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


  And the moon-white streaks in Sebrahn’s dark hair.

  Turmay lowered his oo’lu for a moment. He and Naba had exchanged the knowing song and formed an alliance that did not include the Hâzadriëlfaie. Naba was concerned to find him in the company of the tayan’gil. Turmay had needed to play an entire telling song to put the images of the good the tayan’gil could do in the other man’s mind; the Mother tolerated this sort. If she had not, the Retha’noi and Hâzad could not have coexisted this long. The small tayan’gil, though? That was another matter, and Naba already understood that.

  He played on, weaving a prayer into the song. Thank you, Great Mother, for showing me the way so far, and bringing me to these distant Retha’noi. I think I see your design now. Let me play out the next threads to your will.

  The first sounds of a new and powerful song were already taking form in his mind, a song the Mother meant for him to share.

  CHAPTER 22

  Turnabout

  SEREGIL woke cold and confused. He’d been dreaming of snow, and wasn’t sure if he was really awake or not; he could still feel snowflakes melting on his face. He sat up and shook the snow from his hair and the blankets. He was most certainly awake and it most certainly was snowing. Alec sat beside him, wrapped in a blanket with Sebrahn. Micum sat on a stone just beyond.

  Micum looked at him, bemused. “Looks like winter isn’t done with us just yet.” He had his hood up; it was capped with white. “You kept muttering in your sleep. Bad night?”

  Seregil just shrugged. He didn’t remember any details.

  It was a windless day and the snow was falling silent and heavy, making it hard to see for more than a few dozen yards in any direction. The solid cover of big-bellied clouds promised a long day of it.

  They broke their fast with cold rabbit and water, then set off again, beginning the long descent.

  It was midafternoon when Sebrahn suddenly grew restless in Alec’s arms.

  “What is it? Another owl?” Seregil wondered, looking around.

  “Or someone who needs healing. There could be a village on this side, or a traveler,” said Micum, almost lost from sight in the dull glare of the snow. “Bilairy’s Balls, I wish I could see farther than I can piss!”

  Suddenly they were startled by a strange, distant thrumming sound that made the hair on the back of Seregil’s neck stand up.

  “It’s the same as last night!” Alec exclaimed, reining in. “And a lot closer.”

  Half snow blind and distracted by the sound, Seregil didn’t hear Micum fall and nearly rode him down as his friend struggled to get to his feet. Cynril, who was usually a steady, reasonable beast, bucked wildly, throwing him off, and galloped away, pulling Star away on the lead rein.

  Alec was close behind, and reined in so sharply that Patch reared and Windrunner whinnied in alarm. Hampered by Sebrahn, he couldn’t keep purchase on the saddle and they both tumbled off, Alec somehow managing to land on his back with Sebrahn still clutched to his chest. Micum was already on his feet, but Seregil could tell he was favoring his bad leg. In spite of Sebrahn’s healing, he still needed his stick now and then, and carried it tied behind his saddle. He had his sword, though, and he drew it, casting around for a glimpse of the enemy.

  Alec already had his bow in hand. He held it low, left hand tight around the leather grip, right hand holding an arrow to the string. Seregil knew how quickly he could raise and shoot.

  “Are you all right?” Seregil asked.

  “Did you see them?” Micum growled, staring around at the falling snow.

  “See who—”

  And there they were again, those white-clad figures, drifting in and out of sight all around them in the falling snow. As before, it was impossible to tell how many there were. That strange sound was louder now, and it was giving Seregil a headache. This time it was familiar; he’d heard something like it the last time these bastards had caught up with them in the snow.

  He closed ranks with the others as they backed up to shield Sebrahn. No sooner had they done that, however, than the rhekaro suddenly darted away, heading back the way they’d come. Seregil barely managed to catch him by the arm and drag him back. Sebrahn hissed and struggled, but his eyes hadn’t gone black. Seregil kept a tight grip on his thin arm, all the while staring so intently into the falling snow that black spots danced before his eyes.

  “He did that last time this lot showed up,” muttered Micum.

  Sebrahn tried to pull away again, but Seregil yanked him back.

  “Who are you?” Alec called out. “What do you want?”

  By way of answer, a masked rider surged into view, swinging a heavy cudgel at Micum. He ducked a blow that would have taken his head off, but was knocked off his feet anyway.

  Alec loosed an arrow but missed his mark. Their attacker disappeared back into the shifting veil of snow. Alec sent another arrow after him.

  “You don’t get us that easily,” Alec taunted.

  The strange sound began again. It swelled and the sudden pain behind Seregil’s eyes felt like a hammer pounding on the inside of his skull.

  This is magic! Illior only knew what kind, or how his traitorous body would react to it. All he knew was that if it didn’t stop soon, blood would probably start running out of his ears.

  Even through the pain, he somehow kept his grip on the struggling rhekaro and reached for his sword.

  “Something’s happening to Sebrahn!” Alec warned. “His eyes are black again!”

  Seregil didn’t have time to let go. Even through his thick clothing, he felt the sudden rush of power that flowed out from Sebrahn as he opened his mouth and sang. The power exploded around them, throwing Seregil to the ground.

  Bilairy’s Balls, I’m going to be sick …

  A man called out in odd, thickly accented Aurënfaie, “And you do not get us that easily, either, ya’shel.”

  Seregil exchanged a stunned look with Alec; how in Bilairy’s name had anyone survived that?

  “I guess we should have gone back to check on them that day,” Seregil muttered. At least the magic had stopped. He grabbed a handful of snow and filled his mouth with it as he struggled up to his feet. Somehow he’d managed to keep a grasp on Sebrahn, if not his sword. Right now Sebrahn was the more important of the two.

  “If your tayan’gil makes that noise again we will kill you all,” the man called back to them.

  Noise? Seregil thought. If that wasn’t his killing song, then what in Bilairy’s name was it? Something about the man’s accent caught Seregil’s attention again, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

  The same voice called out, “Put down your weapons.”

  Alec drew his bow and let fly in that direction. It was made clear once again that their attackers could see somehow; an answering shaft narrowly missed his head.

  Alec ducked, then yelled, “You’re a poor archer, you cowardly bastard!”

  “You would do well not to offend those who hold your lives in their hands, ya’shel.”

  “What Aurënfaie ambushes another, except ones without honor?” Seregil called back hoarsely. “What kind of man hides behind magic rather than face his enemy?” That was said tongue-in-cheek, of course. He attacked from cover any chance he got. But the taunt had the desired effect.

  A rider came forward on a white horse, keeping his distance. Seregil recognized him by the wolf-face mask he wore under his fur-lined hood. “So you didn’t die, that day.”

  There hadn’t been time during their last meeting to get a good look at him. Seregil now saw that he sat tall in the saddle and held a long sword in his right hand, pointed at the ground for now.

  The man ignored him, looking instead at Alec. “Yes, I can see that you are the one, Ireya’s bastard child.”

  “What did you say?” Alec’s voice was low and dangerous.

  “Bilairy’s Balls!” Seregil murmured, putting all the pieces together, including the archaic way the man spoke. “They’re Hâzadriëlfaie.”

/>   Other riders appeared on their white mounts, surrounding them. Seregil counted only six, but he thought he saw more through the shifting snow. “What do you want with us?” he demanded. He couldn’t see anyone’s face; they all wore those masks with the slotted eyes, but each of a different animal or bird.

  “Put your weapons down,” Wolf Face ordered again.

  “Why should we?” Alec retorted angrily. “You’ll kill us either way.”

  The man said nothing, but two archers appeared beside him on foot. One wore the fox mask Seregil had seen last time, and the other was wearing a lynx mask. Both had arrows set to their bowstrings.

  “Can I at least have your name, friend?” asked Seregil. “I always like to know who’s trying to kill me.”

  Wolf Face turned his way. “I am not your friend. You are nothing to me. Neither is your Tírfaie companion. No man who willingly keeps such low company matters to us.”

  “I think he just insulted both of us,” Micum muttered.

  “This Tír is my friend,” Alec shot back. “And this Aurënfaie is my talímenios. If you’re so superior, why are you afraid to show me your face? Where’s your honor?”

  The tall man didn’t take off the wolf mask, but he pushed back his hood. His long dark hair was streaked with grey.

  “How do you know my mother’s name?” Alec demanded.

  “I knew your mother well, before she betrayed her people,” Wolf Face told him.

  “Are you the ones who hunted her down?”

  “Her own kin took care of that. I hunted your father, and you. It seems to be my destiny. And now I hunt your tayan’gil.”

  “Tayan’gil?”

  “That little one.”

  Seregil had heard something like that before. Tayan was a word the old grandmothers sometimes used. It meant “white” or “silver”—he couldn’t remember which. And gil? He knew that one as well as he did his own name; it meant “blood.” White blood? Silver blood?

  The leader pointed to Sebrahn. “The Tír magic can’t hide him from us. But you must realize that, now that it’s wearing off.”

  There was no running now, and even if they could, it would mean leaving Micum behind. That pretty much narrowed their options down to one.

  He held up his free hand, hoping Alec wouldn’t shoot him next. “If we give you the tayan’gil, will you let us go?”

  He could tell from the corner of his eye that Alec had turned to him, and for once he was thankful he couldn’t see the expression on his talí’s face.

  Wolf Face didn’t answer, just waved a hand to someone Seregil couldn’t see through the snow. The strange sound was very loud this time. It was like hornets buzzing and an owl’s hoot combined.

  “Oh shit!” Seregil mumbled as his stomach turned over and the world went sideways …

  Alec woke suddenly, aware first of a stinging pain on his left cheek and the fact that his hands were bound.

  Oh, not again!

  He opened his eyes to find the man in the wolf mask on one knee in front of him. He had his hand raised to slap Alec again, but stopped when he saw that his eyes were open.

  Night had fallen, but someone stood to one side, holding a torch. Below the mask the man who’d struck Alec had a long face, with deep lines on either side of a thin, unfriendly mouth. The hank of dark hair hanging over one shoulder beneath a blue-and-white-striped sen’gai was streaked with iron grey. His wolfskin coat and pants were grimy, and his boots were worn.

  Hâzadriëlfaie? Alec took all that in at a glance, and next that he was propped against a stone wall, with his feet bound as well; a short length of rope secured them to his hands so he couldn’t get up. From what little he could see past the man, they were in the remains of a round stone hut. It was still snowing a little, and it was cold. He could see his breath and the other man’s freezing on the air and feel it seeping up through his clothing.

  His tongue and throat felt a little numb as he rasped out, “Where are my friends?”

  The man moved aside enough for him to see Seregil and Micum trussed up the same way against the far wall. Neither was awake.

  “Are they—”

  “They are alive. For the moment.”

  He looked around again as his head cleared. “Where is Sebrahn?”

  The man cocked his head slightly, making him look more wolf-like. “Sebrahn?”

  “The—” He searched his muddled brain for the word the man had used. “My tayan’gil.”

  It was impossible to read the man’s eyes through the slotted openings, but he sounded surprisingly nonthreatening when he replied, “You named him well. Sebrahn is safe. How did you change his appearance like that?”

  “I want to see him.”

  Alec had judged him too soon. The man slapped him again and Alec tasted blood on his lower lip. “You are in no position to make demands, ya’shel. What magic was used?”

  “Orëska.”

  “Never heard of it. What name do you have?”

  Alec glared at him.

  The man’s thin lips curled in a way that made Alec distinctly uncomfortable as he drew a very large knife from his boot. Instead of threatening Alec, however, he went to Seregil and pressed the edge of it against the unconscious man’s cheek. “I will only ask you once more.”

  “My name is Alec.”

  “Alec. A Tír name.” The way the man said it sounded like an insult.

  Alec was in no position to object; instead he asked, “Your sen’gai—I’ve never seen that pattern. Are you really a Hâzadriëlfaie?”

  “Yes.”

  “From Ravensfell?”

  “Where else would we be from?”

  “And you actually came looking for me?” Alec almost felt like laughing. “How in Bilairy’s name did you find us?”

  The man just smiled that unpleasant smile.

  “Now that you’ve found me—us—what are you going to do?”

  “I have questions for you, but first I want you to see something.” He stepped out through the ruined doorway and returned with several people. Alec ignored all of them except for one thin man in a red bird mask, and he only noticed him because the man was holding Sebrahn in his arms. The rhekaro clung to him like a little porie, head on his shoulder, looking perfectly at ease.

  The man in the wolf mask said something to the other man, who took off his mask. He was young and unremarkable as ’faie went, except that his back seemed slightly hunched and his face showed no more expression than Sebrahn’s. The man in the wolf mask took Sebrahn from him and said something else softly as he waved a hand in front of the other’s face.

  Alec stared up in amazement as the young man’s appearance changed completely. He had the same white skin and silver hair and eyes as Sebrahn. As Alec watched, he put Sebrahn down, pulled off his tunic, and unfolded—wings! Pale, leathery ones like a dragon’s; not large enough to actually fly with, maybe, but wings all the same. They extended an arm span to either side, opaque as new vellum. He stretched them as if it felt good to have them free of confinement. It probably did, too. “He’s a rhekaro!”

  The man in the wolf mask was clearly amused now. “My magic is better than this Orëska’s for hiding them.”

  The tall rhekaro didn’t resemble Sebrahn in his features, yet he had the same ethereal look.

  Wolf face made no move to stop Sebrahn as he wiggled free and went to Alec. Kneeling beside him, brown and silver hair spread around him like a striped cloak, Sebrahn touched a cold finger to Alec’s lip, then licked the blood from it. A woman in a lynx mask placed a wooden cup of water and a small knife on the floor beside Sebrahn. He made a healing flower and pressed it to Alec’s lip. Alec’s nostrils filled with the familiar sweet smell. He ran his tongue over the healed place and waited for the others’ reactions.

  The man in the wolf mask knelt beside Sebrahn and gently took his hand to let another drop fall into the cup. “I’ve never seen one this color,” he said, inspecting the new flower. “But the effect is the sa
me. I looked at your fingers. You feed him too much. That’s why his hair is so long. They don’t need to eat except when they’ve used their magic, or are badly injured.”

  Alec thought of how depleted Sebrahn had been in Plenimar, and how it had taken days of careful feeding to bring him back to what passed for health. Clearly this man, this companion of a man-sized rhekaro, knew more than Alec did about them. “What do you want with Sebrahn? You have one of your own.”

  “I’m more interested in what you want with it, ya’shel. How did you learn to create it?”

  “I didn’t. It was made from me without my consent.”

  “If that’s true, then why are you taking it to Plenimar?”

  “We’re not.”

  “I know that you are. Are you in league with the dark witches of that land?”

  “That particular dark witch is dead,” said Seregil, and Alec wondered how long he’d been awake listening.

  The man turned to him. “How do you know this?”

  “Because I killed him.”

  “Really? What proof do you have of that?”

  Seregil struggled to sit up against the wall, hampered by his bound hands and feet. He was pale and had a familiar sickly look to him; whatever magic had been used on them wasn’t agreeing with him at all. Even so, he still managed to look a little cocky as he said, “We have the tayan’gil. You can see who he was made from just by looking at him, can’t you? He was made in Plenimar and we escaped with him.”

  “Then why would you go back?”

  “So we can keep any more tayan’gils from being made.”

  “That’s a good tale.”

  “I swear by Aura, it’s the truth. But I am rather curious as to why you have one.”

  “That’s no concern of yours, Aurënfaie.” With that, the man and the one in the fox mask went outside, leaving Sebrahn with them, and the woman in the lynx mask to guard them. Alec caught a glimpse of other masked figures moving around outside as Sebrahn nestled in beside him and rested his head on Alec’s shoulder. Their guard had grey in her hair, too.

 
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