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


  “Ah, I see. But the books?”

  Ilar subsided and the light went from his eyes. “In the little tent.”

  “And where is this little tent?”

  “It’s at the far end of the workroom, opposite the forge. I wasn’t allowed to look in there, but I often saw him take out the books.”

  “And did you see what was in them?”

  Ilar shifted uneasily, looking guilty now. “Sometimes I looked, when Ilban went back to the house for something. I couldn’t read the writing. Most of his books are like that. Ilban says that alchemists keep their secrets by writing in code.”

  “In code? The book he showed me was not.”

  “Then perhaps he didn’t show you the real ones. In the one I looked at, the words made no sense, but I saw a fine engraving of winged beings. Ilban was disappointed that neither of the ones he made had wings. They were larger in the drawings, too: the size of a man, at least in the pictures I saw.”

  Ulan knew that much already. He’d corresponded regularly with Charis Yhakobin, anxious for news of success that never came. No, what caught his interest and made his pulse quicken was this talk of books. Codes could be broken. And then?

  And then I could unlock the secrets of the use of a rhekaro, perhaps even make one for myself! Of course that would mean possessing young Alec, as well.

  “Do you think the books are still there?”

  “Ilban never allows anyone to touch them. I think his servant Ahmol and I are the only ones who know about them.”

  Ulan sat there for some time after Ilar went back to his room, pondering deeply. Ilar was the only one who knew what the books looked like. If they had been moved, only he could identify them. It seemed Ilar might be of use after all.

  He’d had no word from Elisir in weeks and had to assume that Seregil and Alec, and therefore the rhekaro, were still safely in Bôkthersa.

  “Patience,” he whispered as he gazed out over his beloved city and the harbor below. No, he was not ready to give up all this.

  But patience had its limits.

  Returning to his library, he settled at the desk there and began a letter to his nephew. Alchemists were not the only ones to use code.

  CHAPTER 14

  Moonlight and Snow

  IN SKALA, the last night of Cinrin—the longest in the calendar—was celebrated with Mourning Night, when the Immortal, Sakor, died, to be reborn the next day. Here in Aurënen, it was a celebration of the first moonrise of the new year. Bôkthersa everyone gathered in rooftop colos to watch the full moon come up over the mountains.

  Bonfires were lit a few hours before sunset and people gathered around them to drink cold tea and a special sweet soup, served by the older children. Adzriel gave everyone gifts of jewelry made out of silver, many of which had been fashioned by Akaien. In addition to two torques set with polished garnets, Adzriel presented Alec with a fine cloak pin and Seregil with a small traveler’s harp inlaid with shell pearl.

  “Think of your people whenever you play it, Haba,” she told him. “And I’ll expect you to play at the dance tonight.”

  Later, Alec and Micum stood in silence with Seregil and his family in the central colos of the clan house and watched the first pale glimmer of moon glow appear over the eastern peaks. He truly felt like he belonged here now; that he was really part of this clan, this family, even though they were leaving soon. Sebrahn stood between him and Seregil, holding their mittened hands and looking up at the night sky. Alec had explained the event to him, hoping he’d understand at least some of it.

  The glow over the mountains slowly brightened expanding into a gauzy nimbus so bright Alec could even make out the trees on the peaks.

  As the edge of the moon appeared over the mountain, everyone began to sing.

  Blessings of Aura descend in the moon’s glow.

  People of Aura, bathe in the light.

  Blood of the Dragon runs in our veins,

  Shed on our land in the long-ago night.

  Blessings of Aura, reborn in our sight

  Blessings of Aura, the Lightbearer’s gift.

  The verse was repeated over and over, and echoed among the peaks, doubling and trebling, almost harmonizing with the voices.

  Blood of the Dragon runs in our veins—A chill ran up Alec’s spine. He was not a dragon! The dragon had said so.

  “Alec, look,” Seregil whispered, jarring him out of his dark thoughts.

  Something dark moving against the stars.

  “Drak-kon,” said Sebrahn, his eyes like silver coins in the moonlight. Raising his arms, he sang a single clear note, the same one he’d sung to Tyrus’s great dragon. Startled looks came their way, and Alec wondered uneasily if Sebrahn was calling the dragons down from the sky.

  Little dragonlings fluttered into the colos to light on Sebrahn’s shoulders, and Alec’s, but the ones overhead remained in the sky, a huge one surrounded by countless others of all sizes.

  “Is that Tyrus’s dragon?” Alec asked, amazed and delighted. This must be the surprise Seregil had spoken of.

  “It is,” Seregil replied, smiling. “I wanted to watch this with you. And you, too, of course, Micum.”

  Micum just laughed.

  The dragons swooped and dove against the night sky, like fish playing in a stream, and the great dragon sang back to Sebrahn, his roar softened by the distance.

  Watching them, Alec’s heart swelled a little. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing, sharing a connection with something so wondrous.

  This went on until the moon was high above the peaks. Then the great beasts disappeared as quickly as they’d come.

  Adzriel turned and kissed him. “Come now, my brothers, it’s time for the dancing!”

  Everyone went home to dress for the dances and parties that followed. As Alec descended the stairs from the roof with Sebrahn in his arms, he could hear the musicians tuning up in the great hall. The sound always stirred his blood, ever since Micum’s daughters had taught him how to dance, but the feeling was mingled with sudden misgivings.

  This was the night they would finally try leaving Sebrahn alone. His misgivings grew as they reached their room.

  “Seregil, I don’t know if this is a good idea,” he began, setting Sebrahn down and pulling off his mittens.

  “Oh come on, talí,” Seregil gave him a comically imploring look. “If we were in Rhíminee tonight, we’d be drunk off our assess by now. And you can’t very well dance with me lugging Sebrahn on your back. He’ll be fine here, and it’s not so far to the hall that we can’t look in on him as often as you like. As soon as we’ve danced ourselves out a little, we’ll fetch him to the party, I promise.”

  Alec cast a worried look at Sebrahn, who was staring back just as intently from his place on the bed, as if he knew exactly what was going on. Alec had trimmed and braided the rhekaro’s hair, and dressed him in the little tunic embroidered with flowers that Kheeta’s mother had made for him. There had to be some moment when Alec allowed himself to be parted from Sebrahn; it was inevitable. But did it have to be now? All the other children in the house would be there. Sebrahn hadn’t exactly made friends with anyone. However, he did seem interested in how they played, and would mimic them now and then.

  Yet Alec didn’t need the pull of their bond to see that behind Seregil’s inveigling smile was a genuine plea. Seregil pulled him close, sighed heavily for good effect, then danced him around the room. “Please, talí? Just this one time? He couldn’t be anywhere safer.” Letting Alec go, Seregil made a show of barring the shutters, then held up the iron key that they hadn’t used since their arrival.

  Alec wavered; he hadn’t danced in months, and now he could hear a reel beginning. “Well, I guess he’d be all right for a little while. Maybe …”

  “Then it’s settled! I’ll tell you what; as soon as we meet with Micum, I’ll have him look in on him for us, too.”

  “Well …”

  Seregil sensed his weakening resolve and grinned. “Good.”<
br />
  Alec sat down with Sebrahn and tried to explain. “Seregil and I are going out.” He pointed to the door, then the bed. “And you stay here, understand? Right here.”

  It was difficult to tell what Sebrahn thought of that. Alec found one of the little dolls Mydri had given him in Gedre, as if that would keep him company.

  “Come on, Alec. Listen—they’ve started without us. The musicians are already playing,” Seregil urged gently, slipping a hand under his arm.

  Alec glanced back over his shoulder as they went out. Sebrahn sat in the middle of the bed, holding the doll upside down in one hand.

  As soon as they were in the corridor Alec locked the door. More music floated down from the hall, enticing him.

  Maybe this is a good thing. Just get it over with.

  He’d just turned the key when a piercing shriek split the air.

  “Bilairy’s Balls!” Seregil yelped, clapping his hands over his ears.

  Then came a loud thud from inside the room as Sebrahn threw himself against the door, shrieking again at a pitch that made the hair on Alec’s arms stand up and his heart pound.

  “For hell’s sake, open the door!”

  “I’m trying!” The sound was like a knife grating against bone. Alec’s hands were shaking so badly that he had to use both to get the key back into the lock. When he finally got the door open Sebrahn flew at him, wrapping his arms and legs around him with shocking strength and still shrieking. Seregil dragged them both back into the bedchamber, then wrested the key from Alec’s clenched fingers and locked the door from the inside.

  “Stop!” Alec shouted, shaking Sebrahn. The painful shriek tapered off, but Sebrahn didn’t loosen his grip.

  “It’s all right,” Alec whispered, hugging Sebrahn tight. “I’m sorry. We didn’t mean to scare you.”

  “Scare him?” Seregil gasped, running a shaky hand back through his hair. “Bilairy’s Balls, Alec!”

  “He didn’t know what he was doing!”

  “Even worse—” Seregil broke off suddenly, staring at Sebrahn. “Don’t move, Alec,” he whispered. “You’re bleeding.”

  “What?”

  “Your nose is bleeding, and Sebrahn’s eyes are completely black. Tell him not to hurt me.”

  “He wouldn’t—” Alec could taste blood on his lips now, and remembered how Sebrahn had hissed at Seregil in Gedre. He got a hand under the rhekaro’s chin and raised his face. Sure enough, Sebrahn’s pupils were dilated like a cat’s in the dark, with only a thin rim of silver showing around them. “It’s all right now,” he soothed, not really believing that as he stroked Sebrahn’s hair. “If you hurt anyone, I’ll be sad. Do you understand? You will make me very sad. Tell me if you understand, Sebrahn.”

  Bit by bit, Sebrahn loosened his painful grip and slid down to the floor. His eyes weren’t quite so black now, but more than Alec liked.

  He knelt and took Sebrahn by the shoulders, heart hammering against his ribs now as the shock of it all rolled over him. What if—? “Don’t ever do that again!”

  Sebrahn reached out and touched Alec’s upper lip. His finger came away bloody. He licked at it with his little grey tongue and reached out for more.

  Seregil’s hand closed over Alec’s shoulder and pulled him back. “No, Sebrahn! That’s bad. Making Alec bleed is very, very bad.”

  The rhekaro’s gaze flickered between the two of them, as if he was trying to make sense of all this. “Baaaad.”

  Alec nodded. “Bad. You hurt me. You could have hurt Seregil, too, and our friends. Never do that again!”

  “Bad,” Sebrahn whispered again. He clenched both fists against his chest and sank into a squat at Alec’s feet. His braid had come loose somehow, and his hair cascaded around his face and shoulders.

  “Sebrahn?” Alec knelt down by him.

  From behind that curtain of hair a tear fell to the floor, spattering on the polished wood, and then another. One mingled with a stray drop of Alec’s blood and formed a tiny white blossom.

  “He’s crying,” Alec whispered, amazed. He reached out to Sebrahn, but Seregil pulled him back again.

  “These are what Sebrahn saved you with. There’s no telling what these will do to a living person.”

  Alec shrugged his hand off and took Sebrahn in his arms, pressing his bloodied nose to Sebrahn’s cheek. Blood and tears mingled and fragrant white blossoms tumbled into Alec’s lap.

  Nothing else happened.

  Seregil picked up a flower and held it in his cupped hand. “That’s different.”

  Alec tasted more blood on his lip as he looked up at Seregil. “Maybe these white ones only work on the dead?”

  “I hope we don’t need to test that anytime soon.”

  “What in Bilairy’s name are you up to?” Micum demanded, rattling the door handle. “Everybody’s at the dance.”

  Seregil let him in and closed the door again. Micum took in the situation at a glance. “Everyone’s asking for you.”

  “Did you see anyone else on your way here?” asked Seregil.

  “No, I think the whole household is at the dance.”

  “Come on, Micum. We’ll check all the unlocked rooms within earshot,” said Seregil.

  “You think he’s killed someone?”

  “I hope he hasn’t.”

  But they returned with good news. “I couldn’t find a soul, alive or otherwise. And if anyone at the dance had heard, they’d have come running,” Seregil told him.

  “The music must have drowned it out,” Alec said, relieved.

  Seregil sat down on the bed. “That doesn’t change what happened, though. We were just lucky. You know what this means?”

  Just then they heard someone coming.

  Seregil pulled out a handkerchief and quickly wiped the blood from Alec’s face, finishing up with a spit-slicked thumb. “That will have to do. Try not to bleed for a minute.”

  “What do we do with all these?” The flowers were still there, scattered around Alec. Together they scooped them up and threw them under the bed.

  “What’s keeping you, brothers?” Adzriel called.

  “Nothing. Just a little—upset.” Seregil gave Alec a worried look, then let her in. Mydri was with her.

  “It turns out that Sebrahn is frightened of being left alone,” Seregil explained.

  “He’s not used to it, that’s all.” Alec pulled Sebrahn close to his side, hoping they didn’t notice that he was still shaking. “This is the first time we ever tried to leave him on his own. He’s fine now—” He stopped, tasting blood and feeling it trickling down his lip.

  Mydri pulled out a lacy handkerchief and gave it to him to stanch the flow. “Press under your nose. What happened?”

  “Sebrahn was struggling.”

  “He does still look frightened, poor thing.” Adzriel paused and looked at Alec and the others. “You three look rather shaken, yourselves.”

  “We were just surprised,” Alec said quickly.

  “Ah, well. Do come along as soon as you can!”

  Mydri gave them a look over her shoulder as she followed her sister out.

  When she was gone, Micum sat down in her place and held out his hands to Sebrahn. “Well now, little sprout, you’ve caused some trouble tonight.” He looked up at the others, face grave. “You were both white as milk when I came in. So Sebrahn sang again, did he?”

  “Well, it was actually more of a screech,” Seregil pointed out, attempting to make light of it. “Just one that made my head feel like it was going to burst.”

  “Don’t forget that I’ve seen the results of the power of his voice,” Micum replied, not amused.

  “He couldn’t have meant to hurt us, though,” Seregil said, studying Sebrahn, who was still clinging to Alec, looking very much like a scared little boy. “At least not Alec. I think he lost control of himself. And that’s a frightening prospect.”

  Alec looked down at the rhekaro. “Sebrahn, you won’t make that hurting noise again, right?”
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br />   “Baaad.”

  “That’s right, bad. So, now what do we do?”

  Seregil rested his head in his hands. “Either we don’t go to the dance, which will break Adzriel’s heart and raise questions, or we take him with us and risk him finding another reason to sing.”

  “That wasn’t a killing song,” Alec pointed out.

  “We don’t know that. He doesn’t hurt those he trusts—luckily he trusts Micum! Maybe no one else was close enough to be affected. And you were hurt, all the same.”

  “Why not you?” wondered Micum.

  “You know me and magic,” replied Seregil. “But I do have a nasty headache.”

  “I’ll go tell them you’re both indisposed,” said Micum.

  “Tell Adzriel not to spoil her own fun on our account, and that I’ll talk to her later, when I’m feeling better. Try to keep her from coming back, if you can.”

  Micum grinned. “You know how persuasive I am with the ladies. But what if Mydri wants to come heal you?”

  “Damn. Tell her we’re napping.”

  “I’ll do my best and come back when I won’t be missed.”

  “Thank you.”

  When he was gone, Alec flopped down on the bed beside Seregil. “So, we start packing?”

  Seregil closed his eyes and nodded. “If we needed a sign, that was it.”

  Sebrahn climbed in between them and sat looking from one to another, hair loose around his shoulders.

  Frowning, Alec reached up and lifted a strand of hair near his face. “Seregil, look at this.” Thero’s magic had turned Sebrahn’s hair the same blond as Alec’s, and given color to his skin. But now there was a thin streak of silver in his hair, and, when Alec pushed his sleeves back, a patch of white skin showing through, too. Alec combed through Sebrahn’s hair and found more silvery streaks. They were small enough to mingle with the blond so as not to be especially noticeable, but there were a lot of them. While he was looking, Alec found another blotch of white on the nape of Sebrahn’s neck.

 
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