Book: Fortress of Dragons

Previous: CHAPTER 5
Next: CHAPTER 7

Ninévrisë slept. That was best, Tristen thought. Uwen was on his way to the river with Idrys, and that was well, too, for Uwen could only worry, otherwise… although in the task at hand he missed Uwen's sure hands and his calming steadiness.
Instead he called on Lusin and Gweyl to arm him. It was an upside-down order of things, arming him before the guard in the barracks was under arms, before midnight, but his bodyguard never questioned, sure that they were riding to the river before dawn, sure that the stable was gathering up horses and that messengers were out to the barracks and the fires were lit on the hills, advising every Amefin lord. It was the call they all had expected since Cevulirn had marched, and expected hourly since Ninévrisë and her party had arrived.
Lusin, who would not go to war with him, looked regretful in that knowledge; but he had his duties. "You'll command the garrison that remains," Tristen said to him. "Prushan will give you all the help you may need," Prushan, a reasonable and sensible man, was too old to ride to the river, even to sit a horse behind the lines, and would provide the lordly authority in town. "And he'll need your advice.
Give it to him as you do to me."
"I wish to the gods I was going with ye, m'lord. All of us. We still hoped we would."
"I need you here more than in the line," Tristen said. "You know that I do. Emuin will be at his wizardry and maybe here and maybe there… I fear Paisi will know more of what's happening downstairs than he will. Worst, if there's danger of wizardry… of sorcery breaking out, Emuin will know what to do for that, but he can't watch his own back and he can't settle disputes in the hall. Her Grace is here. She's wise in most things and she has wizardry of her own…
ask her if you find yourself at a loss, but she mustn't risk herself or draw attention. There's Lady Tarien and the baby, both with the gift… you'll have them to watch, and don't trust her: she's an open doorway. Anything can walk through it, and you have only master Emuin and Her Grace to deal with what does. Lord Prushan's able to deal with the town, but the Zeide itself— you understand it."
"Enough to be cold scairt, m'lord, an' that's the truth."
"Enough to stand your ground," he said. "As you would on the field.
You'd fight there. So you will here, protecting what's here. And watching that place in the hall—that most of all. You and Syllan, and Aran and Tawwys—I want one of you four, none else, to be at that place day and night: take turns. And set the abbot to watch the wall at the guardroom stairs, where Orien is, turn about with the Teranthine father. If at any time whoever's on watch doesn't think things are right with those places, send for Emuin, and don't wait."
"As things could break out there."
"As things could break out there," he said. "At any hour. Paisi's not a bad one to have on watch with you, where Emuin can spare him. He has the gift. Just don't let him watch alone. And above all else, don't let Tarien and don't let Her Grace near those two places."
"I'm to tell her no?" Clearly Lusin doubted his ability.
"Say that I said so." He clapped Lusin on the shoulder, no longer servant, but a friend, and a trusted officer. "Go now to Crissand's house. Tell him he'll ride with me in the morning. Don't let him in the lower hall."
Lusin's expression grew distressed. He was never inclined to argue with orders, but he understood, then, that he, too, was being sent off to a distance and he liked very little what he guessed.
"Go," Tristen said.
"Aye, m'lord," Lusin said, clearly struggling with the urge to say something. He hesitated on his way to the door. "Ye want us't' be back here, m'lord?"
"No. Don't let Lord Crissand follow me," he said. "Whatever you have to do, see he stays away from the mews.—Send him to Emuin, if he argues."
"Ye ain't goin' after another banner, m'lord."
"No. Not this time." Lusin appealed to him to trust him; and he cast himself on that trust. "It's Efanor I want. I'm going to warn him of the danger to his brother and set him a task the same as I give you. But I mustn't make a mistake in this. If Crissand tries to follow me, I don't know that I can protect us both, or find the way for him. Now go."
"M'lord," Lusin said, and went, well knowing that his lord was at risk, and not happy in being sent away.
But it was necessary, what he did. Tristen knew that as surely as if it had Unfolded, for Cefwyn's back was undefended, and the doors that all led to the mews were undefended. He was not utterly sure a path led into Guelemara, but the gray space was everywhere, one could surely reach it everywhere, and tangled as it might be—where the Lines of a place failed, there the walls between the gray space and the world of Men were weak.
And if a place on the earth had ever afflicted his senses in the same way the mews did, the misaligned Lines within the Quinaltine itself defined that place.
There must be a way through, there; and it was that place he sought, both to warn Efanor, the simple reason he had given Lusin— and to mend those Lines before they afforded a passage for the enemy into the very heart of Cefwyn's capital.
To protect the mews from such an invasion he had taken such precautions as he dared. He had warned Emuin and Ninévrisë of his intention because he was sure they could not prevent him. And now he sent Lusin with his message, so late that by the time Crissand could even reach the mews, he would have done what he set himself to do—for, give or take the war of the weather, and considering the craft and strength of the enemy, he knew he had a remarkable run of that mystery Uwen called Luck, that quantity he saw as a stream of opportunity flowing their way.
That favorable current was back again tonight: the winds in the heavens served him and cleared the roads, and Her Grace had warned Cefwyn and reached him. But as with swordplay, the enemy might allow the pattern a while, only to create false confidence… and he would not press this luck of Uwen's by casting Crissand's rash, brave presence directly into Hasufin's reach, on unfavorable ground.
The new guards by his door at night, Amefin, had one advantage over Lusin and his old friends, and even over Gweyl and his comrades: they were far less forward to charge after him on their own initiative.
He went down the hall, down the stairs, and past the closed great hall as if he were going to Emuin's tower, with only two of the Amefin in attendance, and descended into the lower corri-dor where the servants had left only the single candles burning in the sconces.
Owl came winging past him, from whatever perch he had occupied.
He had wondered would Owl agree with him, and Owl evidently did—Owl swooped down the hall ahead of him to the disquiet of the young men of his guard.
He had envisioned willing the Lines into his sight and the wards opening for him in an orderly, careful process; he had envisioned alerting Emuin, in the moments before he went, to keep his intentions out of the gray space as long as possible.
But the instant Owl reached that part of the hall the Lines were there and the old mews showed itself without his will, blue and rustling with wings; and into that vision Owl glided, away and away into the blue depths.
Emuin! he had time to think.
But only that. Owl, contrary bird, had chosen a path of his own without his wishing it, and he followed, as follow he must…
The light became gray, sunlight falling aslant through familiar tumbled beams.
He was at Ynefel, not Guelemara… and wanting Guelemara, he wandered and stumbled instead through the ruin of Ynefel's lower hall.
He was immediately put out with Owl. He had no imminent sense of the enemy's presence, but he knew the enemy might lurk anywhere and knew if he went delving into one place and the other, it only increased his chances of encountering danger.
Hasufin had held this place… had been born here, perhaps, and this shattered hall was more likely a haunt than most. Ynefel was first, a place old, and enchanted long ago, walls more ancient than any existence he had had.
That was the peculiar strangeness the mews evoked. He was never conscious of himself as being old, but he knew in his bones what was older than his presence in this land. And Ynefel was one such Place, a tether for strayed, damned souls.
Shadows ran here, the dead, he had come to understand, of lost Galasien, not of Men. All around him, he saw the faces locked in Ynefel's walls, stone faces that had seemed at night to move in the trick of a passing candle.
Three in particular stood at the corner above, where the stairs had turned. The wooden stairs had fallen, but as he looked up he saw them still watching, one seeming horrified, and one angry, the third at this remove seeming to drowse in disinterest.
He blinked and shivered, and was suddenly in the courtyard of Ynefel, looking back at the door, where Mauryl's face had joined the rest.
Mauryl looked outward and elsewhere, seeming blind to him now, disinterested.
Owl flew past, and he was glad to look away. Any sight was better than Mauryl's disregard of him. He followed Owl, angry, determined that Owl should lead him now where he would…
He blinked and stood under the open night sky, among ruins that glowed blue with spectral fire. This was Uleman's handiwork… in Althalen.
Not here, either, he said to Owl, angry and desperate.
Time meant nothing in the gray space. An eye might have blinked in the world of Men; the sun might have risen. He could ill afford Owl's whims, willed him to lead true, and still Owl evaded him, and led him past a line of blue fire, the Line of a ruined palace.
Doggedly he shaped the strong blue Lines of the Quinaltine in his thoughts. He remembered that tangled set of Lines within them, remembered them down to the smell of the incense, the sound of the singing.
He stopped with his foot on a step, and beneath that step was no slight fall. The Edge was under it, and he could all but hear the crack of Mauryl's staff, his stern reprimand to know where his feet were—flesh as well as spirit.
Flesh had obligations, and hazards, and he had risked too much overrushing Owl, thinking he knew where he was going. He meekly wished the bird back to him, and stood patiently until he felt the brush of Owl's wing above his hair.
To the left, or what passed for left: there was the place of smoke and incense. He stood where the Holy Father had stood, the last time he had been in this place.
Above him was the roof the lightning had riven.
Behind his back was the hallowed place with the mismatched Lines, the trap for Shadows.
They seethed in a mass here, many, many Shadows roiling in confusion at the intersections of those Lines, Shadows trapped within the vicinity of the Quinaltine, forced over the centuries to endure prayers to gods they did not acknowledge, the gods of those who had usurped their power. Angry, frustrated and frightened, they ran along the rails, down beneath the altar. They flowed away like spots of ink, they skittered into the masonry, and under benches.
There was no sound here until he took a step, the scrape of metal-guarded leather on stone.
Tristen drew a sharp breath, perceiving another presence. Owl flew toward the doors, and up, and up.
And of a sudden a fierce crash of metal rang from the left of the shrine to echo to the heights: a priest in the columned side aisle had dropped a great platter, and fell to his knees, and to his face.
"I came to speak with Prince Efanor," Tristen said, and that priest scrambled up and ran for the outer door.
He had no way to know whether that frightened man would bear his message as he had asked. He had no time to wait. He sent Owl out the opened door, out and around to the high walls of the Guelesfort, to a place midway in the west wing of the palace.
There, there, Efanor slept, closely guarded. It was an easy passage in the gray place, knowing exactly where Efanor was.
And Efanor, unlike his brother, had some slight presence in the gray: his dreams were very much within reach.
Prince Efanor, he said. Come to the Quinaltine. Don't delay for anything. Have your servants bring your clothes.
Efanor leapt into bright awareness, within a gray space he had only skimmed in his meditations.
Tristen? Is it Tristen? Gods save us!
Come quickly. I'll not tell you until we meet face-to-face. Come to the Quinaltine.
Efanor doubted his own reason. Fear and denial colored his presence: good Quinalt that he was, the gray space should not be open to him, or so he believed, and strove halfheartedly to deny his own senses.
But Tristen drew out the little book of devotions Efanor had given him.
Know me by this. Come. Believe me. And hurry.
Efanor believed. Confidence flared. Hope did, and curiosity, and Tristen left the gray space quickly, aware of the hovering Shadows, old Shadows and new ones, hateful and hating. It was no good place to linger, not for the space of a breath. But he knew now that Efanor would come.
Another priest had arrived, and ran back. Then a third, and a fourth, and all fled.
Shadows prowled the confused Lines meanwhile and tested the strength of them, pressing at the tangle in the wards: Tristen felt their fear and their desperation, and saw the wound in the Lines they made.
He drew his sword and with it traced a Line of his own on the stones, slowly, surely, drawing the Line with the touch of the metal on stone, securing it with the touch of his boots on the floor and the strength of his wishes in the stones.
Past this Shadows should not come. This was what they should agree on, this was what they should guard, one Line, one defense. He wished it so, and the ward flared behind him.
The Shadows just at arm's length writhed and seethed, imprisoned in the tangle of Lines that had been, and now so great a panicked number of them pressed against those old wards that one failed at last, as it might have failed under the enemy's assault. The breach let forth a great rush of them.
But they came up instead against the new Line, a moiling confusion that set his teeth on edge. They brought death, and cold, and anger, but his Line held.
He chose the broken Line and dispelled it, freeing more reticent spirits, as easy as a pass of his hand and a wish. He dispelled one misdrawn Line after another, until long-pent Shadows, rushing forward to freedom, found his Line, and knew their boundary, and found a straight path along it. They flowed along that perimeter, and rushed back and forth, back and forth, no few violently trying its strength. But without the crossed lines channeling their anger, those attacks came at random, in isolated areas along the line, and posed little threat. Some, finding order in their movement, sang to him, and made the Lines sing, the music of stone, the music of the Masons'
making.
Still he brandished the sword up and around until the blue fire of the ward flared along the walls, and up among the rafters, along the threatened roof and down again, past statues in their niches and down again to completion against the pavings.
And those Shadows older than Men, those filled with the greatest anger and contempt, cowered back from that fire, knowing well its potency, and listening to the music.
One Shadow, one of the newest disturbances and blind to magic, challenged the barrier, and battered aside the weaker Shadows, and attempted harm; but it, too, could not break forth… a Shadow that held something vaguely of Cefwyn and of Efanor, a strong presence, full of powerful emotions.
Yet it was fear, not anger, that drove it to challenge the barrier.
It feared and fled something deeper and darker, something barriered in older Lines, far back across the floor that now was, that knew nothing of the music—but this Shadow, that had been a warrior and a soldier, and a king, knew the danger there, and tried to rally the others.
There was the real danger in this place. The tangle of Lines he had resolved, and freed the trapped spirits to an easier flow. But there was a reason, deep within, that the tormented Shadows had so persisted at the barrier, a deeper dark where something moved, or many things moved, like so many dark serpents, shapeless and powerful, and unwilling to be confined.
The collective presence in that depth, behind wards grown old and weak, had the coldness and the power of the stone faces, as adamant and as terrible, and what dwelt there was neither resigned to its prison, nor completely contained by the Lines that great Masons had drawn, even before later, lesser, masons had compromised those Lines.
Now, those ancient Lines far back, blue and red, grew weak and sickly at the points of its attacks, and the music faltered.
It did not augur well if that welter of dark breached the ancient barrier and assailed the new Line—if the Shadows of that darkness, full of malice, gained power such as the Shadows had at Althalen.
Armed men had fallen under the assault of the haunts at Althalen, finding no substance their swords might strike and no protection in their armor or their skill. Only Auld Syes moderated the anger of those spirits, and ruled them.
But she was not here. Only this one Shadow of a soldier. Such was the threat in that depth: all the spirits that Men feared fled it. It was not Sihhë, nor even of Ynefel's age… it was older, older, and echoed of his fears in Ynefel's loft, or that night on the stairs, when all Ynefel had creaked and tottered.
And this danger lay in the heart of a sleeping town, at the heart of Cefwyn's kingdom. What precisely it was did not Unfold to him, but he knew it recognized him—he knew it wished him harm, but that thus far it could not press past the protections of his magic.
It hated him as it wished destruction of all that Men had built; and it hated him because he stood with Men, and wished them and their doings well.
It hated him as it had hated him at Ynefel and whispered outside his window.
It hated him as it had striven through Hasufin, but it was not Hasufin: it had possessed Hasufin, and diverted him from Mauryl's hands.
It hated him because it knew its destroyer had come. And having failed in direct assault, it sought a weakness, any weakness, or an ally that might serve it for an instant—as Hasufin had served, and served more than once.
Here was a battle to fight, within these walls, within the mews. He had a chance here. It was willing to face him here.
But if he failed to be at Ilefínian, Cefwyn would surely die. If he failed to be at Ilefínian Hasufin would prevail.
A sound disturbed him. He hurtled back to the world of Men, and the outer Lines, and stood by the altar rail, his hands and feet like ice.
Efanor had indeed come as quickly as he had asked, barefoot and wrapped in a sheet, and attended by two of the frightened priests.
"This place is in danger," Tristen said. "I need your help, Your Highness."
"What danger? From the enemy?"
He drew a breath, for there was so much to tell: "The Lord Commander brought Her Grace to Amefel. She's in Henas'amef, with Emuin; Idrys is going back to Cefwyn, in the north. All the south is crossing the river, coming north to Ilefínian, and Cefwyn is coming from the east… but so is Ryssand. Ryssand means to kill him. But worse, there's someone who's stopped the messengers reaching me, someone close to Cefwyn."
"A traitor!"
"Idrys doesn't know who. But he's going back as fast as he can, and I'm going north, to deal with Tasmôrden." Owl swept down from some height among the rafters and he unthinkingly lifted his gloved hand to receive Owl's taloned feet. "We can deal with all that.
Hasufin is in this. He tried to take Tarien's baby, but we stopped him.
Now he's helping Tasmôrden, who's helping Ryssand, and if Cefwyn defeats them, this place offers Hasufin a chance to break through."
" The Quinaltine? This is holy ground!"
"Henas'amef has a place, a doorway that opens sometimes to a wish from outside. So does Althalen: the Lord Regent wards it, and so does Auld Syes, and I know nothing gets through there. Ilefínian has such a place; so does Ynefel; and this is one, an old place, I think, old as Galasien. Cefwyn says your grandfather is here… whoever it is, I think all the Shadows here fear what lies beneath this floor."
"Grandfather?" Efanor glanced wide-eyed at the shadows beyond the candles. "Grandfather never ran from anything."
"The wards were never right here. The Masons who raised this building made a mistake and I've set a new Line, but this is still where Hasufin may try to come." He dared no more detailed explanation: he saw the unease on Efanor's face. "I have to go to Cefwyn, to help him. Will you guard it?"
"Gods witness I'll guard it!" Efanor declared. "—But how do I do that?"
"You have the gift."
"Oh, no, not I!"
"It waked you from sleep, Your Highness. And you and the priests, gifted or not, must walk this Line, and wish it may hold, wish it with all your hearts and minds. Pray for it! Wish it strong. Let no Shadow break out here, not a single one, or the Line will break and terrible things will come. I've set the new Line on the pavings. Do you see?"
He marked it with his sword, and Efanor came, barefoot as he was, and looked along it, left and right, resolution and wariness in the lines of his face.
"It glows," Efanor said faintly, as if it were a fault to be mended, instead of an indication of its strength and health. "It glows."
"It must! Keep it glowing! Walk here, Your Highness. Walk this Line continually, and wish it strong, against all the ill it holds back." He sought for some reassurance to give Efanor that would keep Efanor's wits about him and remind him, come what might, of his sole, single-minded duty: and he found it in the little book he had brought, his proof to Efanor who he was, and that they still were friends. He gave Efanor his own gift back again and pressed his fingers about the beautiful little book, even as Owl fluttered up about his shoulders, urging him to leave. "Think on the good, never harm! Think only on the good, and on us living, and your brother being well, and walk the Line and wish it strong. Do you still see it?"
"I see it," Efanor breathed, looking along it.
"Do that for me," Tristen said, "and for your brother." He was sure now that he had made himself understood. He had faith in Efanor, as in no one else in the Quinaltine, and knew Efanor could command the priests as no other in the court could do. And now he felt the place beginning to fade about him. " Pray, Your Highness!" That was the magic Efanor knew how to work, and it would have to serve. "Pray and bless the place and think only of good and life! Walk the Line, and make it strong!"
The gray wind whirled about him again, cold this time, and violent.
Sounds howled past him, and the gray place darkened around him as Owl flew ahead of him.
Then even Owl seemed uncertain, and took a new direction, and then a third.
Angry Shadows loomed up, old Shadows, those older than Men and resentful of those usurpers, and these Shadows seemed to track him with mindful attention. The dark was their weapon, and they wielded it with a lash of wind to make it more bitter and more biting. They wished to sweep him back again and, by defeating him, to breach the Line he had made, but it was no longer his fight, that within the Quinaltine, where Quinaltine prayers went up. The soft tread of feet along the Line resounded among these Shadows like a single repeated chord, over and over, the same thing, endlessly the same thing—yet he could not tell from what quarter. He had lost his way for a heartbeat, he had lost Owl—then thought he saw a light.
He turned that way, then stopped and lost ground, belatedly aware of yet another hostile Shadow, a threat that prowled that region ahead, not behind.
He dared not even think, here. He dared not move. The enemy came as the Wind, both wary and angry, and the Wind blew and whispered to him.
Ah, well, here you are.
He turned away from that Voice. He refused to be afraid, refused to run, but he would not deal with it, either, not now, not yet.
Mauryl's mistake walks on two feet. Mauryl's undoing… all his efforts wasted in you.
It could not tempt him to argument. He was concerned only with the way out, and he searched for it.
But the Wind came near him, tugged at his cloak and his hair.
I banished Mauryl as he banished the lords of Galasien. Was that not justice?
Questions. He would not answer, would not look, but his heart seemed apt to burst. He ran the loft stairs, he hid in the dark, and the Wind came and scattered his birds.
Banished him, and I shall banish you. Make your wards. Seal your gates. I know the way to your heart, Barrakketh. I know your name and you know mine. Say it. Say it, and summon me. Do you dare face me?
Nothing at your word, Tristen said, and caught after a thickness in the air of the gray space. It was Owl, who settled to his hand, and fought, rowing with his wings, for purchase there against the gale.
Nothing ever at your order.
Ah! Can you name me? So short a step! Declare my name, and let us deal togetherlet us bargain, you and I.
I have nothing to do with you.
Nothing? Not even hate? There is a darkness in you, there is an anger and I know the key to unlock it. I know what lies beneath the wards in that place as I know what lies behind the gates of your anger, Sihhë-lord!
Leave me! Leave this place!
Ah, but do you rule here? Threaten as you will, Shadow of Barrakketh, the hour will come… your hour, and mine.
Not this day.
I know a secret. Do you wish to know? Does curiosity move you?
Ask. Ask the question.
Curiosity was his besetting weakness, and his prevailing strength.
Curiosity had led him to good and to had and guided him through the dark.
But this question was no question. It led him to harm: he was sure of it.
Yet curiosity drew his gaze, even knowing better, and in the heart of the Wind he saw plains made desolate and homes laid waste… he saw battlefields and armies striving on them in the sunset, and above all the banner, the Tower and the Star.
So he stood bespelled for the space of a heartbeat, and felt the desolation of that sight creeping into his soul. This, this was his work, and the Wind beat his back like the buffet of vast wings. Owl fought to stay with him, but began to lose his footing: a presence clawed at Owl from the other side, a Shadow hating and hateful, resentful for her lost life.
But subtle as a sunrise, a presence crept up on him, a presence stealthy and persistent and suddenly headlong, an attack against the Wind.
It had opposed the Wind before, that presence. Something of Mauryl was in the heart of it, and something of Cefwyn, and something of Efanor and even of himselfold teacher, old master of unwilling students, old man curbing young mischief and directing eyes always to the sunrise, not the sunset.
Tristen! he heard Emuin call. Young fool! Come back here!
He trusted and he went, while the Wind roared and rushed and buffeted his back.
He went, and sometimes Owl winged before him and sometimes behind, but he persevered… homeward. He was sure now of that word. Home.
And the gray grew lighter before him as he saw two, no, three and four and five and six faint shadows within a pearl gray dawn.
He walked onto solid stone, his hair stirred by the beat of spectral wings. About him was a corridor of gray brightening to a clear blue light, and in those beckoning hands knew Emuin's touch, and Ninévrisë's… even Tarien's, frightened and protective as a mother hawk above Elfwyn's sleepy awareness: she was there. There, too, was Paisi, the mouse in the woodwork, skittish and yet purposeful, and brazenly brave for his size.
It was Paisi who all but shouted for his attention now, and ran forward, to his own peril.
Fool! Emuin cried.
But in that same instant another dared more than that, and forged ahead into the burning blue. Crissand came, never mind his orders and a wizard's will: Crissand had come, with a devotion like Uwen's, as determined, and as brave. Owl flew as far as Crissand's hand, that far, and hovered, and then flew past, out into the world of Men.
Crissand reached him just as Owl vanished from his sight… reaching out to take his hand and pull him home.
My lord, Crissand called him, king though Crissand would yet be.
They locked hands and then embraced, and all the Lines of Hen Amas rose up bright and strong around them. Emuin and Ninévrisë and Paisi hovered mothlike above the fire of the mews, and Tarien, too, with Cefwyn's wizard childthey all were around him; and in their collective will, and a wall went up against the Wind, making firm the wards.
Tristen let go his defense then, and trusted Crissand to pull him safely into the world of Men, and there to hold him in his arms, steadying him on feet that had lost all feeling.
He was cold: it had been very cold where he had walked last, a cold almost to chill the soul, but Crissand warmed his fingers to life, and Emuin reached his heart with a steady, sure light, driving the last vestiges of the dark from him, lighting all the recesses where his deepest fears had taken hold.
"Frost," Crissand said, and indeed a rime of frost stood on his black armor. Tristen found his fingers were white and chill as ice. So he felt a stiffness about his hair, and brushed the rime from his left arm, finding cause then to laugh, a sheer joy in life.
"A cold, empty Wind," he said to Crissand, and then cried: "Did I not say wait with Emuin?"
"I was with Emuin," Crissand said. "Didn't you say in that place there's no being parted? I never left him… or you, my lord! Paisi and Her Grace of Elwynor never left us. Even Tarien. Even she."
And the babe, Cefwyn's son, her son, her fledgling she would not see harmed: Hasufin had bid for a life and now Tarien herself was his implacable enemy, the surest warder against her twin's malice. He knew that as surely as he still carried an awareness within him of the gray place: Orien Aswydd might have tried to drive him aside and make him lose his way, but Orien no longer had the advantage of the living.
Above all else Orien would not lay covetous hands on her sister's child, not while he was in his mother's arms. Tarien rested now, weary from her venture, still seething with the fight she had fought along the wards. She had become like Owl, very much like Owl, merciless in her cause, possessed of a claimant and a Place and let at liberty.
"Never trust Tarien too much," Tristen said on a breath, for he saw danger in that direction; but the danger where he had been was sufficient. "Did Owl come past?"
"Like a thunderbolt," Crissand said, aiding him to walk: Tristen found his feet had grown numb, as if he had walked for hours in deep snow. "He went somewhere in the hall. I don't know where."
"He'll come back," Tristen said, with no doubt at all, and no doubt what he had now to do. "Is it dawn?"
"Close on it," Crissand said. "All's ready. But rest a while, my lord.
Warm yourself."
"We'll ride north," Tristen said. "North now."
"My lord, never till master Emuin says you're fit." Lusin had come to lend a hand with him, and supported him on the other side in what was now the downstairs hall, alight with candles and teeming with fearful servants. Paisi was there, and stood on one foot and the other, bearing a message from Emuin, Tristen was sure.
Paisi pressed something like a coin into his gloved hand. "Master Emuin says carry this and ride tonight."
"He's not fit!" Crissand protested, but Emuin's charge was all Tristen needed to reinforce his own sense of urgency.
"I'll be well when the sun touches me," he said, and took his weight to himself, unsteady as he was. "And Uwen expects me. I know him.
He'll ride back, never mind my orders to wait at the river. He'll ride all the way back to town if I don't meet him." He found his stride and gathered his wind, seeing the stable-court stairs. "Is Dys saddled?"
" 'E will be," Paisi said, and sped ahead of him, small herald of a desperate, wizardous purpose.
"My lord," Crissand argued with him still.
"They'll kill Cefwyn," Tristen said to all the company around him. "If he falls, Ylesuin won't see the summer and Amefel itself won't stand." It was clearer to him than anything near at hand: all of that was in flux, but the great currents had their directions, clear to anyone who could dip in and drink—and did not Hasufin know these things?
Surely Hasufin knew, Hasufin who was older than he and canny and difficult to trap: he could no longer be sure of Hasufin in any particular, but what he could do, he had to guess that Hasufin could do as well—shadow and substance, they mirrored one another, and Hasufin tried to make that mirroring perfect, and tried to name him his name, and tried to make him all that Hasufin remembered him to be.
Foresight had advantages, he said to himself as he essayed the west stairs, above Orien's walled-up tomb. Foresight was a great advantage, but expecting everything to be as it had been… that was the trap, the disadvantage, in Hasufin's centuries of knowledge.
"Mauryl Summoned me," he said to those on either hand, "but it went amiss. Or did it? Was his wizardry not greater than his working? And didn't things go as he wished, in spite of his wishes?"
"I don't know these things, my lord," Crissand said, at his right hand, and Lusin, at his left. "Nor meself, m'lord. And ye ain't in any case to be ridin'."
"I can. I will." They were in the open air, now, and he knew Emuin had heard what he had surmised.
As he wished, in spite of his wishes… all of that, you are, young lord. You're the substance of his wishes, and the sum of his courage.
He let you free. He didn't Shape you. He left that to the world and this age. He left you to Shape yourself, young lord, and Tristen he named you, and Tristen you are. Think of it. Think of it, where you go. Never let that go.
"M'lord's horse!" Syllan called out, and Lusin shouted: "Rouse and rise, there! Rouse out! Horses!"
Haman's lads appeared out of nowhere, and hard on that, Lusin sent a man to the barracks, and another to the gate-guards, and ordered the bell rung that would rouse all the troops.
Arm and out! the bell seemed to say, and within moments men appeared from the barracks, and horses were led out under saddle.
Crissand's men reached the gates, and a boy brought the three standards, the black ones of Ynefel and Althalen, and the blood red standard of Amefel, in a light that began to supplant the light of the torches.
Arm and out! Arm and out! came from the bells, and Crissand's captain rode a thick-legged gray into the half-light of the yard, carrying a furled dark standard to the steps where they stood.
Crissand came to the edge of the steps and took it in his hand, looking up.
"My lord! This one, for the lord of Althalen and Ynefel! This one, with the others!"
"Unfurl it," he said, knowing which standard it was, and in the wind that began with dawn Crissand unfurled the Star and Crown of the Sihhë Kings, the banner Tasmôrden had tried to claim, and now would see carried against him.
One more Tawwys brought and saw spread against the wind, the Tower and Checker of the Lady Regent, until the standards that should go before a great army flew and cracked on the wind. She was with him, as she had helped draw him out of the gray space: she sat now by her fireside, wrapped in her own efforts, which were for the wards of the fortress, and for the watch Efanor had undertaken. With Emuin's sure aid she settled herself to watch all the accesses of the place, and nothing might pursue its occupants here, nothing might pass her awareness. She was the Tower, and she prepared to stand siege.
Paisi appeared at the top of the steps, smallish and wide-eyed, and scampering down the steps to the alarm of the horses.
"Careful there," Lusin chided him, and set a heavy hand on Paisi's shoulder, staying him short of the last dive in among the milling horses.
"Master wishes ye know he's watchin'!" Paisi shouted out. "An' bids ye sleep o' nights!"
Tristen waved at him, understanding, but coming no closer, for the men afoot and the horses being brought filled the smallish yard, and those of them that were mounted had to move to give the others room enough. His guard had mounted up, staying close with him, and new men, all of Meiden, carried the standards.
Dys and Cass would join them outside the walls, among the remounts, and Uwen was off on Liss. It was only Gery that awaited them here, and Tristen mounted up and took up his shield from Aran's hands, the red one, with Amefel's black Eagle. But he did not ride alone: Crissand joined him, on a thick-legged, sturdy gray, while his house guard under his captain waited just outside the Zeide gate, where there was room.
"Let us go," Tristen said, and Gweyl, in Uwen's place until they had regained him and Gedd, relayed the order to send the banner-bearers out before them.
They rode out under the menace of the gate into the chill, clear dawn, out into the town. The bell tolled above them, signal to all the town, and it waked every sleeper and brought shutters open and shadowy bundled figures to the streets.
Lord Sihhë! the people shouted, gathering everywhere along the main street of the town, some wrapped in blankets, straight from their beds and into the chill that frosted breath. All the way to the lower gates the townsfolk stood and shouted out, Lord Sihhë and Meiden!
So they shouted out for the other lords of Amefel as they, too, turned out with their house guards, joining them from side streets, and so a handful of enterprising boys shouted from the top of the town's main gate as they rode out, a last salute of high, boyish voices: The High King! The High King!
So they had shouted. Was it now or then? The High King and the king of Hen Amas!
The banner then seemed green, Aswydd green, and the dragons reared in defiance and threat as they had loomed above him in the hall.
"Lord Sihhë! Lord Sihhë! Lord Sihhë for Amefel and Meiden!"
So the shouts faded, and, beyond the town gate, they turned first on the west road past the stables. They rode over the traces of other riders, past emptied camps. They were not the first, but the last of the army to ride out.
But with them came the signal for all the lords to move, to force war on Tasmôrden from the south—and to save the king.
Previous: CHAPTER 5
Next: CHAPTER 7