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


  “Any Hâzadriëlfaie can feed a tayan’gil. We all share the same blood. Think what you like of us, but my people will not let Sebrahn go hungry or be harmed.”

  “Anyone?” Alec looked positively dismayed at that.

  Seregil’s heart went out to him. First the little rhekaro’s disregard for their departure, and now this. Perhaps this will help him accept the truth, and what has to happen when we get back.

  Turning to Rieser, he asked, “How did Hâzadriël and her people come to be in that valley?”

  “How much do you know of her?”

  “Only that she had some sort of vision, gathered up some followers, and headed north.”

  “That’s the end of the story, but not the beginning. She was captured by the Plenimarans, and was used by a—What did you call them?”

  “Alchemist.”

  “Yes, by an alchemist to make Hâzadriën. Somehow she escaped, and brought four other ’faie back with her, and five tayan’gils, including Hâzadriën. They were the only ones to return. What she saw in Plenimar—” Rieser paused and made some sort of sign with his right hand, probably one of reverence, or warding. “It was only then that it was revealed to her that her blood and those of the people she saw treated in the same manner was different, special.”

  “Dragon’s blood,” Alec murmured.

  Rieser gave him a surprised look. “Yes, we are blessed with the Great Dragon’s favor. It is our gift and our burden.”

  “Do they all have the power to heal?” asked Micum.

  Rieser acted as if he hadn’t heard him.

  “Do they?” asked Seregil.

  “Yes. They are a treasure to our people. Some even count them as a gift of Aura, but the white blood was a curse when we lived within the grasp of the Tír. They tortured and enslaved us to make tayan’gils, and bled us to make dark magic.”

  “Not my people,” Micum replied.

  Rieser smiled darkly. “Oh, yes. Tayan’gils have been found in all the Tír lands over the years, so it isn’t only the Plenimarans who know the secret of their making. That’s why we withdrew so far. There were no Tír near the valley you call Ravensfell when she led her people there. Now that there are, we have to guard ourselves all the more carefully.”

  “I’m from Kerry,” Alec told him. “Most people up there don’t even believe in you anymore. I always thought the ’faie were just some tales the bards told.”

  “Your father knew better,” Rieser pointed out. “Did he lie to you, his only child?”

  “To protect him,” Seregil cut in. “To keep him from going off to look for his mother’s people, or seek revenge. Alec’s father knew what would happen to him if he got anywhere near you.”

  “How did your father meet her in the first place, Alec, if you don’t mind me asking?” said Micum.

  “He never told me anything about her, except that she died when I was born. Whenever I asked more questions, he’d go silent. Sometimes he looked sad.” Alec paused, gazing off into the distance as if he could see his past there. “He had no people, so it was just him and me, all those years, always moving around. We never went near the pass.” He turned to Rieser. “It was because he knew about the Ebrados, wasn’t it? You came hunting us.”

  “Of course. Until the day our captain’s horse came back with blood on the saddle. We always assumed that he’d found you, and that your father had killed him.”

  “No. I would have known.” Alec paused. “He did leave me with an innkeeper sometimes, when I was little. Maybe he knew that the Ebrados were close by.”

  “He was a brave, good man,” said Micum.

  Alec swallowed hard. “I never knew. He was just—my father. He didn’t even carry a sword.”

  “If he was half the archer you are, he wouldn’t have needed one.”

  “A good man wouldn’t have left the mother of his son to die alone,” said Rieser.

  “He didn’t!” growled Alec. “I saw what happened, in a vision at Sarikali. He was trying to save her when she died. Your people killed her before he could, but he saved me.”

  “He didn’t know what he was doing,” Rieser replied solemnly.

  “So that’s what you Ebrados do? Kill innocent people?”

  “The ones we kill are not innocent. Men came looking for us and we killed them to protect ourselves. Others caught some of us who unwisely ventured out of the valley, and carried them away to make more tayan’gils. The Ebrados hunted every one of them down, and brought back the Hâzad, if they still lived, and the tayan’gils. We take care of our own.”

  “Just how many tayan’gils do you have?” asked Seregil.

  “Nineteen. They are gentle, silent creatures like Hâzadriën, and great healers.” He turned to Alec again. “They are treated with the highest respect.”

  Alec frowned and looked away.

  “But you’re willing to risk Hâzadriën, to bring him along as your healer?” asked Seregil.

  “It was Hâzadriël’s will, when she led the Ebrados. And it’s not only that. He can sense others of his kind. He helped Turmay find you, and now you see how he cares for Sebrahn. When the time comes, Sebrahn will come with him willingly.”

  “But he’s not harmless like the others,” said Alec, still frowning. “What will you do with him?”

  “That is up to our khirnari, but I know he will come to no harm, as long as he causes none.”

  “How did alchemists find out about the white blood in the first place?” wondered Seregil. “You don’t look any different than any other ’faie. How did Hâzadriël know, for that matter?”

  Rieser shrugged. “Aura guided Hâzadriël to find others with the same special blood. The annals say that she was guided by visions. She did not go north until the Lightbringer revealed the way to her.”

  “You weren’t a people then, were you?”

  “No. We were scattered among all the clans. Some ’faie have magic. Some have music or the hand for art. We had the white blood of the Dragon.”

  “How could no one else in Aurënen ever have known?” Seregil wondered.

  “They knew at Sarikali. That is where she went with the first rhekaros, and that is where she was given her first vision that sent her to find the people of the blood.”

  “She must have been a very strong woman,” said Micum.

  Rieser finally spared him a glance. “She was. We strive to be worthy of her legacy, and that of all our forebears.”

  A proud people, thought Seregil. That would make them all the more dangerous.

  “We should have gone to Sarikali when we had the chance,” said Alec. “If she could take a rhekaro there, then we could have, too!”

  “Other rhekaros can’t kill,” Seregil reminded him.

  “We could have found a way.”

  Seregil sighed inwardly. He didn’t blame Alec for being angry right now, and probably feeling helpless into the bargain. All Seregil could do was trust that he wouldn’t do anything stupid and impulsive. Alec was too smart for that.

  Even so, Seregil was still all too aware of the pain his talímenios was in, and how much he hated their unwanted companion. He had no doubt that if Rieser tried anything, he wouldn’t get more than a bowshot away.

  They came in sight of Ero early the following afternoon. The ruins of the citadel were visible for miles, and Alec forgot his simmering worries for a moment at the sight of them.

  The remains of towering walls and ruined castles stood stark against the blue sky on a high promontory. As they drew closer, he could make out the broken outline of the wall that had encircled the city from harbor front to the citadel. It hadn’t been as large a place as Rhíminee, but still worthy of a royal capital.

  “Someday when we have time, I’ll take you up there,” Seregil told him. “It was called the Palatine, and all the nobles in Ero had palaces and villas there.”

  “What happened to this city?” asked Rieser.

  “The Plenimarans burned most of it when they raided it in Queen Tam?
?r’s day.”

  “How long ago?” asked Rieser.

  “Five centuries. Later on the rest of it burned again. I think they just gave up on it in the end. Some even say it bears a curse, from the days when Tamír’s kinsmen seized control. Plague was a problem, too, though that was more likely a problem with the swamps or drains than a curse. It must have been a beautiful place in its day, though. You can still find traces of murals inside some of the old villas and palaces, and a bit of statuary. They were a very prosperous people. The original royal crypt is up there, too, or what’s left of it. Queen Tamír had the remains of her kin moved to Rhíminee when she built her new city.”

  Alec resisted an urge to snap at Seregil. When he fell into his storytelling ways, he could go on for a long time. Rieser didn’t need to know all this. Deep down, however, he realized that what he really resented was the familiar way Seregil was speaking with the Hâzad, almost as if they were comrades by choice.

  Play every role to the hilt, Alec. He knew that this was what Seregil was doing, but with rather more relish than Alec was feeling right now.

  “The Skalans must be a powerful people,” said Rieser, shading his eyes as he stared out at the ruins. “I’ve never seen cities as large as they have here.”

  “They are a good people, overall,” Seregil told him.

  Rieser snorted at that.

  They reached the outskirts of the old wall and followed it past scattered farmsteads and pastures to Beggar’s Bridge, which lay just south of the old city. There really was an ancient stone bridge there; a large one, with traces of the ornate carvings that had once decorated it.

  “That’s a pretty fancy bit of work, to be called Beggar’s Bridge, don’t you think, Alec?” Micum remarked.

  “I suppose so.”

  “Seregil?”

  “I don’t know. Maybe it was a popular place for people to beg.”

  Beggar’s Bridge was small but didn’t seem particularly impoverished. In fact it was no different from any of the little ports Alec had seen. There were a number of small vessels moored close to shore, and several larger ones farther out. Even from here he recognized the Lady. She was sleeker than the high-prowed trading carracks, and was the only ship there with battle platforms.

  It was getting dark as they entered the town through a simple gate.

  “Don’t speak unless you have no choice. Your accent is too thick,” Seregil warned Rieser.

  “Who would I speak to here?” the man replied, wrinkling his nose at the stench from the gutters.

  The one small square had a shrine to Astellus, the patron deity of sailors, fishermen, and women in labor. The lintel was carved with the traditional wave pattern, and there were dozens of little wax votives shaped like boats and fish scattered in front of it.

  The Sea Horse Tavern was a respectable one-story establishment near the waterfront. It had a low thatched roof, and its whitewashed walls were painted with the same wave design in blue.

  “Remember, don’t start any conversations,” Seregil murmured as they dismounted in front of the stable. Leaving their horses in the care of the stable hand, they shouldered their packs and went inside.

  The front room was crowded, but Seregil quickly spotted Rhal’s cabin boy, Dani, standing by a window overlooking the harbor. As soon as the boy caught sight of them, he pushed through the crowd and began to bow to them. Seregil caught him by the shoulder in time, not wanting to draw attention.

  “It’s good to see you again, my l—”

  “No names here, Dani,” Seregil ordered, keeping his voice down.

  “Well, welcome anyway, sir. And you, sirs!” He nodded to Alec and Micum, then gave Rieser a curious look. The Hâzad turned away with a grunt and glared around at the crowd, clearly uncomfortable being in such close quarters with so many Tírfaie.

  “How’s your captain?” Seregil asked the boy.

  “He’s fine, sir. He sends his regards. I’ll row you out now, if you like.”

  “Is Tarmin still doing the cooking?” asked Micum.

  “Aye, sir.”

  “Then I say we take our chances here.”

  Seregil chuckled at that. “Not a bad idea.”

  The house’s jellied eel pie was not a disappointment, and a far cry from what Alec recalled of the bland fare favored by Rhal and his largely Mycenian crew. When they were done, they left the stable boy with enough silver to ensure that their horses would be well cared for until they returned. Giving the horses a few last apples and some affectionate scratching, they set out along the dark street with their packs and saddlebags slung over their shoulders.

  Beggar’s Bridge had no piers or jetties, just a line of dinghies upended on the beach. Dani and Alec dragged their boat down to the water’s edge.

  “What has the Lady been up to since we last saw you?”

  Dani gave him a gap-toothed grin. “We took thirteen carracks this winter, and one of them was loaded with north country gold baps. Another had Aurënfaie wine and silks and all sorts of lady’s things. There were even some slaves, and we carried them all the way home to Aurënen. We lost two, though. They threw themselves overboard. Damned if I know why.”

  “The Lightbearer will bless you all with luck for your kindness to those who made it home,” said Seregil.

  Dani manned the oars and they were soon skimming along past the fishing boats and out toward the broad mouth of what had been Ero Harbor.

  The Green Lady’s two masts cast writhing double lines of black across the water; Alec could just make out the shape of her figurehead. The “green lady” pressed one hand to her ample bosom, the other to her rounded belly. The flowing folds of her dark hair and gown shone silver and black in the moonlight.

  Lanterns glowed fore and aft, and the windows of the cabins at the stern were lit up. Dani put his fingers to his lips and let out a shrill whistle as they approached. With a crew of forty men one step up from being pirates, it was better not to surprise anyone.

  The boy’s whistle was answered with another and was followed by the rattle and splash of the rope ladder being let down for them.

  Rhal—together with his helmsman, Skywake, and Nettles, the first mate—was there to meet them as they climbed aboard. “Welcome, my lords. And Micum Cavish, too! Well met, sir. It’s been a while. How’s the leg?”

  “I manage,” Micum laughed, clasping hands with Rhal.

  The captain was dark and stocky, and going a bit bald, but still rakish enough to attract women in any port. He was northern-born, like Micum and Alec, and with his black beard he could pass for a Plenimaran. On occasion, he had. He greeted Seregil and Alec warmly, then turned to Rieser and extended his hand. “I haven’t had the pleasure, sir.”

  Rieser ignored the hand. “I am Rieser í Stellen.”

  “I can’t place your accent.”

  “No need to,” Seregil told him.

  “Fair enough.” Rhal was used to secrets. “It’s been a long time since you’ve called for me.”

  “We had a bit of trouble.”

  “You have a ‘bit of trouble’ more often than not,” Rhal noted as he led them belowdecks to the small guest cabin. “What was it this time? Angry wizards? Plots against the queen? An outraged wife? Or did you get caught in the wrong house with your fingers in the jewel box?”

  “Slavery, actually,” Alec told him.

  Rhal shook his head. “Well, that’s a new one.”

  “You are lords and thieves?” asked Rieser.

  “Depends on the company,” Seregil replied.

  Their cabin was more luxurious than Alec recalled. The wide bunk was fitted out with a red velvet coverlet with silver fringe, and an ornate lantern on the hook overhead cast fretwork shadows across the small polished table, the velvet tufted chairs, and the silver cups and crystal decanter in a fancy leather box on the narrow sideboard.

  “What happened here?” asked Seregil. “It looks like a Street of Lights whorehouse.”

  “We’ve had good fishi
ng,” Rhal replied with a wink as he poured them cups of fine Zengati brandy.

  “So Dani said. Have you given the queen her share?”

  “Of course, but that doesn’t mean I can’t keep the best back for myself. And you, of course, as our patron. I’ve sent your share in coin to your man in Wheel Street.”

  “Thank you.”

  Alec knew that Seregil never asked for an accounting; he had more gold than he knew what to do with in various Rhíminee money houses, under various names. He did the same with clothing and traveling gear; he had caches all over the city in sewer tunnels and abandoned houses, always ready for a quick change or escape.

  Rhal and Rieser remained standing as the others found places on the room’s two chairs and the bed. “So, where are we bound this time?”

  “Riga,” Alec told him.

  Rhal raised an eyebrow. “That’s a tall order. The Overlord has half his navy anchored there, and most of the ships are full of marines.”

  “You can put us ashore outside the city where you’ll draw less attention,” said Seregil.

  “It still means changing the sails. We’ll have to put in at one of the Strait Isles for at least a day.” He’d captured a set of striped Plenimaran sails soon after the Lady first sailed and often used them to slip into enemy waters. “I can have you across in a week, if the winds cooperate. In the meantime, if the shape in that bag of yours is what I think it is, perhaps you and Lord Alec can provide us with some entertainment during the crossing.”

  Seregil reached into the bag at his feet and took out the harp Adzriel had given him. He plucked a few notes and grimaced. “After a bit of tuning.”

  Alec reached into his own bag and took out one of the iron collars. “We need another of these, too.”

  “I’ve got a collection of them, taken off the poor bastards we found on some of the ships we’ve taken,” said Rhal. “Now, for accommodations. There isn’t room for all of you in here.”

  “I’ll berth with the crew, if they have an extra hammock,” said Micum.

  “There’s no need for that. Take the third cabin, next to mine.”

  “I will sleep on the deck,” Rieser told him.

 
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