Book: Fortress of Dragons

Previous: CHAPTER 4
Next: CHAPTER 6

Snow, and snow: that was the view from the windows of Tristen's apartment, as persistently depressing a sight every morning as the Aswydds' brazen dragons and green; draperies within… not that he failed to see the beauty in it, piled high and white across the land; yet with all the monotony of it, the beauty of the ice had never palled. He wondered at the new traceries of frost on the windows every morning, meticulous and fine as the. work of some fine expert craftsman. The sun in the afternoon melted it, and a miracle renewed it in the morning: he was sorry when he fed his pigeons that their flapping and fluttering at the window, spoiled the patterns on the little side pane, where he put out the bread.
Yet every morning it was new, and every morning there was a little more snow sifting down from the heavens, after a fall at night. The sight of it all still seemed marvelous to him, this changing of the seasons and the confidence of ordinary Men that they would see the land change back to what it had been before. This was the last of seasons that he had not seen in his life and between concerns, he enjoyed it absolutely for what it was, wondering what every day would show him, expecting new patterns in the frost.
But nothing about the weather had changed in a number of days now, and the skies that had once appeared to obey his lightest wish now seemed obstinate and ominous in their resistence. The storms that came at night grew worse with every effort he made to change the weather.
And it was now three days since Crissand, among other lords, had left him—certain lords to their holdings, all without a by your leave, m'lord—but Crissand not to his own land and with no more request than the others.
Crissand's absence, which had been a niggling concern the first day, had become a worry in the two days since, and last night the silence from that quarter had urged him to venture the gray space in earnest—to no avail.
Now, with the weather resisting him, with the sky dawned gray again, the doubts that had begun to assail him niggled away at his confidence in all else that he knew as certainties.
He regretted his folly in seeking after Crissand, telling himself that when Crissand would, Crissand would hear him—and this morning, in this pearl-colored morning like the last three, he could only remind himself how much harm he could do if he reached out recklessly and drew sorcerous attention to Crissand when he was near the enemy's territory.
In his venture last night he had learned only that Crissand was asleep somewhere… and what else did he hope for, at night, and in a snowstorm that sent down thick, fat lumps of snow, that obliterated tracks and buried fences?.
He had slept very little after that. Sleep had eluded him—so, too, had the dreams that sometimes sent him winging over the land on Owl's wings, dreams that might have found Crissand, dreams that might have discovered whether Crissand was snugged down warm and well fed at Modeyneth or fallen in some ditch along the way— whether the lack of urgent danger he had felt in that sleep was the safety of a friendly roof and hearth, or the peace of a mind too frozen and faded to worry.
Too, the gray space was not the place of light and cloud it had been, but a place as leaden and violent as the heavens. It was as if he rought the weather in that realm, too, and could make no headway in it with Orien and her sister close at hand.
Whether Orien knew he tried to find someone close to him, she never confronted him there. Whether Crissand might be attempting reach him through it—he never heard. And now, as of yesterday, so Uwen said, Crissand's men had set out down the north road Booking for him, to ride as far as Modeyneth or the river if they must. And he took that for his comfort this morning: if Crissand were in danger, injured on the road, they would find him.
And if it was otherwise… he could only think that it was no accident that Crissand had gone into the land of Bryn, and down the track that Cuthan Lord of Bryn had taken in his exile.
But toward the holding of the new lord of Bryn, too—equally troublesome. Crissand was a young man of high passions and sudden impulse—agreeable to young Drusenan's appointment to the honor, but the feuds and contentions of the lords in this ancient province had cropped up in unexpected ways before now. Tristen thought there was no resentment there and no possibility of a feud, but he was not utterly certain.
And the snow sifted down and the worry of it gnawed at his peace.
He wished better weather to speed Crissand home, and wished it to ease the suffering of townsfolk and shepherds, those whom Crissand had not ridden out to visit, in the village of Levey, among others; and farmers across the land, and craftsmen and householders and the humblest ragpicker in the town, for they all were his responsibility, hapless folk who had done nothing to involve themselves in the quarrels of wizards and kings.
Last night Lusin had reported a roof in the town market had given way, and a man's goods were all damaged: today the man had sent begging intercession with his creditors, for nothing had gone well for him, even before his roof came crashing down. Tristen wished it might go better for him, but he feared even to wish for that, his wishes for weather having gone so far opposite to his intention. He stood at his window looking out over the snowy, weightladen roofs, the ledges, sparsely tracked by wandering pigeons near at hand, and asked himself had he harmed all those he wished to benefit.
He knew that down in the stable yard Master Haman's boys clambered up to the shed roofs twice a day to shovel them clear for fear of their collapsing. He knew that Haman himself must go our to the meadows where the horses of the assembled army were sheltered, to be sure of the older boys and men who cared for those more remote sites—stablehands whose plight was perhaps worst of all the hardships the army suffered in its winter camp at Henas'amef. Out there it was a lonely and cold duty of breaking ice for the horses to drink, hauling hay from the stacks, and generally keeping their charges from suffering in the cold, while at night their small hearths and their small shelters were beacons to vermin and true shadows that prowled the night.
The soldiers had the cold to fight—beyond the walls, and under canvas, the muster of Amefel, of Ivanor, Imor, and a handful of rangers from Lanfarnesse had all come here in better weather, which his wishes had maintained. But now they suffered from the cold, and endured misery of frozen ground.
He could at least relieve the soldiers of some of their hardship: at his own charge, the taverns near the gates had set up kettles in their kitchens, for hot suppers. It incidentally used less wood, which cost heavy, snowy labor to get more of. But prodigious quantities of wood fed the camps' other needs: warmth, and the laundry kettles.
Reasonable cleanliness for so many men required another small camp of attendants, where kettles sent up steam that froze on any nearby surface—a man needed not bathe all winter, one of the Lanfarnessemen was heard to remark, only stand downwind of the washing kettles, and be drenched to the skin. And in that vicinity the laundrymen battled ice: clothes and blankets froze rather than dried, and had to be hung in the smoke downwind to dry at all—so that anyone with a nose could tell which men had come from the camps: the men, the tents, and their blankets smelled of woodsmoke: so did the lords who lived with their men.
Yet—one of the day's good reports—the men were in good spirits, by reason of the abundance of food and the moderate but cheerful quantity of ale: the men needed not stay on hard watch, so Uwen said, and they might have the ale to keep them happy. And the ground being frozen so hard at least meant that mud, that bane of soldiers, was all but absent from clothes and tents—except the mud-holes around the laundry, in which pigs might be content.
They managed, with this continued assault of winter on the army he had gathered. But he could not improve it. And this was yet another iron gray day, with snow veiling all but the nearest towers. Neither he nor Emuin nor both of them together with all the grandmothers in the lower town had been able to change it… and, what was far worse for wizardry, he was beginning to doubt he could. He longed to stretch out, search the gray space, meet his enemy if he could find one…
But, oh, there was risk in that, mortal risk to all who depended on him. There were so many things at hazard, so many lives, so many things he did not yet understand. If someone had the better of him in the matter of the weather, it was because that wizard had the better of him in other ways, and knew things he did not, and outmaneuvered him with sheer knowledge and experience—as Emuin had done, while Emuin sufficed.
This… this opposition… was stronger than Emuin.
It was stronger than Mauryl—at least that it had caught Mauryl at his weakest.
But had not Mauryl had to go to the north and bring down the Sihhë-lords to have a chance at subduing it?
And had not the Sihhë-lords failed, ultimately, to contain it?
He hesitated to say that evil was out at the back of this storm. He had read about evil in Efanor's little book, and how it permeated the doings of Men, but he had never found such doings evil, rather good and bad… but none without self-interest, none he could not understand even in terms of his own will to have his way. Misguided and foolish governed most actions he had met: spiteful and selfish.
These were bad traits; but none quite descended to that worst word in Efanor's book.
Was selfish enough to say for the creature that had stolen one child's life and that might have caused this one to exist?
Was foolish enough to say for the creature who had overthrown all the good that was Mauryl—all the kindness, all the wit, all the learning, all the skill—was foolish and spiteful and selfish enough to compass Mauryl's enemy?
And was selfish enough to describe the desire that had wrecked Elwynor and slaughtered the innocent and driven hapless peasants into the snow?
It might be. Wicked might describe his enemy. But had he not killed?
Had he not driven Parsynan out onto the road, and Cuthan across the river? And did not the soldiers who fell to him have kindness of their own, and wit, and learning, and skill?
The sword had found its place to stand in this fortress, too. It lurked by hearthsides, the alternative to peace and reason.
Truth it said on one side. Illusion was engraved on the other, and the Edge was the answer to the riddle it posed. It was the answer; to the riddle he posed. It answered all he was, and there was no word for him but the Edge of that riddle.
Perhaps there was such a word for his enemy, neither evil, nor; wicked, nor even selfish, but some edge between absolutes. Perhaps that was why wizards could not compass it.
Not even Hasufin Heltain had compassed it… only listened to its whispers and its unreasoning reason. What would a man need with the whole world? What would a Man need with absolute power?
If he could understand that, he thought he might understand his enemy, and how Hasufin had fallen to him.
"M'lord." Tassand was brisk and cheerful, arriving in the room, disturbing his thoughts as freely as if something good had happened.
"M'lord! Lord Crissand's back. He's here."
" Is he?" Tristen reached on the instant for the gray space and restrained himself from that folly. "Where is he?"
But in that moment Crissand answered his question by appearing behind Tassand in the short foyer. Dark-haired Amefin, and dour as the Amefin could be, Crissand was all fair skies and brave ventures on most days… but now he was muddy, travel-worn, and exhausted.
"My lord," Crissand said in a thread of a voice.
"Sit down," Tristen urged him, and scurrying about at the back of his mind was the realization that Crissand was never yet a presence in the gray space: he simply could not find him; and had not found him, even with him here, in the same room. That alarmed him. "Tassand, hot tea and bricks."
Crissand had surely come straight up from his arrival, coming to him still in mud-flecked boots, lacking a cloak which might have been sorrier than the boots, and all but out of strength.
"Forgive me. Forgive me, my lord. I knew before I was the first night on the road that I was doing something foolish."
"Where were you?" Crissand was a candleflame of a wizard as yet, and he had known and master Emuin had known where Crissand was… but not precisely where he was.
But still not to know where he was when he was in the same room with him: that was the inconceivable thing.
He searched with great care, investigated more and more of the gray space in concern for Crissand's welfare, and at last found a very quiet, very small presence, all wrapped in on itself, all knotted up and resisting.
In that condition, Crissand had ridden home again, through this weather.
"I thought it better for Amefel," Crissand said in the voice he had left, "if I went to Lord Drusenan and spoke to him directly."
It was a minuscule part of the reason Crissand had gone and a minuscule part of what must have sent him back in such a state, but at least it was a start on the rest of the tale, and now that he was safe and here, Tristen was willing to use infinite patience. He sat down opposite Crissand beside the warm fire, waiting for the part that might explain why Crissand had left on such a journey on the tyght his remote cousins—and Drusenan's—had suddenly turned up estitute, escaped from Guelen vengeance, one of them with child… and both of them breaking the terms of their exile.
He understood entirely what Crissand had likely wanted to do, which was to set distance between himself and Orien Aswydd. He even understood why Crissand had gone to speak to the new Lord Bryn, successor to the man who had done so much harm to Crisand's father and his people. But the silence in the gray space even now kept Crissand at distance from him, and he waited to hear those reasons from Crissand's own lips.
And waited, and waited. The silence went on between them what seemed an eternity; so he ventured his own opening.
"So did you make peace with Drusenan?" Tristen asked.
"With a will." Crissand seemed relieved to be asked that question and not others: his whole body relaxed toward his habitual easy grace…
but that motion ended in a wince, an injury he had not made otherwise evident. "He was as glad as I was, to settle at! grudges. He wasn't glad to hear the news about Lady Orien and her sister being here. He's not her man. We agreed together, that our quarrel is all with Cuthan, across the river, and I know now in my own heart and for certain he's not Cuthan's man, nor ever was or will be. He received me very graciously, he and his lady."
Crissand finished. The silence resumed.
Then with a deep breath, Crissand added, "My lord, my patient, good lord, I should have asked leave, considering the state of things. Other men come and go. But you've given me duties; I thought I was seeing to those duties—I persuaded myself I was doing that—but before I was halfway to Modeyneth I knew I was a fool."
"I would have granted leave for you to go anywhere. But you left without your guard, and without my hearing you. You were a night on the road before I knew you were gone," Tristen said, "and then I dared not call you too loudly, not with the Aswydds so close. If they urged you to do such a thing, they were very quiet about it."
"I'd do nothing they asked!"
"If you knew they asked it."
Crissand was silent, and troubled of countenance, thinking on that, and at no time had he unfurled from the tight, small presence he was.
"I searched for you," Tristen said.
"I didn't hear you, my lord. Unless you were telling me I was a fool—I knew before the night was half-done that that was the truth. I came the rest of the way to my senses when the sun came up and I was trying to find the road in the snowfall. But by then I realized Modeyneth was hardly over the next hill, and my poor horse couldn't have carried me back without foundering. So I went ahead, hoping to borrow a horse, and I presented myself to Lord Drusenan. I wanted to bring you some profit for my foolishness."
"I needed no gifts," Tristen said. "I need nothing but your loyalty—and your safety."
It was not his intent to cause pain, only to urge caution, but Crissand's color rose and he looked away, surely knowing how he had risked all that they hoped to accomplish.
gut it was not just foolishness, and that he had somehow to make Crissand understand… and that he could not avow a clear reason for his actions made a frighteningly clear sense, for Crissand had ridden out in the very hour the Aswydd sisters had ridden into Henas'amef, and while on the one hand he did not know what exact thought had seized Crissand to send him out, he was as sure now as he was sure of the next sunrise that Crissand's actions had directly to do with the sisters' arrival, and all of it directly to do with the currents in the magical wind—for Crissand was Aswydd.
And Crissand being Aswydd, head of that lineage in Henas'amef until Orien set foot in the town, he had a strong sense for those currents in the wind. He might have left under direct urging of his own wizard-gift, protecting him or leading him astray… completely without understanding it, completely without directing it.
It was no straight course—the last lord of Bryn, Earl Cuthan, who had betrayed Crissand's father, was Orien Aswydd's man, exiled now and the lands gone to Lord Drusenan, but Cuthan was in Elwynor—in Elwynor, where their enemy sat.
And with Orien back under the roof where she had been duchess of Amefel, small wonder if that presence stirred the winds of the gray space, and small wonder a man with the gift had done reckless acts, not knowing why they did them. That Crissand had rushed in some direction was entirely understandable.
But that it was toward Bryn, and toward Elwynor, and that, in the gray space, Crissand remained that tight, unassailable ball… that alarmed him.
To their mutual relief, Tassand brought the tea, and made some little ado over it. One of the servants pulled a heated brick from the hearth, and Crissand set one booted, sodden foot on it and tucked the other against it for the warmth.
"You might do with dry boots," Tristen said. "You've not yet been home?"
"I met with my guard on the road. They know; they've passed the word to my household. But no, I came straight here."
Tassand, send a page for another pair of His Grace's boots. And tell his servants make his bed ready."
'Yes, m'lord." Tassand was off, at a good clip.
'So tell me what you did," Tristen said then, and bent another small thought into the gray space. Still it told him nothing. But his eyes had seen. "You're hurt."
"Nothing mortal."
"A fall?"
"Elwynim. I—" Crissand took a sip of the tea and his hands shook. "I should set it out in order."
"Do," Tristen urged him..
"I left without a word to my guard—just rode away from the camp in the night. And I rode, as I've told you—I reached Modeyneth… I think sometime after midday, by the time I dealt with the drifts. I took a light meal. I met with Lord Drusenan—that was a long matter; but he was gracious—more than gracious. I slept only a few hours, then left my horse there and took another, by his good will, his best and favorite… I owe him the worth of that beast. And I was coming home, as soon as I could, my lord. I took your warning about venturing into the wizard-place, and I feared to try to reach you there, but I knew I'd been a fool, and I feared that concern for a fool might divert you from far more important matters. I'm sorry, my lord. I can't express how I regret it."
Tristen reached again for that knotted presence, touched it briefly, felt it contract, flinching from that contact. "But the wound," he said.
"The Elwynim."
"The roads are drifted worse to the north than here. And in the blowing snow and the evening light, I saw riders. I thought at first they were yours, or maybe my own, as did happen, but later than this.
When I saw these men… they weren't coming on the road at all, and I knew all the border was at risk, so I held back, and saw them go toward the open land and toward Althalen, where Lord Drusenan told me Aeself has his men under arms day and night— Drusenan says—says the same way Aeself and his men crossed without the garrison seeing, over to the rough hills to the north and east, other men come that way, intent on spying out whatever they can see, just looking about and hoping to find a weakness. So I knew this. I hid. I could see them very clearly, just at the edge of night as it was…"
"And they were Elwynim?"
"No doubt," Crissand said. "They came across my tracks in the snow.
I saw them look around. I had to judge whether to run back for Drusenan's holding or ahead to home, and I ran for home, because I didn't know but that more had come in behind me. I took one arrow, shallow, no great injury; Drusenan's horse will carry a scar worse than that, and still carried me, brave fellow that he is. The snow was coming down again, and with the dark and the trees, they seemed to lose me, by then, I had to wait a time, for the horse's sake, and then I waited a little longer to be sure I didn't run back into them by mistake, because by then I wasn't completely sure where I was. I moved a very little, until dawn, in what I thought was the right direction, but without the stars and with the snow coming down I couldn't tell what was the right way even after I came on the road again. But when the sun came up I had my bearings again and I'd chosen right. Then I met up with my guard, who was out searching for me. And we talked about going back to catch the band that shot at me. But my captain persuaded me we might risk telling them more than we might learn if we lost a man."
"You were right to retreat."
Crissand ducked his head and sipped his tea, two-handed, exhausted, and still withdrawn from him.
"So I came home. My guard at least had the foresight to bring provisions, and I think the horse will be as good as he was; but I never thought to use him so, or to stir up so much trouble. Now the Elwynim know they're seen. I might have managed far more cleverly than that…"
"Yet we do know they're inquiring of the state of affairs here for themselves, which may mean that they're not hearing all they'd wish from the villagers. That's good news."
"Yet I am ashamed of what I did."
"Why did you do it? Because I took in Lady Orien? Was that it?"
He asked, no longer believing that that was the answer, but it was a place to start. The answer was not immediate, and Crissand did not immediately meet his eyes, but took another sip, and gazed across the ornate chamber, with its green velvet draperies and brazen dragons.
"My father died in this room, my lord, of Orien Aswydd's poison. It appears I have the wizard-gift, and if that's what sends me dreams, my lord, I could wish it gone, but while I have it—while I have it, I beg my lord not to trust that woman."
"It takes no wizard-gift to see harm in Orien Aswydd. I assure you I do."
"I was halfway to Modeyneth before I knew the thing I feared most was not her under this roof, but my lord in these rooms within her reach. And then I wished twice over that I were back here."
Never had he doubted Crissand's heart in his disappearance— but in his silence he found very much to concern him. In very truth, as he had told Crissand himself when he had been the one riding off northward and Crissand had protested it, wizard-gift never left them out of reach of one another… or it should not have.
Yet Crissand had crept up on him, even in the hall a few moments ago, following Tassand in. He had grown accustomed to knowing just who moved where in the Zeide, and few could surprise him… except Emuin.
Except, just now, Crissand, who huddled in the corners of the gray space, seeking utter anonymity, even from him: Crissand, who had found in the gray space that which he could not face.
But he hushed all use of the gift, himself, for he began to suspect what was at least the source of Crissand's fear—for as Crissand had been deaf to his gift before he came, now he increasingly did hear; and now came two women, his enemies, with wizard-gift and hostility toward him. Nothing was coincidence in wizardry. Wizardry thrived on accidents and moments of panic fear or happy recklessness.
And something had found a gap in their defenses, and in his, and in Crissand's.
"When the gift begins to Unfold," he said gently to Crissand, "it's hard to find one's balance. It was dangerous for you to ride out. But it was dangerous for you to stay here with the gift Unfolding and Unfolding with no end to it. There was a time I took Petelly and did something very like."
Crissand looked at him, questioning that, hoping for respect perhaps.
"Too," Tristen said, "you were amazingly quiet. Master Emuin is no quieter. I never heard you, and I hear most things."
"I don't know about that," Crissand said. "But I took care you didn't hear, my lord. I stole away like a thief in the night and without a word, and I take no honor from that."
"Yet it's a skill."
"None I can claim for an honor, my lord. And if things were going wrong, I failed to ask those who might know." Crissand held the teacup still in both hands, his fingers white on its curve. "I feared being here, I feared going, and I was on the road before I though my way through it. Then I could have come back, but I hadn't a thought in my head until morning. I don't to this hour know why I went in the first place."
"I do," Tristen said quietly. "That's the simplest thing of all to answer."
"My lord?"
"Danger entered the house—and having the gift, you moved. The gift moves you. It's wizardry. That's what it is."
"To be on the road to Bryn before I had my wits clear? To be such a fool? Is that wizardry?"
"Yes."
"Master Emuin didn't take horse in the middle of the night."
"He might have, once, when he was new to it. I've been such a fool,"
Tristen said, "very often, in the beginning. At times I found myself in very unlikely places… the guardhouse at the stable-court gate, for one: Her Grace's camp for another, and in the next moment surrounded by her soldiers, which led me to think I'd been a very great fool. Things Unfold. Wizardry moved you, beyond your thinking about it. My wish brought you back, perhaps, and not against your will, but perhaps faster than you needed come. Perhaps it governed your choice which way to ride and when to leave. I wished you safe at the same time I wished you back, and then I feared— too late—that my very wish might put you in danger. You see? You aren't the only fool. I regret Lord Drusenan's horse. I wish the horse well, with all my might."
"Thank you for that, my lord. I'll return him with one of my father's best mares, and my utmost gratitude; but if you have a hand in it, then he'll mend better than he was foaled."
"I hope that's so," he said. "I hope the arrow troubles you little. I wish you might let Emuin see it."
"It's nothing," Crissand said, and flushed, even while he put a hand to the wound. "It's nothing at all."
Yet the fear persisted, the retreat within the gray space. Nothing they had said had drawn Crissand out of it.
"Yet it is something," Tristen said. "It's a warning. But don't think it was all Orien's doing. Wizardry isn't anyone's. It's patterns. There and here are the same thing. Now and then are the same thing—left and right to the same design."
"I don't understand."
"Why did you go to Drusenan?"
Crissand blinked.
"Why to Drusenan," Tristen asked, "and not to, say, Levey, or somewhere within your own lands?"
Crissand shook his head slowly. "It seemed that was where I had to go."
'So we look instead for those who might have sent you there." listen said. "Emuin might have had something to do with your going there.
I might. For that matter, Paisi has the gift, and Cevulirn.
Even Drusenan himself does, though very little; and certainly Lady Orien and Lady Tarien have gift enough, but I doubt Drusenan was in their thoughts at all. You didn't fall in a ditch in the drifts and you escaped alive, and you come back with news about Tasmôrden's movements, which is something we all desire. So however it was— it wasn't that bad a venture."
A wry smile touched Crissand's mouth, and that knot in the gray eased the slightest hint. "As always, my lord sees the pure snow, not the mire."
"I see the mud, too. But it's the snow that's marvelous. Isn't it? I see the mud, and the ill my wishes can cause; but I wish better than that.—Yet leave wishing to me. I ask you believe me in this, and think about it at your leisure: what brought me to Henas'amef isn't a little pattern, and that means a great many men move to it. All the lords camped outside the walls, and Lady Orien in her nunnery before it burned, and Cuthan and all the rest… Everything. Everything is in the pattern around me, for good for ill, help or harm. My coming here—harmed your household. It was nothing I wished. But it happened."
"Even my father dying?"
It was a thought on which he had spent no little pain, and no little doubt.
"It might have been… because you have to be where you are. It's nothing I willed or intended. It's nothing you willed. That's the point.
Orien wanted to be here, I very much believe it. Cuthan wished harm; both of them have the gift. Most of all Mauryl Gestaurien did, and he set me on the Road I followed. The pattern sent me here. Do you see?
I wished nothing but my safety and Cefwyn's friendship. Nothing was intended. But your father was in the pattern, and when it moved… he drank from Lady Orien's cup. There's danger in my company. There's danger in my wishes. And because you stand near me—with the gift—there's danger in what you do, and danger in what you wish."
Crissand left his seat as if the vicinity had grown too close, action preferable to the pain his wound cost him. Or perhaps it was the distraction of the pain he sought.
"Parsynan killing my men and my cousins, and Orien's cup poisoning my father… and Cuthan betraying him… these were all foredoomed?"
"No. Nothing was foredoomed. But we two have to be here, as we are right now, in this room." It was a terrible truth that he had to tell, but he trusted Crissand to withstand it, as he trusted only his closest and dearest friends. "Emuin says that what I will and will not is dangerous. It took me a long while to understand that, but I do. He's very much afraid of me, and he ought to be. He tells me very little, I suspect so I won't make up my mind too early. He says I don't have wizard-gift, but magic. And that means I don't depend on times and seasons: I can wish at any time, for anything. And that's terrible. That is terrible, do you see? No seasons govern me. No times limit me. I learn wizardry not because I have those limits, but because I want to learn what those limits are—of my friends, and of my enemies. You are the Aswydd, and you will be the Aswydd, no matter Lady Orien's demands. Auld Syes said it; and you are my ally."
"Beyond a doubt in that, my lord."
"Yet everyone I love, everyone who loves me, is in danger… from my wishes, my mistakes, my idlest thoughts… and most of all, in danger from my enemies, especially when they venture outside the bounds. Tasmôrden has the gift. If he can't strike me, the wizard-gift that helps him will try to harm something dear to me. I can protect only what's close to me. Like warding a window. Like making the Lines on the earth. Inside is safe. Outside is dangerous.— Don't leave me again."
In the world of Men the things he tried to explain were all but inexplicable, difficult even for a man with his wits about him. Crissand trembled with exhaustion, and his fear of the gray space and what was Unfolding within him even now kept him balled and silent there… small wonder he had a distracted look, and seemed lost.
Tristen reached to the tea tray and moved one cup, which nudged the pot, the other cups, and the spirit bottle.
"Move this, it moves that. That's wizardry. It's that simple."
"It's mad!" Crissand protested. "How do you know what moves the right thing? How does anyone deal with it?"
"I left on such a ride as yours," Tristen said, "and came back with Ninévrisë. I didn't know she was there. But someone had to bring her to Cefwyn. I was able to, and I was there. But she would have come, by one way or another. When things need to happen, they happen."
"Yet you say it's not foredoomed."
It's not. She would have come not because it was foredoomed, but because wizards wished her to be with Cefwyn. Even I, perhaps, since I wished Cefwyn well, and certainly he's happiest with Niné-
vrisë. The wishes of all those with the gift wishing at once shape Patterns, and within those patterns we can move. Within the design, we can choose what we do, and by our choices, shift the pattern that is and change the choices of what can be." So he hoped, who had met himself in Marna Wood, and again at Ynefel, or at least had come fearfully close to it: how mutable time-to-come might be was of vital interest to him. "Only, being Sihhë, as Emuin supposes, it seems I can go counter to that pattern and throw it all into confusion again. I can change what wizards have set and I can do it even contrary to the pattern of the world itself. That's magic, as best I understand it.
Magic, as opposed to wizardry. And I think that frightens wizards most of all. Ask Emuin. He explained these things to me. I learn wizardry, because it shows me how to work within the patterns Emuin sees, and not overthrow things. It's hard to be patient. But it's safest for everyone."
"I don't understand," Crissand said earnestly. "But I do hear, my lord, with all my heart, and I do know I do my lord no service by acting the fool—least of all by flinging myself into Tasmôrden's hands.
But—"
"But?"
"I thought I was right!"
"Within the pattern, you were."
"But how—if these fits come on blindly… how can I know what's truly right? How can I say no to them?"
It was a question, one he had had to answer for himself, by having Emuin in his tower, and always within reach.
"Come to me. Not to Uwen, not to Tassand, no messages by way of Lusin. Come to me and tell me what you feel in the least moved to do, at whatever hour. That's the only way."
He had flaws of his own, he knew: latest of them, he had brought the Aswyddim into Henas'amef, endangering people who loved and trusted him, and never consulted Emuin. It was much the same as Crissand's riding off to the river. He found no difference, at least.
But Crissand was too weary to reason further. The ball that he had made of himself stayed tightly furled. There was only hope he would remember it.
"Go home," Tristen said, "sleep. Come back. I need you."
It echoed through the gray space, that truth that overrode all others. In the Pattern magic made, Crissand's presence was no matter of chance: it was a necessity to him, and Crissand did not remotely comprehend his danger.
Crissand! be said, and startled that knot into unfurling, at least a little. Crissand! he said again, and this time the knot came undone.
—My lord! Crissand said, and faced him uncertainly. But the gray winds blew and blew, and that grayness about him whitened to pearl, if not to the sun of his presence before.
Wake! Tristen said, and the light shone through, and Crissand shone in the gray space, clear and pale as the morning sun. There you are, Tristen said then. There you are. Look at me. Keep looking at me, he said as Crissand began to cast a look over his shoulder.
Here is where you need to be.
The Edge was beyond them, that dangerous slide into dark. He knew, and perhaps Crissand had seen it, but Crissand had his bearings now, and stood beside him and turned a calm face outward, toward the deeper shadows.
Don't go there alone, Tristen said to him. Promise me.
I swear it, Crissand said to him, and drew another, a whole breath.
The things he could not learn in the world of Men he seemed to learn by seeing, and feeling the currents of the wind, where it blew, and where it tried to take him.
So Tristen led him out of the gray and into the candlelight of the room in which they sat.
And a small portion of the light Tristen kept with him, and held in his hand, and let it slowly fade.
"Gods," Crissand said.
"So you know it's not that far," Tristen said. "So you know I can always reach that place, wherever I am. And you can. You don't need to ride to the river to find it, or to inquire what our enemy is doing.
Go home. Go to bed."
"My lord." Crissand was at the end of his strength, and yet moved to the wish he made: he rose, and took his leave, regretting what he had done… but the need to have done it was stronger than all regret, as if a fire burned, and only going and moving could extinguish it: and it was a true fire. Tristen knew it, as he knew the Aswydd, and only hoped to govern it, for Crissand's sake.
But as Crissand stumbled home, safe in the hands of his own guard, the gray space was clear at last, the tie that was between them was safe, and the warmth that was Crissand shone again on his right hand.
He had gotten Crissand back—in spite of the weather and in spite of all ill wishes to the contrary, he had recovered Crissand, in all senses, and that was a victory.
As for what Crissand had learned at such risk—he already knew, Tasmôrden feared what was going on at his southern frontier, and hoped to slip his own men in among the Amefin, where they could mingle with like speech and stature and coloring.
And now that Tasmôrden knew about Aeself's band of expatriates at Althalen, he surely hoped to lodge his own men among them, to betray them at some advantageous moment. That was the risk inherent in mercy: he read it in his books, but had no need to read it: common sense advised him that he had run that risk in allowing the fugitives to cross and to establish a force there.
He felt the currents Crissand had felt without ever going to the river, as he had said. And for Aeself's sake, for so many other reasons he yearned to draw the main attack south, where he could reach it. But Cefwyn had expressly forbidden him to do that, saying that the northern barons of Ylesuin must have their moment of glory—the very barons that betrayed their king. Yet Cefwyn's orders stood, and the situation within Ylesuin had reached a complexity which had somehow to reach its own resolution: when the south was part of the action, then the northern barons acted together, jealously, against the south. Whenever they had to act together, they also acted separately, jealously, against one another. It was Cefwyn's attempt to! make them act together that had done this—and bringing the south; in to steal their war and present them a victory could never do whats Cefwyn dreamed of doing: that was the difficulty in all this, and: considering the attack on his messenger and the attack on the nuns at Anwyfar, he saw the state of affairs in Ylesuin, as clearly as if it, too, were within the gray space.
Tasmôrden's ventures south, this arrow launched at Crissand, offered him an excuse: he might strike back, within the scope of Cefwyn's orders. But if he did move, no small strike would serve; any purpose but to draw another small assault, and more harm.; What would deal with Tasmôrden's incursions was a hammerblow; no mere chase from a border camp and back, but an answering presence at the edge of Elwynor, on Elwynim soil. That he could construe as within his orders… while Cefwyn was in danger from within his own kingdom.
His message regarding Tarien had sped, but other messages might have gone astray.
And what then? What then, when the north divided itself again into quarreling factions?
What when the news broke, that Cefwyn had, not an Elwynim heir, but an Aswydd son—a southern heir, and a wizard to boot?
Tasmôrden likely knew: Cuthan would have told him. And he would hear about the arrival of Orien and Tarien: it was in the gray space, as the child was, once one knew to look; and would the birth of such a child be silent? Tristen thought not.
Captain Anwyll, wintered in at the riverside garrison, would know once the rumor limped its narrow channels to reach him. And then what must Anwyll think, a Guelenman, loyal to his king?
Why should Tasmôrden move east, against the heart of Ylesuin, where scandal might do the work of armies, dividing his enemies?
No. It was Amefel Tasmôrden had to fear, where he knew walls were going up and fortifications were rising despite the bitter weather.
Tasmôrden was not blind, Tristen was sure, nor ignorant of both trouble in Guelessar and threat to the south. If anything drove Tasmôrden east—it would not be Tasmôrden's own interests.Did Tasmôrden know that?
Or would Tasmôrden go east, like Crissand toward the river, because irresistible currents moved him?
Tristen sat, the cup cooled in his hand.
Outside the windows, for some reason beyond his wishes, the snow continued to fall.
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Next: CHAPTER 6