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


  She pulled another doll from her sleeve and got Sebrahn’s attention. “Don’t I have a nice baby?” she asked, holding the doll against her chest and patting it gently. “Will you take good care of your baby, too?”

  Slowly, Sebrahn copied her, cuddling his own doll. “Baby?”

  “You see?” said Alec. “He does understand things.”

  Mydri watched closely as Sebrahn brought the doll’s painted linen face up to his own, silvery eyes crossing a little as he studied it. “I’ve seen how he mimics what he sees you doing. Show him gentleness and he’ll be gentle.” She paused, still watching Sebrahn. “I doubt this change of appearance will hide him well enough. His aura sometimes extends beyond this room, and there are those in the house who can feel it.”

  Alec waited for her to go on, to tell him she didn’t want him to go to Bôkthersa. Instead she surprised him with a smile that made the blue lines of the healer’s marks under her eyes tilt up. “Our family owes you a great deal, little brother, for all you’ve done for Seregil. There was so much pain in him at Sarikali. Yet even then I could tell that you’d given him back some of what Ilar í Sontir took from him, all those years ago. What was it like, meeting that man?”

  “Seregil told you?”

  “About how Ilar duped you with a false name, and the way he treated Seregil? Yes.”

  Suddenly uneasy, Alec sat twisting the edge of the quilt between his fingers. “It was—strange.”

  “It hurt, I’m sure. Both the betrayal, and Seregil bringing him with you.”

  “Yes. I still don’t understand why he did that. Ilar treated him like filth once he had Seregil under his thumb, and he was nothing but trouble after we escaped.”

  “But according to what Seregil told me, he helped you. Something about a secret way?”

  “Well, yes,” Alec admitted. “But in the end he just ran away. We might as well have killed him.”

  “Could you have done that, Alec í Amasa?”

  He thought about it, then shook his head. “No. He was too pathetic and—well …”

  “Let me tell you something that you’re probably too young to have learned yet. Love and hate aren’t so far apart.”

  Alec shook his head, remembering. “Seregil told me he used to love Ilar, and now he loves me, but that there was no one else in between, among all the people he bedded. And I could tell that Ilar wanted to make things up with him.”

  “And did Seregil let him?”

  “No.” Alec didn’t want to think about his own jealousy and doubts. He didn’t want to remember the sight of Ilar naked and trying to kiss Seregil by the stream that day, or the way Seregil had appeared unable or unwilling to stop him.

  Mydri smiled and patted his hand. “You can’t change his past, Alec. Neither can he. Let it go and turn your thoughts to the journey home. Now, please listen to your healer and stop throwing yourself around.”

  When she was gone he disregarded her admonition and went back to the window seat, bored and wondering where everyone else was. Sebrahn climbed into his lap. The rhekaro still had the doll, and he picked curiously at it as he rested his head against Alec’s chest.

  Alec rubbed his cheek against that cool, silken hair and stared out the window. It had finally stopped raining, but the sky remained dreary with low, dark clouds. The harbor beyond was nearly empty today; the fishermen were taking advantage of the break in the weather. Adzriel’s ship, a sleek caravel, rode at anchor like a dark swan.

  “Bôkthersa!” he murmured with a thrill of excitement that swept away all the dark thoughts. He’d forgotten to ask if Adzriel would keep him locked away there.

  That afternoon Seregil, his sisters, and Micum came to his room. Micum caught Alec’s eye and gave him a warning look. Seregil and the women looked like they’d been arguing. Seregil’s mouth was set in a stubborn line, and Mydri seemed furious.

  Adzriel closed the door behind them and locked it.

  Mydri was glaring at Sebrahn; it was as if their gentle conversation earlier had never happened. “Adzriel told me about the rhekaro’s true powers, Seregil.” She turned on Alec. “And you said nothing, either!”

  “I meant for them to tell you once we were under way,” Adzriel explained, interceding for them.

  Mydri was not mollified. “Adzriel, how can you possibly bring something so dangerous to our own fai’thast?”

  “Seregil is our brother, in blood if not in name. Since Alec is his talímenios, he’s our responsibility, and through him, Sebrahn.” She gave her sister a stern look. “Whatever Sebrahn is, he’s theirs, and thus ours. Isn’t that so?”

  “Well, yes, but—”

  “Then it’s settled. They’ll be safe there, and can take what time they need to discover more about Sebrahn.”

  Mydri stood up, angry now. “Adzriel, as your sister, and as a ranking member of the clan, I protest. I love these two as much as you do, but—”

  Adzriel gave her a look that cut her off midsentence. “I don’t speak now as your sister, or his, but as your khirnari. And I say that it is safer by far to have this rhekaro within our control than to lose him to those who would use him for ill in the world. I have spoken!”

  It was amazing to see Mydri cowed. Alec was a bit shaken himself, and Micum, too. No wonder Adzriel had been elected by her clan, in spite of her relative youth.

  “As you wish then, Khirnari,” Mydri said, throwing up her hands. “I only hope you don’t come to regret your decision.”

  So do I, Alec thought, sending up a silent prayer to Illior.

  “So, what route are you planning?” asked Micum, deftly changing the subject.

  “We’ll put in at Chillian and ride from there,” said Adzriel.

  “We can cut the ride by half if we go north to Half Moon Cove and go by way of Smuggler’s Pass,” said Seregil. “I can travel that road home with my eyes shut.”

  Home. Alec thought he caught a suspicious glitter in Seregil’s eyes and felt a small tightness in his own throat. If Adzriel meant all she’d said, then it was his home, as well.

  CHAPTER 3

  A Rude Awakening

  ALEC DRIFTED off to sleep that night feeling less of an outcast. To the Bôkthersans he was family, rather than an unwanted guest. With Seregil beside him and Sebrahn curled at the foot of the bed, he drifted off into a deeper slumber than he had in days.

  So it was a nasty shock when someone yanked him off the bed and onto the cold floor and stuffed something into his mouth. The shutters were open and by the faint moonlight he could make out several darkly dressed men, one of whom was holding a struggling Sebrahn. They’d stuffed a rag in the rhekaro’s mouth, which explained why Sebrahn wasn’t singing a killing song. In a way that was a relief, since Alec had no way of knowing if he’d kill only their assailants or everyone else within earshot, as well.

  Seregil, naked and armed with one of the swords they’d brought from Plenimar, was fighting off two more men by the door.

  How in Bilairy’s name did they get in without us or anyone else hearing them?

  No sooner had Alec taken that in than the two men holding him dragged him to the open window and thrust him out feet first, keeping hold of his hands, and he found himself dangling above the cobbled courtyard. There was no question of pulling free—Bilairy’s Balls, he hated heights!

  And falling even more so—which he was. But he hardly had time to panic before two men caught him and pinioned his arms. Both of them wore hoods and black cloth across their lower faces. He struggled in earnest now, though to little avail as they half dragged, half carried him toward the courtyard gate, where more dark figures waited. Where were the watchmen?

  Suddenly someone came close enough to try to force a bag over his head. Seeing one slim chance, he struck out wildly, finding the bag man’s belt and the knife hanging there. Wrenching it free, he slashed at anything he could reach and succeeded in stabbing the man holding the bag and driving the two who’d been holding him back long enough to assess the si
tuation. They were too big to be Aurënfaie, armed with long knives and dressed in leathers and boots. He, on the other hand, was barefoot in a nightshirt and badly overmatched. He was wondering if he could outrun them in his current condition when armed men burst into the courtyard and attacked his attackers, Micum in the lead.

  Alec got out of the way fast and bolted for the house. Shouldering his way through a crowd of alarmed women, he ran up the stairs, still clutching the bloody knife.

  Where was Seregil and why hadn’t Sebrahn sung? He was grateful for the latter, but at a loss to understand.

  He found Seregil on the floor by the bed, bloody but still alive, with a struggling Sebrahn in his arms, one hand clamped firmly over the rhekaro’s mouth. Three men lay dead around him, bloody enough to be Seregil’s victims rather than Sebrahn’s.

  “Tell him,” Seregil gasped. “Hurry! He won’t listen to me.”

  Alec dropped the knife and took Sebrahn’s face between his hands, putting his mouth close to the rhekaro’s ear. “Don’t sing, Sebrahn! That would be bad now. Very bad!”

  The rhekaro went still. Seregil waited a moment, then slowly removed his hand and pulled out the gag.

  “Baaaad,” Sebrahn whispered.

  “By the Light, what happened here?” Adzriel exclaimed, pushing through the excited little crowd that had gathered in the doorway. Mydri was close behind.

  Alec was doubly glad of Thero’s transformation magic now, though he could hear others whispering about the color of Sebrahn’s eyes. Mydri shooed the onlookers away and closed the door.

  “So?” she asked, hurrying to the bed.

  “Assassins and kidnappers, I’d say,” Seregil panted, pressing a hand to his side. Blood was seeping through his fingers, and there was already a small pool of it on the floor by his hip.

  Alec looked around frantically. The washstand had been spared in the scuffle. Grabbing the pitcher, he knelt in front of Sebrahn, who’d already slashed his own palm with the knife that Alec had dropped. The rhekaro held his hand over the water, then quickly lifted out the dark blue lotus blossom that formed there.

  “Here.” Seregil took his hand away and Alec saw a deep slash across Seregil’s ribs. “Bastard stabbed me while I was asleep. It’s a good thing his aim was off. He should have slit my throat. Bilairy’s Balls! Those sons of whores were good.”

  Mydri gave him a light cuff to the back of the head that made him wince, then stifle a grin.

  It took four blossoms to close the wound, and Sebrahn laid more on it, sending the healing deeper. When he was finished, Alec cut his own finger more deeply than usual and let the drops fall on Sebrahn’s tongue. The wound across Sebrahn’s palm closed before their eyes.

  “It can’t heal itself?” asked Mydri.

  “Not that we’ve seen,” Seregil told her.

  “Yhakobin made me feed him like this, and the first one, after he sliced them up,” Alec told her. “I saw a hand grow from the stump of Sebrahn’s wrist, and an eye for the first one.”

  Mydri stroked Sebrahn’s hair, her expression softer than he’d ever seen it before. “Poor things. Poor, wretched little things! But why didn’t he sing and protect you?”

  Seregil shrugged. “Who knows? As it was, he killed Yhakobin only when it was clear that Alec was in severe danger.”

  “How in the world would he know?”

  “He just does,” said Alec.

  Mydri cupped Sebrahn’s chin and looked deeply into his eyes. “So strange!” she murmured. “There is a mind there, but not a normal one, just—like fragments floating around.”

  Alec hadn’t realized how badly he was shaking until Adzriel knelt and put her arms around him. “Are you hurt, Alec?” There was blood on his nightshirt.

  “No. Where’s Micum?”

  “Here,” Micum said, pushing his way through the crowd gathered in the doorway. He was wearing breeches and nothing else. The blood spattered across his chest was someone else’s.

  “Get the bodies outside and put them with the others!” Riagil ordered, storming into the room. “The rest of you go back to your rooms. There’s nothing for you to do here.”

  “Please, leave us alone to tend our wounded,” said Adzriel.

  “I’ll have tubs prepared at once,” Yhali said as calmly as if she dealt with such intrusions on a regular basis, yet Alec very much doubted that she did.

  Riagil shooed the others out, then righted a fallen chair and sat down, clearly intending to stay.

  Mydri and Micum helped Seregil and Alec back to the bed. Sebrahn climbed up and nestled in between them.

  “Are you sure you’re not hurt?” Mydri asked Alec, taking in his bloodstained nightshirt. It had been torn and hung off one shoulder.

  “Yes, I’m fine. Seregil?”

  “Much better. Thank you, Sebrahn. So much for keeping him secret, though,” Seregil said, frowning. “Micum, are any of them still alive?”

  “Not a one,” Micum replied. “Khirnari, your swordsmen are well trained but a bit too quick.”

  “Perhaps, but the invaders killed two of my watchmen,” Riagil replied, looking shaken and angry. “I have men out looking for more of them and any boats they came in on.”

  Seregil rose and grabbed his breeches and coat from the top of the clothes chest. Yanking them on, he pulled on his tall boots and headed for the door. “We can search the bodies, anyway. Alec, you stay here with Sebrahn.”

  Alec was in no condition to argue.

  “Mydri and I will stay, too,” Adzriel sat down on the edge of the bed and took Alec’s bloodstained hand in hers. Her hands were trembling.

  Seregil paused in front of Riagil. “I am sorry we brought this trouble into your house.”

  “I regret that I did not keep you safe,” Riagil replied. As Seregil hurried off after Micum, Riagil turned to Alec. “Who were these assassins?”

  “That’s what Seregil and Micum are trying to find out. It all happened so fast, and their faces were covered. If they’d spoken, I might have known the accent, but no one did. But they were damn good, whoever they were. If they had managed to kill Seregil before he woke up, Sebrahn and I would probably be gone.” Unless they’d uncovered Sebrahn’s mouth, of course, and that really would have been the end of their secrets. Too many people had witnessed Sebrahn’s healing, and word was probably spreading through the house.

  “I see. Then I will leave you and see what your friends can find.” He rose and gave Adzriel a small bow. “I give my regrets to you and your clan, as well, Khirnari.”

  “The fault is not yours, I’m sure,” she replied graciously, and Alec suspected the exchange had something to do with Aurënfaie honor, because Riagil looked relieved as he went out.

  The dead were laid out in a row just outside the gates. Men held torches for Seregil and Micum as they began their examination. With help from some of Riagil’s men, they stripped the bodies and studied the clothing.

  Riagil joined them, looking on intently.

  “They’re certainly not ’faie,” Seregil said. These men had hairy chests and were too bulky in their build. Seregil shook his head, wondering how Alec had managed to hold off so many of them in his weakened state.

  “Pretty damn plain,” said Micum, looking over one of the leather vests.

  “Let me see the stitching.” Seregil turned it inside out, then checked some of the other clothing. “Most have crossed stitches instead of slanting. That could be Mycenian work, or north Plenimaran.”

  “The knives may be Plenimaran, too.”

  They turned their attention to the bodies now, looking for any sort of guild mark or other tattoo that would indicate who they were or where they had come from.

  None of them carried a purse, so there were no coins to tell them anything, either.

  Seregil took one of the lamps and held it close to one of the dead men’s faces. “The lower portion of the face is considerably lighter.”

  “He shaved his beard.”

  “Yes.”
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  Several of the others showed the same pale jawline.

  “Looks like Plenimarans to me,” said Micum.

  “There are dark-haired, bearded, hairy-chested men in Skala, too, and Mycena.”

  “True.”

  Micum examined the man’s hands. “Callused, but no dirt ground into them or under the nails. And more callused on one hand than the other. They were swordsmen by trade.”

  Seregil did the same with several others, inspecting palms and fingers. “This one was left-handed. And this one was an archer.”

  “If they were assassins, then why didn’t they kill Alec and Sebrahn, as well?” asked Riagil.

  “Because they weren’t,” Seregil replied, still at work. “They were kidnappers, and very well-informed ones, too. They not only knew that we’re in Gedre; they knew which room we were in. And they meant to kill me, not take me. You probably have a spy in your house, Riagil.”

  “I will make inquiries, of course.”

  Good luck with that, thought Seregil. If your spy is good enough not to be noticed before, then he’s likely to just lay low now. “Have you had anyone new come to live in your household in the past month? A guest? A new servant?”

  “No.”

  “It could be someone who visits the house,” said Micum.

  “We’re a trade port. People come and go every day!”

  Seregil stood up and wiped his hands on his breeches. “Well, if I had to wager on it, I’d say they were Plenimarans who somehow managed to track us here, sent by someone who knew the alchemist. I think it may be time for us to move on.”

  Yhali had the tubs set up in the kitchen, and Alec was forced to swallow his modesty in front of the servants as they tended to him and the others. Sebrahn remained calm when a pretty young maid gently sponged the blood from his face and chest, though he wouldn’t let go of Alec’s hand.

  By the time they returned to their room, someone had cleared away the wreckage of the fight. The carpet was gone, too. Micum came in as they settled into the freshly made bed with Sebrahn safely between them.

  Seregil fell back against the pillow beside Alec with a groan.

 
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