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


  “It’s not far to Watermead from Silver Bay. We can stop there for supplies,” said Micum.

  “Are you sure you want Sebrahn there?” asked Seregil.

  “What safer place could there be, eh?”

  “Safe for Sebrahn, maybe,” Seregil reminded him.

  “That may be so, but we won’t stay long, and if we’re really headed for Plenimar then I want a chance to see my family.”

  Seregil made a quick sign against ill luck. “Don’t talk like that if you still want to go.”

  “I just meant we’d be away longer. Once we’re properly equipped, we’ll call for Rhal. He can meet us back at Silver Bay and take us across.”

  “You make it sound easy,” Seregil said with wry grin. “It would be easier if either of us knew how to find Yhakobin’s house. Neither Alec nor I was in any position to mark the way.”

  “There’s that farm, where the tunnel from the workshop ends,” Alec mused. “But I’m not sure I could find that again, either. We just sort of ran away and got lost.”

  “No, we’ll have to start at Riga, and ask the way however we can,” said Seregil.

  “Could we use that tunnel you told me about to get back into the place?” asked Micum. Seregil could tell his old friend was enjoying this. Micum had always liked the planning stage of a job.

  “I don’t think we could lift the trapdoor from underneath,” Alec told him. The door was hidden under a heavy anvil in Yhakobin’s workshop. Pulling it up with leverage from above had been hard enough; trying to balance on a rickety wooden ladder and push up from below was probably impossible.

  “We could get back out that way, though, if we have to,” Seregil said. “I think we’ll have to figure out the rest once we get there.”

  “And hope Illior’s on our side,” added Micum.

  “What about Sebrahn?” asked Alec. “It’s not like I can just leave him anywhere. And you’re not going without me!”

  “No, it’s probably going to be a two-man job, at least,” said Seregil. “And here we are, at the crux of the Sebrahn problem.”

  “Yhakobin is dead. As far as we know, he was the only one in Plenimar who knew what Sebrahn is, right?” Alec pointed out.

  Seregil shook his head, frowning. “We’re definitely going to need to talk to Thero about this. Let’s see what he can do for us and proceed from there.”

  CHAPTER 12

  Family

  SEREGIL went alone to tell his sister they would be departing soon. He found her in her sitting room.

  “Leaving?” She sank into a chair by the window. “But you only just got here!”

  Seregil knelt and took her hands in his. “I know, but Tyrus told us things that have decided our path.”

  “Where will you go?”

  Seregil hesitated. “I’m sorry, sister, but I can’t tell you that.”

  She looked down at him with sadness in her eyes. “Even here, you don’t feel safe?”

  “It’s not that. We have work to do.”

  “About Sebrahn?”

  “Yes.”

  Tears welled in her eyes. “When will you leave?”

  “We have to prepare for the journey, and there are a few things I need to do. The new moon festival is a week away. We’ll leave sometime after that.”

  “A few weeks. After all these years?”

  “It’s not what I want, either, Adzriel. But we have to go.”

  She sighed and wiped her eyes. “I see. Well, I’ll provide anything you need for your journey, but promise me that you’ll hunt with me at least once?”

  Seregil smiled as he rose to his feet. “I won’t leave until we do.”

  Seregil kept his word. By day he, Micum, and Alec went hunting, dancing, ice fishing, and on sleigh rides—whatever Seregil’s sisters asked. Alec and his newfound friends spent hours at their shooting and his quiver was already heavy with shattas, some made of silver and one of gold he’d won cleaving a birch wand at twenty paces. Kheeta still teased him about using magic, but it was only in jest.

  The night found them at Akaien’s forge in the village, where Seregil painstakingly set about making two sets of lock picks and other small instruments they needed for nightrunning.

  Stripped to their trousers under leather aprons, Seregil and his uncle heated thin steel rods while Alec or Micum pumped the bellows. The lean muscles in Seregil’s bare arms stood out as he brought the small hammer down on the anvil, sparks spraying off the red-hot steel, shaping it to his needs. Some of the picks were straight; others had angled tips for more complex locks. Some were slender and supple as a branch tip—just the thing for a Rhíminee triple crow lock; a few were half as thick as an arrow shaft for the large locks that secured prisons, the gates of fine villas, the grate locks in the Rhíminee sewers, and other interesting places.

  Akaien looked on with interest, taking a break from his own work. “So this is what all my training with you came to? Little hairpins?” But he laughed as he said it, and Alec saw the pride in the man’s eyes.

  Alec, meanwhile, tried his hand at carving the special ones out of long goat leg bones. These they used on the tiny locks of jewel cases and locked books. The bone was strong enough to turn the lock, but less likely to leave telltale scratches.

  It took four nights to make everything they needed. On the third, Alec found himself alone with Akaien, waiting for the others. Alec liked the man a great deal—there was something of Seregil about him.

  Perhaps that was what prompted him to ask a few questions. “From the way Seregil speaks of his father, you two must not have been much alike.”

  Akaien was quiet for a moment. “Well, Korit was the elder son, and more serious by nature. That’s probably why he ended up being khirnari. He was a good one, too. He had real vision and a way with people.”

  “Except with his son?”

  “Perhaps if Korit had lived, and Seregil had grown up with him, they might have come to understand each other.”

  “Seregil told me you’re like a father to him.”

  Akaien smiled at that. “Things might have gone differently for him if he had been mine. Korit was the serious, responsible one; I took after our father, and liked my fun too well. It was our mother Korit took after. She groomed him for khirnari, and he was elected when he was still a young man. But you were asking about Seregil. His mother, Illia, was the light of my brother’s life. She was a lovely woman, with a laugh that made everyone who heard it join in. Seregil took after her in more than looks. If he hadn’t had the life he has, I think he’d be more like her.”

  “It’s sad, losing his mother before he even knew her,” Alec murmured. Another thing we have in common.

  “The time for childbearing is short for Aurënfaie women compared with their long lives,” Akaien explained. “She was too old when she carried Seregil, and died giving birth to the son they both wanted so badly, after having four girls already. Korit never forgave himself.”

  “But if that’s true, why didn’t he love Seregil for being like her?”

  “Seregil thinks his father blamed him for his mother’s death. Korit didn’t, but that didn’t bring her back, and his heart never really healed. Seregil would be no different if he lost you. I could see that the minute I laid eyes on you two.”

  Just then they heard Seregil’s voice, and Micum laughing at whatever he’d said.

  “Thank you, Uncle,” Alec said, emboldened by the confidences Akaien had shared, “I love Seregil more than I can say. I promise you, I’ll always take care of him.”

  Akaien gave him a grin much like Seregil’s. “I know that.”

  When the tools were finished, Seregil turned tailor, sewing the canvas rolls with thin pockets to carry the tools in a small, compact bundle.

  Alone in their room, Seregil rolled and tied one set and tossed it to Alec. “Now we’re ready for anything.”

  The following afternoon Mydri sent word that she wanted to speak with Alec—alone.

  She had a small hou
se of her own on the south side of the clan compound. With Sebrahn at his side, Alec knocked softly at her door.

  She apparently had no use for servants, for she opened it herself. “Don’t stand there gawking on the mat. Come in,” she ordered brusquely, although she was smiling.

  The front room was given over to cots for the sick, bundles of herbs, and other accoutrements of her art. She led him through to a pleasant room overlooking the valley. He caught a glimpse of a tidy kitchen through an open door and smelled something sweet baking there.

  “May I look at the wounds you received in Plenimar?” she asked.

  Alec pulled down the neck of his tunic, showing her the faint scars on his chest and throat where the slave takers’ arrows had struck.

  She ran her fingers over them, feeling carefully through his skin to the vessels and throat beyond. “You have no trouble swallowing or talking?”

  “No.”

  “Weakness in your limbs?”

  “No, I’m fine, really!”

  “I’m glad to hear it.”

  “So, what do—”

  “Not so fast, little brother. This is a civilized house. Tea first.” Leaving him, she went to the kitchen.

  Alec sat down in a rocking chair. Sebrahn went to the window overlooking a snowy herb garden and gazed out. Mydri returned a few moments later with a tray loaded with a steaming pot, mugs, a cream pitcher, and a plate of round spice cookies, still warm from the oven.

  She set the tray on a little table between his rocker and a sagging armchair and poured for them both, adding cream without asking. Alec sipped his tea and was glad of the slaking; she brewed it even stronger than her brother did.

  She popped a cookie in her mouth. “Go on,” she urged when Alec shyly kept to his tea. “They’re not poison.”

  Alec took one, wondering why he was always so nervous around the women. The cookie was delicious, laced with anise and honey, and he took a second more eagerly.

  “That’s better. Now, I want to talk to you about Sebrahn, and I want you to listen closely.”

  “Of course, older sister.” He still felt awkward using the title, but knew it pleased her.

  “I use magic in my healing,” she told him, running a finger over the lines under her right eye. “But I also rely on my simples and tinctures, and a hot knife when necessary. It’s a skill, healing, not a trick.”

  “Sebrahn’s healings aren’t a trick.”

  “Of course not. But you must understand that they are nothing but magic, and sometimes magic doesn’t last. Why do you think I keep checking your wounds, and Seregil’s?”

  That had never occurred to him. He thought of the first person Sebrahn had healed, revealing his power. What if that girl’s leg had gotten worse again, after they left? What if the gash high up on the inside of Seregil’s thigh opened up? And what about his own wounds? “So do you understand now, Alec Two Lives?”

  “You think the healing will wear off, and I’ll drop dead?”

  “We don’t know that it won’t.”

  She set her cup back on the tray, then reached into a basket beside her and took out some knitting—a half-finished mitten like the green-and-white pair she’d given him, but blue this time. She set to work, wooden needles clicking swiftly. How could she just sit there and calmly knit after that?

  “I think you’re wrong,” he managed at last.

  “And why is that?”

  “If his magic doesn’t last, then why would the alchemist go to such trouble to make one? Yhakobin didn’t know Sebrahn could kill, but he knew their bodies and blood could be used to make some elixir. And maybe he knew Sebrahn had the power to give life, as well.”

  “And wouldn’t that be worth any risk to recover Sebrahn and you? And all the more reason to think that whoever is left in Plenimar who knows the secret of his existence will not let you go so easily.”

  “That’s not going to happen again,” he vowed, meeting her gaze without wavering this time. “I’ll die first. And this time for good.”

  She looked up from her knitting. “Don’t say that lightly, little brother, in case one of your gods is listening.”

  Mydri’s words haunted him, and he kept them to himself, even when Seregil asked why he looked so serious that night at supper.

  Over the next few days he managed to fill his time with other things, which wasn’t that hard to do. He’d never had so many people treat him as kin. Micum’s family had been the first, but now that feeling was multiplied by dozens. He especially enjoyed the young friends he’d made, and it saddened him to wonder when—or if—he’d see them again.

  CHAPTER 13

  Making Use of the Useless

  ULAN Í SATHIL’S SPIES sent word that Seregil and the other had indeed gone to ground in Bôkthersa, and that there was a child with them, one with yellow hair and silver eyes—one never seen to eat. To kidnap them from there would be far too difficult, not to mention an unforgivable breach of honor. If caught at it, the consequences were too dire to contemplate. Having lived this long, Ulan had no intention of dying by the two bowls—not when he was so close to his goal. However, his prey had youth on their side; he could only afford to wait so long. Perhaps spring would bring them out.

  In the meantime, he fought against the disease in his lungs as best he could, and between fits amused himself by nursing Ilar back to life and winning his trust. It was too dangerous to call him by his true name, lest someone remember him. Instead he went by his slave name—Khenir. He’d borne it for so long, he seemed more at ease with it.

  It also became clear that Ilar had been genuinely devoted to his alchemist master, whom he still called “Ilban” and spoke of as if the man were still alive. He often rubbed the lighter skin at his throat, too, as if he missed the collar being there. What he felt for the others was less clear. He seemed to hate Alec, but sometimes rambled about pleasant moments spent together at the villa before their escape. And Seregil? In some twisted, angry way, he seemed to want to possess him, and spoke at times as if he had at some point. It finally came out that Seregil had been his slave for a brief time—something that Ulan had a hard time imagining.

  For the first weeks Ulan had feared that the man’s mind might remain unhinged. Ilar could not bear to be touched, would not leave his room, and kept his scars carefully hidden, unaware that his host had observed him many times through the peephole in his room. Ilar had been a proud young man, and that had worked to his detriment as a slave, as his many stripes and scars attested.

  Ulan visited him each morning and evening, listening for any new detail. Ilar had wept a great deal in the early days, and when he did talk, he went round and round in his mind, recalling scattered details of their escape and dwelling on the fact that Seregil was still alive. Ulan couldn’t tell if what Ilar felt for Seregil was love or hatred, and he began to think that Ilar himself didn’t know. Nonetheless it was clearly still a strong attachment. And who knew? That might prove useful.

  As Ilar’s body healed and gained strength, so did his mind. He grew increasingly lucid and paid more attention to his surroundings, but the fear and the longing remained. Questions about the rhekaros and their making remained unanswered.

  At last Ilar—now Khenir to the household—allowed Ulan to lead him out of his room for short walks inside the clan house. After a few days Ulan was able to draw him out into the snowy garden for some fresh air. The color had returned to Ilar’s face, and some of his beauty, as well. As long as he remained clothed, he looked like nothing more than a young man recovering from a long illness.

  With this promising turn of events, Ulan began to ask more probing questions.

  “Why was he so frustrated with the first one?” he asked one day as they sat together on the long balcony overlooking the harbor after one of Ulan’s coughing fits. “Why would he go to such lengths and then destroy it?”

  Ilar stared out at the boats for a while, pain clear in his eyes, and Ulan worried that he’d overstepped. But at last t
he young man sighed and said, “He was trying to distill an elixir of some sort from its blood.”

  “Yes, I know, but how was the rhekaro made?”

  “I don’t know, exactly. I only assisted him when required, but he used Alec’s flesh, blood, spit, tears … Ilban combined it with other things he called ‘elements.’ Still, it wasn’t enough. He had more hope for the second one, and seemed pleased with it, even though it didn’t have wings. He hadn’t yet found how to unlock the secrets of its blood, either. But it could do little tasks around the workshop. I think he meant to keep it as a pet.”

  “And Alec—” Another cough tore at his chest and Ulan tasted blood. Ilar patted him awkwardly on the back until the fit was over. Ulan fell back in his chair, wiping his lips. “He kept Alec to make more rhekaros. What of Seregil?”

  “He was given to me. If only—” Ilar broke off and would say no more. He looked thoroughly miserable.

  “I see. Well, perhaps you will see him, in time.”

  Ilar’s eyes widened. “But how?”

  “Time will tell. In the meantime, would you like to live here permanently, under my protection?”

  “Yes, Khirnari.” Ilar sank to his knees before Ulan and kissed his hand.

  “Now, now, dear boy. No need for such dramatics. We’ll bide our time, and my spies will keep an eye on things. I doubt Seregil and Alec will go anywhere before spring, if they move at all.”

  “Spring?” Ilar said, disappointed. “Will I see him then?”

  “Perhaps, and you’ll be that much stronger by then. Now, I would like to hear more about the rhekaros and how they are made. Where did your Ilban’s knowledge come from?”

  Ilar actually looked around, as if he was still afraid of being overheard. “Books,” he whispered. “He has three great thick books that he keeps in the little tent. He pored over them for years before Alec came. You told me about the boy—the Hâzadriëlfaie boy—and I told Ilban. I’ve never seen him so excited! That’s when he promised Seregil to me.”

 
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