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

  “Don’t you remember what I told you when we first met, when I was trying to talk you into staying with me?”

  “That you’d seen dragons flying under a full moon?”

  “You’ll see them, too, talí.”

  “How? When?”

  Seregil grinned and exchanged a look with his sister. “I’d rather have it be a surprise.”

  “Have it your way,” he said, bemused. He turned to Adzriel. “You think Sebrahn is actually a dragon?”

  “No, but he seems to be connected to them in some way, if only through the oracle. Since Sarikali is out of the question, you must bring him to Tyrus.”

  “Why can’t we go to Sarikali?” asked Alec.

  “I’ll explain later. What do you say, talí?” asked Seregil.

  “I say we go!”

  Seregil smiled. “Then it’s settled. Thank you, sister.”

  She rose and kissed them both on the forehead. “I’ll send word to my captain to get the ship provisioned. It will take some time, but Alec must have more time to regain his strength.”

  “I’m fine!”

  Adzriel laughed as she went out. “That’s for Mydri to say, little brother.”

  Seregil chuckled, too, knowing that Alec was heartily sick of people fussing over him. The promise of Bôkthersa was probably more than enough to make it bearable, though.

  Going home at last, he thought with a mix of excitement and concern.

  Micum and the wizards came back soon after Adzriel had gone. Micum limped over to the bed and sat down. “We overheard your sister speaking with our host. I take it we’re not settling down here?”

  “‘Guests and fish stink after three days,’ as they say,” Seregil told him with a crooked grin. “Are you all going back to Skala together?”

  Micum raised an eyebrow. “If you think you two are going anywhere without me, you’d better think again. I’m not letting you out of my sight until you’re both safely settled, since you can’t seem to keep out of trouble.”

  “What about Kari?” asked Alec.

  “Thero’s already taken care of that with one of those message spells.”

  “What did she say?” asked Seregil, though he had a pretty good notion.

  Thero grimaced. “That she’d skin both me and Micum if we let anything else happen to either of you. Even allowing for the auditory limits of the spell, I had the impression that she meant it quite literally. She won’t be happy if she finds out I’ve deserted you. To be honest, I wish I was going with you.” Thero grinned in a way Seregil never would have imagined him capable of.

  Micum laughed. “He’s finally gotten a taste of nightrunning and likes it. Don’t worry, Thero. I’ve had years of practice managing Seregil, and Alec’s not half the bother.”

  “I suspect it will be easier than facing the prince and lying,” the young wizard replied. “I’ve never done that before. I don’t think Nysander ever did, either.”

  “With Sebrahn’s powers, perhaps the rhekaro could end the war,” mused Magyana.

  “Or wipe out the court and a lot of innocent Skalans,” said Alec. “As you said, Thero, you and Magyana can best protect us by convincing everyone there that we’re still recuperating.”

  “When we’re not rummaging about in the Orëska vaults,” he said as he and Magyana rose to go.

  “I’m rather looking forward to it,” said Magyana. “It’s been a while since I poked around down there.”

  Seregil closed the door after them, then pulled off his boots and stretched out beside Alec, frowning.

  “You’re worried about taking him to Bôkthersa, aren’t you?” asked Alec.

  “Yes.” Seregil took Alec’s hand and absently rubbed his thumb over the scar on the palm. “But if Tyrus does know what Sebrahn is, that may go a long way to figuring out what to do. In the meantime, we need to keep a tight rein on him.” He looked at the rhekaro, who was now watching them from the foot of the bed. “No more singing, you. Understand? Bad.”


  “That’s right,” Alec said. “And now, I need a real bath!”

  “Yes, you do.” Basin baths could only accomplish so much, but Seregil didn’t really mind; when he was locked in that cold cellar room under Yhakobin’s house, beaten and sick, Alec’s unwashed scent on a pillow had saved his sanity and reaffirmed his resolve. It affected him the same way now, but this time Alec was safe beside him.

  Never again!

  “Talí?” He smoothed a hand over Alec’s back, letting his fingers count the knobs of the younger man’s spine.

  His only answer was soft, even breathing. Alec was fast asleep. Seregil smiled and settled back against the pillows. Baths could wait.

  “Ahek. Sleeeeping,” Sebrahn rasped.

  “Yes, sleeping. Go to the window.”

  The rhekaro slowly slid off the bed and went back to the window seat. Once there, he fixed his gaze on the two of them. Perhaps it was a trick of the rain still beating against the windowpanes, making the light cast weird shadows, but Seregil could have sworn that Sebrahn looked resentful.

  Can’t be helped, he thought. I had him first and you’re going to have to be the one who makes do.


  Wizard’s Work

  THE WIZARDS were at their door early the following morning.

  Magyana reached into her coat and gave Seregil a handful of small, painted willow wands. “Here are your message sticks. Break one and Thero and I will know you need us and where you are. And do try to hang on to them this time.”

  Seregil gave her a wry look as he pocketed them. “Thank you.”

  “I have something for you, too,” said Thero. “Actually, it’s an experiment of sorts. I was up all night designing it. Nysander excelled at transformation spells, and he passed that on to me. I think I might be able to give Sebrahn a more normal appearance. I’d be happier attempting it in a proper casting room, but here we are. First, Alec, make Sebrahn understand that I mean no harm.”

  Alec reached out to Sebrahn and took his hands. “Thero is a friend, remember? He’s going to help you, so don’t be scared.”

  Looking somewhat less than reassured, Thero took a lump of blue chalk from his belt pouch. “Move the bed against the wall and roll back the carpet, will you?”

  Seregil and Micum pushed the heavy rope bed out of the way with Alec still in it, and drew back the carpet. Thero drew a wide circle on the bare floorboards and inscribed a complex ring of symbols around the inside rim. Standing in the center of it, he ran a critical eye over his handiwork. “There. That should hold in the damage, if it all goes wrong.”

  “Goes wrong how? And what do you mean, ‘should’?” demanded Micum.

  “Well, I’ve never attempted magic on a being of this nature. Don’t worry, I’ll start with something simple. Bring Sebrahn into the circle, Seregil. And I need a few strands of Alec’s hair, since Sebrahn was made from him.”

  Alec gave him the hair and the others joined him, sitting on the edge of the bed.

  Thero took out his crystal wand and wrapped the hairs around it. With his free hand he gathered Sebrahn’s long hair together, then ran the wand over the length of it from crown to ends. When he was finished, the rhekaro’s shining hair was the same rich honey gold as Alec’s.

  “That’s better,” said Seregil, “but he’s still too pale. The hair only makes it more obvious.”

  “I’m not done.” Thero pulled out a small pouch and took out a pinch of some kind of brown powder. Bowing his head, Thero murmured a spell and sprinkled it on Sebrahn’s head. In the blink of an eye the rhekaro had the sun-browned skin of a peasant boy. The only things not affected by the spell were his eyes. Those remained the same unnatural silver.

  “That’s the best I can do, I’m afraid. I don’t want to risk blinding him.” Thero drew a small knife and cut through the edge of the protective circle. The design disappeared in a flash of light and Sebrahn scampered back to Alec.

  “He looks good,?
?? said Micum. “He really could be Alec’s boy, now.”

  “His eyes are still a giveaway to anyone who knows what to look for, though,” Seregil mused.

  “Cut his hair into long bangs,” Thero suggested. “It doesn’t all have to be magic. You’re the great master of disguise, as I recall.”

  Alec, who’d been cutting Sebrahn’s hair several times a day for months now, went to work at that, and in a moment Sebrahn had a ragged fringe of hair hanging into his eyes. “That will have to do. How long will it last?” Thero asked Alec, brushing Sebrahn’s hair back from his face to inspect the changes.

  “Hopefully until I spell him back to normal. But again, there’s no telling what effect Sebrahn’s unusual nature will have on the magic. It might all wear off tomorrow.”

  “What happens when his hair grows?” asked Micum.

  “The spell is on his body, not just the hair. It should be fine.”

  “What about your magic? Couldn’t that attract attention if we run across the wrong sort of people?” asked Seregil.

  “Not with transmogrification spells like these. His skin and hair really are that color for now.”

  Seregil clasped hands with him. “Thank you. This will make a tremendous difference. Really, you’re invaluable, as always.”

  Thero grinned. “Take care of yourselves. I hope you find what you’re seeking.”

  “I hope you do, as well.”

  Everyone went to see the wizards off except Alec and Sebrahn. Left behind in their continuing seclusion, they stood together at the window and watched the Lark set sail.

  “Leee-ving,” said Sebrahn.

  “And so will we. Soon.”

  Alec felt a bit stronger today. Since he was up already, he decided to attempt a walk around the room, keeping an ear out for Mydri’s heavy step on the stair just in case.

  He was dizzy and unsteady on his feet, and took a few falls in the process until Sebrahn came over to walk beside him. Then Alec kept a hand on the rhekaro’s shoulder to steady himself, and they walked slowly back and forth between the bed and the door. It felt good to move, even if occasionally the floor seemed to pitch like the deck of a ship under sail.

  He grinned down at Sebrahn. “I hope I don’t need one of your healings today.”

  Sebrahn immediately held up a pale forefinger. Alec gave it a gentle squeeze. “Thank you, but I was just joking.”

  Sebrahn cocked his head slightly to one side, and his eyebrows drew down just the slightest bit.

  Alec stared at him in surprise. On a normal person’s face, that look would have indicated confusion. “Joking. I didn’t mean that I did need … Oh, hell. Never mind.”

  Sebrahn stared up at him for a long moment, held out his finger again, and then brought it back to his chest. “Jok … king.”

  Alec laughed. “Well, sort of.”

  Sebrahn did it again. “Joking.” This time his face twitched as he tried to approximate Alec’s grin.

  “I’ve often found that a sense of humor is a sign of an intelligent mind.”

  Startled, Alec turned to find Seregil leaning in the now open doorway. “Sneaking up on me?”

  “I came to warn you that I can hear you staggering around up here. Lucky for you, Mydri got caught up in conversation down at the quay. You’re looking a little pale. Let’s get you back to bed.”

  “I can do it!” Alec protested, then turned too quickly and fell on his face before Seregil could catch him. Sebrahn sprang to his side and crouched there. When Seregil reached down to help Alec, Sebrahn hunkered lower and hissed at him.

  Seregil stepped back in surprise. “It’s only me. He’s the one who fell over.”

  Alec sat up and gathered a handful of Sebrahn’s hair, giving him a not-so-gentle shake. “No! Bad! Go to Seregil.”

  Sebrahn’s face was blank again as he rose and walked to Seregil’s side. The older man took the rhekaro’s face between his hands. “I wouldn’t hurt Alec. I never will. I love him. Love?” He looked to Alec, who only shrugged. Seregil gingerly gave Sebrahn a hug. “Love. You can trust me, little one.” He pointed to his own chest, then to Sebrahn’s. “Trust.”

  Sebrahn cocked his head again, then touched Seregil’s chest and rasped out, “Serigl.”

  Alec laughed. It was how he’d taught Sebrahn his name, and others—by pointing. Apparently that was the only way Sebrahn was going to interpret the gesture from now on.

  Seregil lifted the unresisting rhekaro in his arms and deposited him on the window seat. Then he did the same with Alec, lifting him onto their bed and stretching out beside him. “So,” he drawled, sliding a hand down Alec’s side, then up again, rucking up the rumpled linen nightshirt as he went. “Getting our strength back, are we?”

  Alec shivered under his touch. “Yes, but it’s still daylight outside, Sebrahn is staring at us, and you left the door wide open. Again.”

  Seregil nuzzled his neck. “I’ll close the door.”

  Alec grabbed him before he could make good on that. “And I need a bath.”

  “All right. You shall have one.” Seregil sighed. “We really are going to have to do something about Sebrahn, though.”

  “I know. Now, bath?”

  “Yes, my lord. At once, my lord.” Seregil laughed as he headed for the door. “But I still say we’re going to have to find some way of dealing with Sebrahn, and not just because I don’t want him staring at my ass when we’re—”

  “I know!”

  “It’s like having a dog around. Always underfoot.”

  “Don’t say that!” Alec called after him, but Seregil was already headed down the stairs.

  Within the hour servants brought up a small brass tub and steaming cans of hot water from the kitchen.

  “Sebrahn first,” Alec insisted, fully enjoying handing out a few orders after all the ones he’d been suffering.

  “Let me, then,” said Seregil. “You’re too wobbly and you have more than enough bruises.”

  The rhekaro had no bodily functions, and no particular smell, but he still got grubby. This was his first real bath, but he showed no sign of fear as Seregil mixed cans of warm and cold water and poured it over him. Sebrahn just sat there while Seregil washed him with the cloth, then lathered his hair. When the bath was over and he had Sebrahn wrapped in a flannel, they both smelled nicely of rose-scented soap.

  Seregil gave the rhekaro an uncommonly fond look, surprising after their earlier exchange. “I forget, sometimes, how much he resembles you. And even more so now, thanks to Thero. I suppose it’s almost like seeing you at that age. Now then, your turn.”

  With Seregil’s help, Alec sank into the warm water and rested his head on his bare knees, letting Seregil scrub his back and wash his long hair. “Don’t you think I should cut some of it off?” he asked yet again as Seregil’s finger caught in a tangle.

  “It’s up to you, talí, but I like it,” Seregil told him, as always.

  “Then you have to grow yours out again, since you seem to have forgotten the problems.”

  “I am, but I can’t do it quite as fast as our little friend can.” He pulled the chair over to the side of the tub to keep him company as Alec took over with the cloth.

  When Seregil sat down, Sebrahn climbed into his lap. Seregil smiled down at him.

  Sebrahn is as much pet as child, thought Alec. A pet that can kill. Seeing the two of them like that, he wondered, What do I call this? A “family”?

  But he knew better, and that brought a now familiar tightness around his heart. He brushed it aside. Later. They’d figure things out later. Right now he was just going to enjoy the damn bath!

  “Are you all right, talí?”

  “The water’s just getting cold.”

  Seregil helped him out and wrapped him in a large flannel. Alec leaned against him, the water dripping from his hair onto the floor around his bare feet and soaking the front of Seregil’s shirt.

  “I do feel better.”

  “You smell better, too.”

  Seregil’s warm, deep chuckle vibrated against Alec’s heart. Taking him by the hand, he drew Seregil back to the unmade bed. “Sebrahn, go look out the window.”

  The rhekaro obeyed the now familiar order at once.

  Alec glanced at the door, making sure it was closed. Satisfied, he gave Seregil a push and tumbled them both into bed, pulling Seregil on top of him and holding him tight.

  “What’s this?” Seregil asked, smiling down at him.

  “If you have to ask, then it’s been too long,” Alec said with a chuckle of his own. “I keep telling you, I’m getting better!”

  And Alec must have trained the rhekaro well during the long days up here, Seregil thought later, for Sebrahn never took his gaze from the harbor as they rolled and surged and moaned together, tangled in Alec’s long wet hair.

  When Alec woke up again some time later, it was still light out, Seregil was gone, and Mydri was looming over him. “My, aren’t you energetic.”

  The look in those dark eyes left him completely tongue-tied as he waited for another upbraiding, but she just shook her head. “How do you do that nightrunning business with such a guilty face?”

  Sebrahn squatted at the end of the bed, eyeing the healer with an intensity that made Alec nervous. Sebrahn had already been told that the various household members were friends, but if he’d turn on Seregil, all bets were off.

  Mydri shook a colorful little rag and yarn doll from her sleeve and placed it in Sebrahn’s hands. “A gift for you, little one. Be a good—rhekaro and let me see how your Alec is healing.”

  Sebrahn regarded the doll for a moment, then tried to stuff it into his own sleeve as Mydri began her examination.

  She ran cool fingers over the delicate new skin covering the wounds on Alec’s chest and throat. Then she went about feeling his pulse, listening to his heart and bowels, and clucking her tongue over the bruises on his arms. All the same, when she’d finished at last, she seemed pleased. “You’re healing faster than you have any right to, you know.” She glanced over at Sebrahn, who had given up on the sleeve idea and was staring at the doll again. “Whatever he did, it was powerful, and it’s clear he’s devoted to you.”

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