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

  “As you are at escaping. Two of my riders are nursing sore heads.”

  “I could just as easily have killed them,” Seregil replied, and he could tell the man believed him.

  “Why didn’t you?”

  “You may be strangers, and damn troublesome ones, too, but you’re still ’faie. Is that why my friends and I are still alive?”


  “Let me ask you something, then, before you try to kill me again. Why aren’t you all dead? Our rhekaro—tayan’gil, that is—sang. People usually die when he does that.”

  “Sang? Is that what you call it? One of my young riders did die, so you have that blood on your hands. It made me and the others very sick, but we share the same blood as the tayan’gil, so it does not affect us the way it would the Tír or other ’faie.”

  “You got off easy, then.” He masked his concern as he looked back at Sebrahn in the other rhekaro’s arms. He looked perfectly content, the little traitor!

  “They’re like that,” said Rieser. “Yours is different than the others, but alike enough to feel the bond.”

  Seregil raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Others? How many others?”

  “That’s no concern of yours, Bôkthersa.”

  “So you make them, too? How are you any better than the ‘dark witches’?”

  “We don’t make them! We gather in those that are made and keep them safe. This little one can never be safe in your world. You must know that by now.”

  Seregil nodded slightly, glad Alec wasn’t hearing all this. “They can kill and heal.”

  “Tayan’gil do not kill, or sing, for that matter. They have no voice at all. Except for this one of yours. I think it must be because of the tainted blood it was made with.”

  Seregil let the insult pass, thinking back to what Tyrus and his dragon had told them; somehow, Alec’s blood had made a stronger rhekaro, the only one of its kind—unless another alchemist got hold of Alec and the book. “But it also heals people, and very well, too. I imagine that makes some people rather greedy to own one. We’ve been trying to protect him, too. Alec—the ya’shel—considers him his child. He had a prophecy about a ‘child of no woman’ and Sebrahn appears to be just that.”

  “It is no child,” warned Rieser. “The witch says that this one of yours can raise the dead. Is this true?”

  “Why would he think that?” Seregil didn’t like where this was heading.

  “He sees what he sees, more deeply than you or I. He told me that your ya’shel has two lives.”

  “Really?” Seregil returned dryly, sidestepping the question of Alec’s death. “So, here we are. You can’t attack us, and we can’t get away. What shall we do?”

  Rieser considered this for a moment, then lowered his sword slightly. “I will make you a bargain.”

  “I’m listening.”

  “I will let you all live if you will give me the book, the tayan’gil, and the ya’shel.”

  “We don’t have the book, Alec will have something to say about you taking Sebrahn away, and you can’t have Alec.”

  “As long as the ya’shel walks in this world, he is a danger.”

  “As I said, the dark witch—who is actually called an alchemist, by the way—who made Sebrahn is dead. He won’t be making any more tayan’gil out of anyone, and if I can get those books, neither will anyone else. You’re welcome to them. Take them off to your valley and guard them all you like. But Alec stays with me. That’s not on the table. And if you kill him, then you’d better make certain I’m dead, too. Otherwise I’ll hunt you to the ends of the earth and leave your meat for the crows. Then again, Sebrahn will probably do the job for me. You may have survived wounding Alec, but if you kill him, the results will be dire.”

  Rieser considered this for a moment, then shrugged. “It’s madness to take the ya’shel into Plenimar, and unthinkable to take the tayan’gil. Your ‘alchemist’ may be dead, but there could be others who know what Sebrahn is, and seek to own him.”

  “Well, we can’t really leave him just anywhere. He won’t be parted from—” Seregil paused, struck by a sudden realization. Sebrahn hadn’t been with them when they’d awakened in that ruined hut. And he’d tried to get free and find the other rhekaro—or tayan’gil—every time they got close to the masked bastards. Which meant—

  “As you see, you can leave Sebrahn with Hâzadriën,” Rieser said with a knowing look.

  “Really?” A guilty hope sprang up in Seregil’s heart, one he quickly quashed. “Even if that’s so, why would we leave Sebrahn here? What’s to stop you from taking him away the minute we’re out of sight?”

  “Because I will go with you to Plenimar. My people will not go home without me.”

  Seregil stared at him in surprise. “And how is that any less insane than taking a half-breed? You’re the pure article.”

  “I can take care of myself, Bôkthersa. I will leave you and your talímenios alive if—”

  “And Micum.”

  “And the Tírfaie, if you will give me the books once you have them.”

  “Just like that?”

  “Yes. If what you say is true, then without the book, they cannot be made. That is the mission of the Ebrados, to keep that from happening.”

  “Ebrados?” He’d never heard that word before, but the parts were as archaic as tayan. “‘White road riders’?”


  “What does that mean?”

  “It means a number of things, none of which are any concern of yours. Now, do you accept my bargain or not?”

  “I’ll have to speak to the others. And assuming that we do get the book and make it back, what about Sebrahn?”

  Rieser regarded him impassively.

  “Right.” Seregil stole a look back at Alec, who stood with Micum, watching them intently. “Alec will never agree.”

  “We will see, when the time comes. But I stand by my pledge for your safety if you keep your part of the bargain. You have my word.”

  “And what is that worth, when you give it to a stranger?”

  The older man’s mouth twitched in what was in no way a smile. “You don’t want ’faie blood on your hands. Neither do I.”

  “I need to speak with my friends.”

  “Be sure to make it clear that your only other option is to stay where you are and die of cold and thirst. We can outwait you and we will not weep for any of you.”

  “I’ll keep that in mind.” Without thinking, he made Rieser a slight bow, and was amply repaid by the surprise on the other man’s face as he returned it.

  He turned over all the things Rieser had said as he walked the short distance back to the others, all the while thinking of how peaceful Sebrahn looked in the arms of the rhekaro called Hâzadriën—

  Hâzadriën? Seregil looked back over his shoulder at the tall rhekaro. Rieser spoke of it as “he,” but was it just his imagination that the face could just as easily be that of a woman? No, it wasn’t possible.

  “Why do they still have Sebrahn?” Alec asked.

  “The only reason we’re still alive is that we still have you, and that’s not a very strong guarantee, seeing as how they came all the way down here to finish the job they started the day your mother died.” Alec’s stricken look made Seregil hate himself, but there was no time for coddling now. “They have us in a narrow place, literally. Look around. Even if we could get past them, or over these trees without them catching us, how far are we going to get with no horses, no weapons, no food—”

  “What else are we supposed to do?”

  “He’s offered us a trade. He goes with us to steal Yhakobin’s book, and we leave Sebrahn here as a ransom while we’re gone.”

  Alec’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “You’re not serious?”

  “It will make our task considerably easier, Alec. Look at him.” There was more silver showing in Sebrahn’s hair this morning. “Do you really want to risk having him fall into the hands of another alchemist?”

>   “No—” Alec gazed up the trail at Sebrahn, frowning at dark memories. “But even if we wanted to, how could we leave him? He’ll have another of his fits.”

  “They flock to their own kind. He’s happy with Hâzadriën. Didn’t you notice that he wasn’t there after we were captured?”

  “But he’ll starve!”

  “If Rieser is telling us the truth, he doesn’t need to eat that often.”

  Alec’s blue eyes were accusing now. “You want to leave him, don’t you? You want to be rid of him!”

  Seregil had made a vow long ago never to lie to Alec, and he’d never broken it. For that reason, he said nothing, knowing his silence would be damning enough. Alec turned away, but Seregil could read the set of his shoulders as well as if he could see his face.

  All I care about is you, talí! And Micum. If Sebrahn is the price of your lives …

  “And this man will go with us, just like that?” asked Micum, looking skeptical. “What’s to keep us from slitting his throat a mile down the road and circling back for Sebrahn?”

  Seregil shrugged. “Atui, Micum. But if he breaks it first, then that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

  “What is your answer, Bôkthersa?” Rieser called.

  “A moment, please!”

  Seregil went to Alec. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, he looked sidelong at the younger man and whispered, “I don’t see another way right now, but it’s up to you.”

  “You want this?”

  “I want to get us out of here alive. I want to get in and out of Plenimar without attracting attention or having you and Sebrahn fall into the hands of another alchemist, or worse. Leaving Sebrahn here makes sense on both accounts.”

  “Do you really believe that his people won’t just leave?”

  “I don’t know, but we have time between here and Ero to figure that out. Right now, I don’t see that we have much choice except to go along with him.”

  Alec rubbed at his eyes and took a deep breath. “All right. But if I decide I don’t trust him, then we go back to our original plan.”

  “Agreed. Micum?”

  The other man shrugged. “I’m just a Tír along for the ride. But I don’t think his precious honor holds him to keeping his word to the likes of me.”

  “I have his assurance on that, too. So, we’re all agreed?”

  The others nodded. Together they walked back up the trail to where Rieser was waiting.

  “Trust me, talí,” Seregil whispered to Alec, but the younger man said nothing, keeping his gaze fixed on Sebrahn.

  “What have you decided?” asked Rieser.

  “We need a show of good faith,” said Seregil.

  “Do you?” The grim-faced bastard sounded amused.

  “We want our weapons and gear back.”

  “And our own horses,” added Micum.

  “Gear and horses for now. We’ll see about the weapons later.”

  “And Sebrahn rides with me,” said Alec.


  “We’re supposed to trust you, but you don’t trust us?” Alec shouted. “Sebrahn rides with me, or you can all go to the crows!”

  “You can carry him, and walk,” Rieser countered.


  “I’ll take turns with you, and so will Seregil,” said Micum.

  “Then it’s settled.” Seregil extended a hand to Rieser. The man clasped it grudgingly, and the deal was struck.

  So it was that Alec and the others came to be sitting around a morning campfire with Rieser, the two rhekaros, the witch Turmay, and half a dozen Ebrados, sharing a tense, silent breakfast while Naba and the rest were at work on the trail below, dragging the fallen trees aside. Alec’s dried venison and bread were like leather and ashes in his mouth as he thought of leaving Sebrahn with strangers, even if the rhekaro didn’t care. That hurt a bit, too. More than a bit.

  It took considerable effort to turn his initial anger at Seregil onto Rieser instead, though Alec knew in his heart that Seregil had done the best he could. As he grew calmer, he regretted that he hadn’t answered Seregil’s plea for trust as they’d walked back to surrender. The look in Seregil’s eyes then had made Alec’s heart turn over in his chest, but there was nothing he could do about that right now except to keep his guard up and his eyes open.

  From where he sat, it was a short sprint to where his bow and sword were, strapped to the back of a white packhorse. Windrunner and Cynril were tethered nearby; Patch, Star, and Micum’s horses were gone, put to work hauling trees.

  “So how did you get ahead of us on the trail?” Seregil asked Rieser, seemingly at ease now and playing as if he didn’t already know that answer.

  Rieser spared him a brief glance, then turned back to minding the fire.

  “My oo’lu has a long voice,” the witch told him, grinning.

  “You signaled someone?” asked Seregil, showing the witch more respect than he did his master. “Who?”

  “I have—”

  “That’s enough,” growled Rieser.

  “As you like, friend. As you like,” the little man chuckled, but Alec was almost certain he saw a flash of something less friendly in the witch’s black eyes. Small and dirty as he was, Alec could feel a power in him, and felt a gut level mix of respect and dread when he saw the way the dark tracery on the witch’s face and hands seemed to move on its own with his moods. Micum was watching him closely, too, and gave Alec the slightest hint of a nod as their eyes met.

  Seregil was not oblivious, he knew, but was playing his own game—one he was very good at.

  Pointing over at Sebrahn, who was still with Hâzadriën, Alec asked, “So, why are they drawn to each other like that?”

  Rieser looked annoyed. “It’s the blood.”

  “You mentioned others last night. Do they all look like yours?”

  “More than yours does.”

  “Do they all favor the one they are made from?” asked Seregil. “Sebrahn certainly looks like Alec, and nothing at all like Hâzadriën.”

  “They do,” a young man replied. He had the same dark hair and long face as Rieser, but appeared to be half his age and twice as friendly. “Or at least that’s what I’ve been told. Except for the coloring, they all are a little different in the face.”

  “Is that why this one has a woman’s face but a man’s name?”

  “They have no sex,” Rieser snapped. “Shut up and eat. We ride as soon as the way is clear.” He turned to one of the older men. “Sorengil, you’re in charge. If any of the captives give you trouble, bind and gag them. Turmay, come with me.” Tossing his last crust into the fire, Rieser stalked away down the hill to oversee the work.

  With weapons, Alec and the others probably could have taken the half dozen men and the woman left, but Alec had no idea what the witch would do and Seregil seemed content to play the toss as thrown for now.

  Sorengil looked to be the same age and temperament as Rieser, while the one who’d answered Seregil appeared to be friendlier.

  “What’s your name?” Alec asked him, sensing a weak point on the enemy’s side.

  “Kalien í Rothis. And you?”

  “Alec í—”

  “Bastards don’t name their fathers,” one of the young ones sneered, tossing the bit of stick he’d been whittling into the fire just close enough to stir up sparks in Alec’s direction. This one was maybe even younger than Alec in pure ’faie years.

  “That’s enough, Rane,” warned Sorengil.

  “I’ll speak to him if I want! Who has more right than I do?” Rane snapped back.

  “Let him speak,” the youngish woman with dark eyes said, sparing Alec a none-too-friendly look.

  Alec looked around and found the others watching him like a pack of wolves, looking for his weaknesses. “What do you mean by that?” he asked, meeting the younger man’s glare with one of his own.

  “I mean, you whore’s get, that you’ve cost me a father and a brother already, and I’ll be more than happy to stick th
e knife in you when the time comes!”

  “Rane, I said stop it,” Sorengil ordered.

  “I don’t mind him,” Alec shot back. “If my tayan’gil’s song killed your kin, then you’ve got no one but yourself to blame. We didn’t skulk after you through a snowstorm, now, did we?”

  The boy launched himself across the fire at Alec, drawing a belt knife before any of the others could react.

  Rane was fast, but Alec was faster. He jerked out of the way and caught him by the wrist, using the boy’s own momentum to flip him on his back and wrench the weapon away. Grabbing up the fallen blade, Alec straddled his chest and had the blade to Rane’s throat before the other Hâzad pulled him off. The seemingly friendly one nearly broke Alec’s fingers taking the knife away. Only then did Alec see that Seregil and Micum were on their feet now, too, and that Seregil was holding a struggling Sebrahn around the waist, a hand clamped over the rhekaro’s mouth as he whispered frantically into Sebrahn’s ear.

  Kalien got an arm around Rane’s neck and restrained him. “Sit down, ya’shel, and your friends, too, or this will end badly for all of us.”

  “I had a father,” Rane wheezed, struggling to get loose. “His name was Syall í Konthus, and he died hunting the filthy cur of a Tírfaie that rutted you into your mother’s belly! And your cursed tayan’gil killed my brother.”

  “My father was a good man!” Alec yelled, lunging against the arms that held him back. “Your people killed my mother!”

  “Let them fight,” some of the others urged, forming a loose circle around them. “No knives, just fists!”

  Alec glanced back at Sebrahn, who was clawing at Seregil’s hands now, and then at Seregil, who was regarding him steadily.

  If I let Sebrahn go, you know what will happen, that look said, clear as a hand sign. Is that what you want me to do?

  As tempting as it was, Alec couldn’t do it. Not against an angry boy who’d lost his father, even if it wasn’t Alec’s fault.

  He dropped his arms to his sides. “I’ve eaten your food. I won’t dishonor myself and my talímenios,” he shot back. But he couldn’t resist adding, “Or my parents’ memory.”

  “What about you, Rane?” Sorengil demanded. “Does the ya’shel have more atui than you?”

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