The White Road: The Nightrunner Series, Book 5 by Lynn Flewelling


  “You want to know if your Sebrahn is a dragon,” the old man said at last. “Don’t look so surprised, Alec. I see the dragon aura around him as clear as I see you.” He went back to his smoking, staring at Sebrahn.

  At last he took his pipe from his lips and pointed the stem at Sebrahn. “That is no dragon.”

  “But the aura?” asked Alec, though he was relieved.

  “I didn’t say he is no part of a dragon, only that he isn’t one himself, any more than you are.” He took a puff on his pipe and exhaled through his nose, looking a bit dragon-like himself. “Will he come to me?”

  Alec put Sebrahn down, and the rhekaro immediately went to Tyrus and climbed into his lap. Once there, he pointed upward. “Drak-kon.”

  As if summoned, the dragon swooped across the room and landed on the arm of Tyrus’s chair. Alec held his breath as Sebrahn reached to stroke its head and wings, but the dragon did not bite him.

  “If he’s not a dragon, then why do they come to him like that?” asked Seregil.

  “Why do they come to me?” Tyrus said with a shrug. “Now, then, shall we go see him?”

  Bundled once more against the cold, they followed Tyrus up a very steep but well-traveled path through the snow, moving steadily up the mountainside—Alec with Sebrahn in a sling on his back. A waxing moon balanced on the eastern peaks, and the stars were as sharp as glass.

  The trees grew thinner and smaller as they went, and soon they were above the tree line, boots scraping on bare rock. The air was filled with the sound of wings, and now and then Alec saw a dragon silhouetted for an instant against the stars. Caught between fear and wonder, he stayed close to Tyrus.

  He was glad of the sling; Sebrahn was as restless as a child going to a fair. Pointing frantically, he rasped out, “Drak-kon! Drak-kon!”

  A little farther on Alec was suddenly aware of loud hissing, though he wasn’t sure of the direction. It kept up and he couldn’t tell if it was one dragon following them, which was unsettling, or if there were a lot of them about, which wasn’t much comfort, either. Tyrus’s presence must have been keeping them at bay.

  We’d have been mauled and eaten by now, otherwise, thought Alec.

  The way grew more level, and Tyrus finally stopped in the shadow of a high ridge. Alec could see dragons on the heights, perhaps dozens of them, some as large as bulls.

  “Drak-kon!” Sebrahn said, more loudly than Alec had ever heard him speak.

  “How large is your—friend?” Alec asked, wondering which dragon it was.

  Tyrus chuckled. “Oh, he’s a big one.”

  How large was large? The size of a horse, of a house? The ones in the murals and mosaics in Rhíminee were always portrayed as being as large as a city, but Alec doubted—

  Suddenly the ridge moved and the ground shook so hard that all of them went sprawling. Dragons of all sizes took wing around them, like bats streaming out of a cave at sunset.

  What Alec had mistaken for a smaller, nearby ridge rose against the sky, the shape unmistakable. The horned head alone was half the size of the Stag and Otter; the curved, spine-ridged neck might be as long as Silvermoon Street. That large ridge was its back.

  Laughing, Tyrus pulled Alec to his feet. “This is my friend. Friend, this one comes to you with questions.”

  The head descended, the one huge eye Alec could see glowing like molten gold. Then, in a voice like a softly spoken avalanche, it said, “Hello, little ’faie. You smell of far places.”

  Hot, reeking breath rolled over him—bitter, with a metallic tang like cold iron against the tongue. It reminded Alec of the tinctures Yhakobin had forced down his throat. Sebrahn had gone completely still.

  “See? I promised I’d show you dragons one day,” Seregil told him. “Go on, it’s waiting.”

  “Uh—hello—Master Dragon.” Alec bowed. “Forgive me, I don’t know your name.”

  “My name?” The dragon raised its head and made an ear-shattering, incomprehensible sound. Then, lowering its head even with Alec again, it said, “You appreciate the difficulty. You may call me ‘Friend.’”

  “Thank you.” He didn’t know what else to say. He’d never addressed a living mountain before.

  “Show me the little one,” the dragon said.

  With shaking hands, Alec freed the rhekaro from his sling. “This is Sebrahn.”

  “Drak-kon,” Sebrahn said again.

  The dragon brought its head within a few yards of them, and Alec could feel its heat and see himself and the others reflected in that huge eye.

  Awed as he was, Alec reacted too slowly when Sebrahn ran straight to the dragon and grasped one of its spear-like chin barbs with both hands.

  Alec started after him, but Seregil caught him by the arm. “It’s all right.”

  Sebrahn was so tiny against that enormous head—smaller, in fact, than the fang Alec could see under the dragon’s lip—but his voice was clear and loud as he began to sing a single drawn-out note so intense that it hurt the ears.

  “By the Flame, what’s he doing?” Micum shouted over it.

  Was Sebrahn trying to kill the dragon, perceiving it as a threat? “No, Sebrahn!” Alec yelled, trying to pull free from Seregil’s grip. “Let me go! I have to—”

  But then the dragon sang back, a different, deeper note, its voice no louder than Sebrahn’s.

  Everyone held their breath as they watched the strange pair continue their discordant duet. Sebrahn touched the dragon’s face, stroking the long spines and scales as calmly as if he were petting a horse. At last, he pressed his cheek to the dragon’s jaw and both fell silent.

  “What was that about?” Micum whispered.

  “A kinship song,” the dragon told him.

  “But Tyrus claims he’s not a dragon,” Alec said.

  “He is not, but we still share kinship through the blood of the First Dragon. That is where this little one’s power comes from, because it is made with your Hâzad blood.”

  “You mean Hâzadriël and her people really did—do have dragon blood?”

  “All ’faie do, little friend. But some have more than others. That is the Hâzadriëlfaie’s gift, and their burden.”

  “Then I—?” Alec’s legs felt wobbly. It had been a terrific shock when Seregil had told him that he was part ’faie. But this?

  “It does not make you a dragon, either,” the great dragon told him with something like a chuckle.

  It was too much. Turning his attention to the familiar, Alec knelt and examined Sebrahn. There were deep cuts on his hands where he’d caught them on the dragon’s scales or spines. Alec pricked his finger with his knife and gave Sebrahn the blood he needed to heal.

  “Ah, I see,” the dragon rumbled. “You heal him, as he heals you. It is as it once was.”

  “You know about rhekaros?” asked Alec. It was disconcerting, talking to an eye, but the rest of the dragon was just too big to take in.

  “I have heard of them by different names. But none that could kill.”

  “But how—?” Who was he to question a dragon? “It’s because of my Tírfaie blood, isn’t it? The man who made Sebrahn said it was tainted.”

  The dragon pulled back a little and sniffed them. The draft of its nostril sucked at their hair and clothing.

  “You are not tainted, little friend. There is the smell of death on you, and your companions, but it comes from your actions, not your blood.”

  “Then why can Sebrahn kill and raise the dead? Why isn’t he what the alchemist wanted?”

  The dragon sniffed at them again. “You carry the memory of other Immortals in your Tírfaie blood, though you are of Hâzadriël’s line as well. And perhaps this alchemist’s own magic went awry. He did not understand fully what he was doing. Had he made such a creature before?”

  “Only one that I know of, but he killed it. He needed me, since the Hâzad were gone.”

  “Yes. I remember Hâzadriël well—a sad woman, but a brave one. I watched her people pass, going to th
e north. Their gift was different than any other’s.”

  “To be used for making rhekaros?” asked Alec. “What sort of gift is that?”

  “Their making does not have to be evil, Alec Two Lives. Surely you realize this little one’s worth, the worth of even a rhekaro that cannot raise the dead or kill, for they are not supposed to have that power.”

  “What if we take Sebrahn to the Hâzad?” asked Alec.

  The dragon considered this, then raised its enormous head and turned its face to the moon.

  They waited in silence. The moon was brighter now, and Alec could make out the jut of the great dragon’s wing and spine-ridged back. Smaller dragons—though hardly small—crawled around up there, as if it were a mountainside rather than one of their own.

  The great dragon lowered its head again. “The Lightbringer tells me that death lies in the north—your death. But you might not die if you return to the source of this creature. If you do go that way, then you must destroy the source, lest any more such creatures be made.”

  Alec’s mouth went dry. “I—I am his source.”

  “No, you were only the means, Alec Two Lives. Words are the source of alchemy. Destroy the words and no more such creatures can be made.”

  “Words?” asked Micum.

  “Books!” said Alec. “Yhakobin’s workshop was full of books. And there was one on his worktable—a big red one, with a picture of a rhekaro in it. I never saw Yhakobin use a wand or an incantation, just his symbols and metals—and me. But there were always books open on his worktables, and he’d refer to them while he worked. But to destroy it—”

  “We’d have to go get it,” Seregil finished for him. “And if we don’t?”

  “Then you cannot destroy it,” said the dragon.

  Alec suspected it was unwise to be impatient with a dragon of any size. “But what will happen if we don’t?” he asked as politely as he could.

  “The future is not written, Alec Two Lives. The Lightbringer reveals only what can be, not what will be. Destroy it, or don’t. The choice is yours.”

  “But if we do find it, whatever it is, will it tell us what Sebrahn really is?” Alec asked, frustrated now.

  “That you know, little friend. He is unlike anything that has been or will be. The question is, what will you do with him?”

  “But we came to ask you!” Alec cried.

  The dragon did not answer. Raising its great head, it snapped up one of the dragons that had been resting on its back and swallowed it whole. Then, without another word, it stretched out in the position they’d found it in and heaved a great sigh that shook the ground again.

  “He’s finished, cousin,” Tyrus told Alec. “It’s time to go.”

  “But—”

  “It’s all right, Alec,” said Seregil, setting off down the steep trail with the others. Alec picked up Sebrahn and followed.

  The rhekaro looked back over Alec’s shoulder, pointing. “Drak-kon!”

  “Yes,” Alec said, feeling a little shaky now as the full import of what he’d just done set in. “It certainly is.”

  When they reached the cabin, Tyrus took up his pipe again. The small dragon flew down to curl up in his lap. Sebrahn stood beside his chair, stroking the little dragon as he had the giant one.

  Alec sat with his chin in his hands, feeling dazed. “How can what the dragon said about me be true?”

  Tyrus smiled. “Young Alec, do you know the origin story?”

  “I think so. The sun pierced the Great Dragon with a spear and eleven drops of blood fell on Aurënen. The first Aurënfaie sprang up where the blood fell—the eleven major clans.”

  “That’s right. And though it was the same blood for all, each drop fell on different soil, and that’s how we came to differ.”

  “But how could the Hâzadriëlfaie be more—dragonish than any other clan?”

  “That’s the great question, isn’t it, cousin? But then, even in the same clan, everyone does not have the same magic—or even any magic at all. For those who share the same type, though, it usually grows stronger when people of the same talents come together. It must have been like that with Hâzadriël’s followers, bound by the blood that brought them together and drove them north. Those of the Hâzadriëlfaie blood must have more of the Dragon in them than most.”

  “You mean the origin story really is true?” asked Alec.

  “There must be some truth to it, or we wouldn’t have been telling it for thousands of years. Nothing appears out of nothing, as far as I know, and we are linked inextricably to the dragons.”

  “And Alec has more of that Great Dragon blood in his veins,” Seregil noted, frowning.

  “And Tír, and then there’s the dragon kiss there on his ear,” Tyrus pointed out. “You may be just as unique as your rhekaro, Alec. Your alchemist chose to ignore that.”

  “Then that’s why Sebrahn didn’t turn out the way he intended?”

  “So it appears.” Tyrus gazed down at Sebrahn and stroked his hair as Sebrahn continued to pat the dragon. “Do you understand that he is nothing like you, either, Alec? He’s just magic with a form that resembles you.”

  “But he thinks. He has a mind. What is he?” asked Alec. “Your dragon didn’t tell me that.”

  “He did,” Tyrus replied. “Sebrahn is the first and last of his kind, unless another alchemist finds the means to use your blood again. To understand what Sebrahn is and what he can do, then you must understand what the man was trying to create, and how.”

  “Which means getting that book,” Alec said.

  “Well then, it’s like my friend said. You’ll have to find it, won’t you?” said Tyrus.

  Alec and Seregil exchanged a look and Seregil shrugged. “The dragon did say we might not die if we go in that direction.”

  They spent the night at the cabin and took their leave the following morning.

  “So it’s Plenimar now?” said Micum as they rode along the snowy trail. “How in Bilairy’s name are two ’faie going to go back there without being captured or killed?”

  “Well, we can’t just walk into Riga,” Alec admitted, riding along with Sebrahn. “We’re obviously ’faie with no freed-man’s brand or collar.”

  “The collar is no problem. We can have those made,” Seregil noted.

  “Would your uncle make them for us?” asked Micum.

  Seregil thought a moment. “He would, but he’d want to know why. I’d rather my family doesn’t know where I’m headed. I want to spare them that, especially Adzriel, and I don’t want to leave any trail behind if someone comes looking for us. Collars will be easy enough to find elsewhere.”

  “And the brands?”

  “That may be a bit harder. Too bad we cut out the ones we had, eh, Alec?”

  Alec grimaced. “I wish you’d thought of that at the time. But they were Yhakobin’s mark, anyway. That has to be well known around the Riga slave markets, and anywhere between there and the estate. People would take us for runaways.”

  “Thero can probably do some sort of transformation—”

  “No one would remark on a master and his own slaves passing by, though, would they?” asked Micum, grinning. “I speak Plenimaran as well as you do, Seregil. Alec’s no good at it, but I’ll do all the talking, anyway.”

  It was a good plan, Seregil had to admit, but still he replied, “No. Not this time. You’re not going.”

  Micum gave him an exasperated look. “Not this again!”

  “You’d never pass for a Plenimaran, any more than Alec or I could.”

  Micum ran a hand over his chin stubble. “I’ll cut my hair, grow my beard, and let it be known I’m a northlander trader. I’ve met some who owned slaves.”

  “We can manage without you,” Seregil said bluntly. Whatever they did, it was going to be damn dangerous. He didn’t ever want another friend’s blood on his hands.

  “And Kari? She’ll flay us alive the next time she sees us,” Alec put in.

  “She’ll understa
nd. She always has.”

  Seregil wondered if Micum had ever really understood the tension between his friend and his wife, back in their wandering days. As good as Kari had always been to him, and to Alec, Seregil always caught that same old flash of dread and resentment whenever they showed up unannounced.

  “I’m going with you, and that’s final,” said Micum.

  Seregil started to object again, then shrugged and pulled his cloak closer around him. “It’s not like I can stop you, is it?”

  Micum gave him a knowing look. “Swear it, Seregil. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and find nothing but a note again.”

  Fair enough, he thought, given past history. And it wasn’t as if he hadn’t already considered just slipping away. Leaning over in the saddle, Seregil clasped hands with Micum and gave him the pledge even he would never break. “Rei phöril tös tókun meh brithir, vrí sh’ruit’ya.” Though you thrust your dagger at my eyes, I will not flinch. “There, are you satisfied?”

  “I am. Now, what route?”

  “It will be a hard trip to the coast this time of year. The road we took here will be impassable now. But if we stick to the main roads where there are way stations, we should be able to get through to Chillian in three weeks or so, and take a ship from there.”

  “To where?” Alec asked.

  “Silver Bay?” suggested Micum. “It’s a few days’ ride north of Rhíminee. A lot of travelers go through there. I doubt anyone will pay us much mind. That way we can avoid the city altogether. There’s not much out there but a few farms and inns. We can meet up with Thero somewhere. We’ll need him to find Rhal for us, assuming the Plenimarans haven’t captured him yet.”

  Alec and Seregil had been traveling in disguise when they’d first met Rhal, who’d been a Folcwine River captain then. Seregil was passing as a gentlewoman named Lady Gwethelyn, with Alec playing the role of her too-young protector. Seregil was very convincing as a woman, and had attracted the swarthy captain’s unwanted attention, much to Alec’s alarm and Seregil’s amusement. Seregil had previous experience with that sort of thing, but the ship was a small one and Rhal had been quite persistent, to his own chagrin. Later, when Seregil had funded a privateering vessel for Rhal with a pair of emeralds, the man had the joke back on him, christening the ship the Green Lady and fitting her with a carved figurehead of a green-clad woman who bore a remarkable resemblance to Seregil. Out of pique over Rhal’s joke, Seregil never spoke the ship’s real name.

 
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