immediately," he said to Uwen, and to Lusin, sliding down from the sorrel's bare back.
A boy ran up to reclaim the horse, and now Tristen saw Tassand had hurried out into the nippish air and down onto the west door steps, ill dressed for the chill wind: "Her Grace is our guest, Tassand."
Those three he needed tell, and everything else happened—boys running for ponies to ride down after remounts, master Haman shouting, and Tassand hurrying up the steps as fast as his agile legs would carry him. Lusin, too, dispatched messengers with the necessary instructions for others of the staff, all of this in motion before they had reached the steps. Tristen promised supplies, clean clothes, hot baths if the men would wait that long.
"We have no time," was Idrys' protest, but Tristen swept Ninévrisë and the Lord Commander at once up the steps and inside. Down the hall only a short distance he brought them into the old great hall, far more intimate than the newer one the other side of the stairs, and nearer the kitchens. Servants whisked chairs into position, moved a small table, and had a pitcher of wine and a steaming teapot and service ready almost before they could settle in the chairs—and immediately after that a cold meat pie, cold bread, cheese, and sausage. The servants were hard-breathing, his guests a little dazed by the instant flood of amenities, but Cook had learned since Cevulirn had gone to the river that Tristen's messengers and his friends arrived ravenous and left with bags and wallets stuffed with food, and every such arrival met this hospitality unasked and unadvised.
Hot herbal tea and honey met instantaneous approval.
"Her Grace is carrying the heir to the kingdom," Idrys said, first of all, to Tristen's dismay. "And has risked a great deal in coming this far."
"I'm very well," Ninévrisë said shortly, cherishing a warm cup in hands pale-edged beneath the spatters of mud.
Another prince, leapt immediately into Tristen's essential understanding, though why he should think son scarcely skimmed his wits. He had not heard the child as he heard Tarien's, but he had no disposition to doubt it.
"This message," she said. "This message of yours, and Cefwyn's…"
"Cenas carried it," Idrys said, "with the king's writ and seal. And had ample time to be here."
"He's not come," Tristen reiterated.
Uwen had joined them cautiously: he was bidden listen to all councils. "Gedd," Uwen said now in a quiet voice, and drew a darting glance from Ninévrisë and Idrys.
"Sergeant Gedd carried Cefwyn's last message," Tristen said, well understanding, "and was days late. He had to let go his horses and hide and move by night: he was followed out of Guelemara."
"Two of my men never came back from that ride," Idrys said. "Now Cenas. And he left without fuss."
"Gedd weren't clear of the town before they were on 'im," Uwen said.
"I think ye should hear Gedd, sir."
"There's no time," Idrys said, "not an hour.—Send him with me, I'll hear him and send him back again as we ride."
"With no difficulty," Tristen said quietly.
"What's this about Ryssand?" Idrys asked him. "What do you know?"
He began to reply, and only then realized the Lord Commander might believe in his walking through walls, but would not understand it.
"There's a doorway of sorts, where the old mews were. And it goes to places. Ynefel is one. But the lord of Meiden overheard a hall in Ilefínian, where wizards and Tasmôrden and his men were holding council."
"The lord of Meiden."
"Crissand," Tristen said. "They know about Lady Tarien's baby; that's one thing. And Hasufin isn't dispelled."
"The wizard." Idrys knew precisely what wizard, what trouble, and that it presaged nothing good. Ninévrisë knew, and it was two troubled looks he had. "Lewenbrook didn't suffice, then."
"It sufficed," Tristen said, "to drive him back, but he tried again, and I think he's with Tasmôrden."
"Grim news," Idrys said.
"But he didn't break through, here," Tristen said, offering the best news he had on that matter. "He tried to take Tarien's baby, the way he did the prince at Althalen…"
"Oh, dear gods," Ninévrisë said, and her hand flew to her heart.
"But he didn't," Tristen said quickly, seeing what distress it brought her. "It didn't happen. Orien's dead. She tried to help him, and she tried to get free, but she couldn't, and she died. Hasufin's still in question, but he isn't here. The baby is safe."
"Dear gods," Ninévrisë said again.
"Came here," Idrys said darkly. "How? Like what happened on the field?"
Tristen shook his head. "More quietly. The wards wouldn't let him in.
There's the gap in the wards where the old mews were; there's another at Ilefínian…"
"And he came from there?"
"Not from there," Tristen said, "but he was there, at least . . • he had influence there."
Idrys' face, unwashed, spattered with mud and filmed with dust, seemed carved of stone, the lively flick of a dark eye the only expression.
"He seems to have influence many places, Amefel."
"And the earl of Meiden overheard this plot."
"He and I," Tristen said. "Tasmôrden knew about Tarien's baby, and sent Lord Cuthan to Ryssand, to make trouble."
"That he did," Idrys said.
"But more than that," Tristen said, "Ryssand's agreed to kill Cefwyn.
That's what I sent with Anwyll. Cefwyn mustn't let Ryssand's men near him."
"That the letter told me," Ninévrisë said in anguish. "And Cefwyn knows it… but late. I don't know how I know, but I did learn it late, didn't I? I felt it, the farther I rode… part of it was late! And if he'd known—if he'd known when Ryssand was in court—"
"Wizardry," Tristen said. "The weather—everything's gone back and forth, from what I wish, what Tasmôrden's wizardry wishes, wherever it comes from."
"Wizardry indeed," Idrys said darkly, "and I belong with my king."
"I don't wish to keep you," Tristen said, "but let Uwen come with Gedd, too, since Uwen's heard all we've done here. They'll ride with you as far as you need. Cevulirn is already at the river, with Sovrag and Umanon. Pelumer's rangers are wherever they need be, not mentioning Aeself's band, Elwynim, who watch up and down the river. All our supplies are in place: we can be across the river in one night and reach Ilefínian in three."
"Do you say so?" Ninévrisë said, as if all the weight of days on the road had lifted. Rarely, too, did Idrys' grim countenance ever show his heart, but his relief in hearing that was visible in every line of him.
"Well done." Then, more sharply, as if a thought had come to him.
" Sovrag's there, you say. With boats."
"One boat, always, if not others."
"Can he set me ashore at the Murandys bridge? Can he possibly ferry the horses?"
"I don't know. One man, two—with horses. Perhaps."
Idrys gnawed his lip, doubtless weighing the risks involved and the fact that once at Anwyll's camp, there was no other way but the river or the roads on the far side of the bridge—but a vast stony dome and a meander of deep woods lay between the bridge at Anwyll's camp and that bridge Cefwyn would use to cross into Elwynor: Tristen had seen those hills not in the flesh but in his dreams of Owl, a jagged maze of rock and forest on both sides of the river, rough land that had been the saving of Ninévrisë' and her father, and of no few men this winter who had escaped Ilefínian—but nowhere in it were trails fit for horses: Idrys and Ninévrisë had surely come here by the longer way round, down by Assurnford, to make any time at all.
And to escape that long swing south by a fast ride north to the camp and a windblown course upriver to Cefwyn's bridge… indeed, if Sovrag could, it would save time.
"The winds I may wish you," Tristen said, "but only as well as I've wished the weather, which is sometimes good and sometimes not—the winds might be foul for days, and I don't know how many horses they can manage, or even if they can. But I know Elwynim have crossed with their horses, northerly, by swimming. It's a great risk."
"If not the boats, then the swim," Idrys said. "Afoot until I can find a horse. Cefwyn expects you to come with all your force, as soon as you can. And to protect Her Grace."
"I'll ride after you as soon as tonight.—Emuin is here," he said to Ninévrisë. "Stay with him. Tassand will take care of anything you wish."
"I have no doubts of either of them," Ninévrisë said.
"Uwen will go as far as need be, then. We've signals among us, for the rangers. He'll show you. And when you come there, sir, tell Cevulirn secure the far side: I'll be there, perhaps before he can cross."
"M'lord," Uwen said faintly, "you'll be takin' only the new lads wi'
"I'll be safe," Tristen said, with no doubt in his mind, and Idrys took the moment, grimy hands and all, to take a quarter cup of wine and a morsel of bread and cheese.
"I'll get me kit," Uwen said, rising, "by 'r leave, m'lord, and I'll bring Gedd."
"Half an hour, Captain," Idrys said.
"Yes, sir," Uwen said, and left quickly. Tassand took that departure for a signal to come in and report Ninévrisë"'s accommodation ready.
"I'll enjoy the tea so long as it's here," Ninévrisë said, cradling the cup in muddy fingers. "And thank you: I'll be grateful."
She was at the end of the strength she had, and sustaining herself in the gray space: Tristen had been aware of that failing, and lent strength of his own, steadying, wary of Tarien's existence above—
and aware suddenly of another presence, nearer, at the door.
Owl flew in, eliciting a motion of fright from Ninévrisë; and immediately after Owl, came Emuin.
Ninévrisë held out a trembling, anticipating hand, and Emuin took it like a courtier, pressed it in his.
"Safe," Emuin said. "You slipped up on us. Slipped up on me, wily that you are, and that's no mild achievement. We had no idea you were coming."
"You know what's happened," Ninévrisë said.
"I've heard," Emuin said. "Unfortunately, so has the Aswydd girl, I fear, but no matter, no matter, you're here and Cefwyn's other advisor…" With a glance toward Idrys. "… is soon on his way back, I gather."
"You gather the truth," Idrys said, and washed down a bite. "As fast as horses can move us." He rose, a tall, daunting presence. "I fear, Your Grace, someone's followed my men, picked off my messengers, and my lord's couriers, and known in each instance when and where they'd be."
They all looked at him.
"What do you mean?" Ninévrisë asked. "Ryssand?"
"Ryssand's treachery, ultimately. But you say Gedd was followed.
Now Cenas hasn't come. It wasn't for lack of secrecy. But secrecy's failed us. Either it's wizardry, which is not a talent among my men or Ryssand's, or the culprit doesn't get his knowledge out of thin air, but from councils."
"Who?" Tristen asked.
"Someone within my circles.—If you're the wizard you say, master grayrobe, wizard me this, and tell me who is the traitor."
Tristen stood still. Owl had landed on a chair arm, and folded his wings as Emuin considered the question in the gray space and out.
Tristen did so, too, thinking of all the officers who came and went, and all the pages and servants.
"I assure you I'll consider the question, master crow," Emuin said. "If I find an answer I'll send it to Tristen. He knows how fast."
"I'll be to a horse," Idrys said shortly, "and do the things I know to do. I'll reach him. Your leave."
Idrys was on his way to gather resources in a fortress he had lived in for a year and more, and where he knew well where to look. Tristen delayed for Emuin, and Ninévrisë.
"I'll just sip my tea," Ninévrisë said. Her hands were trembling.
"A hot bath, a clean gown, and I assure you gentlemen I'll be very well."
"Idrys will reach him," Tristen said.
"I've no doubt of the Lord Commander."
"Best you go upstairs," Emuin said. "Let the servants put you to bed.
They'll bring you tea."
"I prefer present company." There was a certain distractedness about Ninévrisë, a fragile grasp of the world around her, a fear of solitude, and of the halls above, where a presence haunted the gray space.
"How does Lady Tarien? Is she well?"
"Well," Tristen said. "She won't trouble you."
"Not free," Tristen said, "not free to come and go, but where her choices lie, I've not asked her."
"And the child?"
"Thrives," said Emuin. "The lady dotes on him, will not leave him; I ask Your Grace bear with her and the child under this roof, awkward as it is. There's no place else safe to send them."
The gray space seethed with Ninévrisë's troubled presence, and with a well-banked anger. "She tried to kill Cefwyn; wished me dead; has my husband's son—I take these things, understand, with what feeling you might expect. But likewise I take your meaning. I understand Orien is dead. But dead here, within the wards. Is that safe?"
"Warded," Emuin said, "as warded as we can manage. But you should know the babe is gifted. And his dreams we also ward and treat gently."
"I bear the baby no ill will at all," Ninévrisë said faintly, a breath across the teacup. She emptied it. "Might there be another cup, if you please? I've suffered from thirst as much as cold—the wind was bitter."
Tristen poured it for her himself, and she warmed her hands with it, after a sip.
"Did you fear anything?" Emuin asked her pointedly. "On the road, did anything threaten you?"
"Not in that way. It was a harder ride than I thought. I wouldn't stop, and Idrys wouldn't, and between us, and as much as the horses could bear, we just kept going." She lifted the cup in both dirty, trembling hands and had a sip. "The women's court in Guelemara had Ryssand's daughter and Murandys' niece. I assure you Tarien Aswydd doesn't daunt me in the least."
"Her Grace also," Tristen said, lest Emuin have failed to know, "has Cefwyn's son."
Ninévrisë cast him up a sudden, sharp glance, the cup clutched between her hands. "A son. I think so. Is it certain?"
It was nothing he could define, but he still thought so, and did not even perceive a presence yet. It was in the currents of wizardry that ran strong and deep in all he saw, everywhere about the place. A child of Orien's wizardry had come to be in this place: here was one of the other side—
And yet neither was necessarily an enemy to the other. It was not utter misfortune that he had delayed here to safeguard the one child, instead of waiting for Cefwyn's message with Cevulirn, at the river…
a message that they now feared was lost. Three months ago he had had difficulty imagining things to come, and now he had diverted the enemy's current into his own hands, and seen far enough down the river he could say—yes, a son, another son, and to know that was acceptable. There was nothing else he could say of it, no word he could use, but acceptable, against all other forces loose in the world.
It said nothing, however, of Cefwyn's safety, and Idrys' fear. If Cefwyn had an enemy closer to him than Tasmôrden or Ryssand, that was outside his reach—and inside someone else's, where the old, old current that was Hasufin might after all prove stronger, or quicker, or simply overwhelm him and all he protected there.
He had first discovered fear in Ynefel's maze of walks and shadows.
He had first met nameless terror in the loft where he had found Owl, and explored apprehension and unease under Mama's shadow. None of these Words was new to him—but the knowledge that ruin could be so absolute and so sweep everything he loved with it, in one stroke, against one man—this indignation, this anger wrapped in fear he had never felt in all his life. Moderation had no place in what he felt, and he did not know the depths in himself this might reach.
But two sets of eyes read more of him than he might wish—both with the gift, both of them reaching into the gray space, and wishing his restraint.
"Young lord," Emuin said, the only man but Mauryl who could chide him and call him a fool, "don't forget yourself. I fear there's more and worse to find. But you know more now than then. You may be more now than before. The Year of Years is at its beginning this time. This is your age. The last, I fear, wasn't Mauryl's after all. It wasn't Hasufin's, either, by the narrowest of escapes.—And damned certain, this one isn't mine."
Ninévrisë looked bewildered at this exchange… her lineage endmost of all those who had ruled in these lands, the Elwynim and the Guelenfolk.
The Amefin aethelings, Crissand's folk, were older… not by much, but older than the Sihhë's presence in the south, Tristen knew it not alone from his books, but from the dark that kept Unfolding under his feet.
Emuin himself in his studies had reached as far as the stars could show him, as far as Mauryl had taught him.
There was Auld Syes, who warded Althalen. She was old as the hills were old, and said almost as little—what could one say, who watched the currents move, for whom the years were a vast and endless stream?
All… all of that stream flowed past him in the blink of an eye.
"Pity Orien," he said, strangely moved, and drew a breath too large for his body. "She had no knowledge. She never knew anything at all."
Emuin laid a hand on his shoulder, only that.
Ninévrisë said nothing, only looked at both of them, the teacup forgotten in her hands. She was there, in the gray space, and heard, but whether any of it at all fell within her understanding Tristen could not tell.
He only had to go, now, and be sure of his defenses, around what he left. He feared more than ever in his life. The enemy had no mercy, and no alternative but to meet him: the enemy feared the same as he, and would strike at anything outside his wards.
The enemy would strike first at those the loss of whom would most damage, most wound him, most drive him to anger.
The enemy, like Cefwyn, had already moved.