ALL THINGS CONVERGE.In the last Great Age of the Sundered World of Urulat, which was once called Uru-Alat after the World God that gave birth to it, they began to converge upon Darkhaven.It began with a red star rising in the west; Dergail’s Soumanië, a polished stone that had once been a chip of the Souma itself—that mighty gem that rested on the sundered isle of Torath, the Eye in the Brow of Uru-Alat, source of the Shapers’ power.Satoris the Shaper took it for a warning, a message from a sister who had loved him, once upon a time; Arahila the Fair, whose children were the race of Men. His enemies took it as a declaration of war.Whatever the truth, war ensued.Haomane, First-Born among Shapers, long ago uttered a Prophecy.“When the unknown is made known, when the lost weapon is found, when the marrow-fire is quenched and Godslayer is freed, when a daughter of Elterrion weds a son of Altorus, when the Spear of Light is brought forth and the Helm of Shadows is broken, the Fjeltroll shall fall, the Were shall be defeated ere they rise, and the Sunderer shall be no more, the Souma shall be restored and the Sundered World made whole and Haomane’s Children shall endure.”It began with the rising of Dergail’s Soumanië. Cerelinde, the Lady of the Ellylon, a daughter of Elterrion’s line, plighted her troth to Aracus Altorus. It was the first step toward fulfilling Haomane’s Prophecy; Arahila’s Children and Haomane’s conjoined, their lines inextricably mingled. But in Lindanen Dale, their nuptials were disrupted.Bloodshed ensued.It was a trap; a trap that went awry. It seemed at first that all the pieces fell into place. Driven by vengeance, the Grey Dam of the Were spent her life in an attack, and the half-breed Ushahin Dreamspinner unleashed madness and illusion. Under its cover, Tanaros Blacksword abducted the Lady Cerelinde and took her to Darkhaven.Haomane’s Allies were misled. Pursuing a rumor of dragons, under the command of Aracus Altorus, they raised an army and launched an assault on Beshtanag and Lilias, Sorceress of the East. And there the trap went awry. The Ways were closed, and the Army of Darkhaven was turned back, their company’s leadership scattered. In Beshtanag, Haomane’s Allies took to the field.There, they prevailed.They were not supposed to do so.They were coming; all of them.They came on foot and on horseback and by sailing ship, for the Ways of the Marasoumië had been destroyed. Lord Satoris had done this in his wrath. The Dragon of Beshtanag was no more, slain by the Arrow of Fire; the lost weapon, found. Bereft of her Soumanië, the Sorceress of the East was nothing more than an ordinary woman; Lilias, mortal and powerless. The Were had struck a bitter bargain with Aracus Altorus, ceding to his terms; defeated ere they rose. Aracus was coming, his heart filled with righteous fury, knowing he had been duped.Malthus the Wise Counselor, trapped in the Ways, had vanished beyond the sight of even Godslayer itself … but rumor whispered of a new figure. The Galäinridder, the Bright Rider, whose words bred fear in the hearts of Men, inspiring them to betray their ancient oaths to Lord Satoris.But Haomane’s Allies had not won yet.On the westernmost verge of the Unknown Desert, Tanaros Blacksword, Commander General of the Army of Darkhaven, made camp alongside a creek. There he slaked the thirst of his long-parched flesh and made ready to rally his surviving troops and set his face toward home. Immortal though he was, he could have died in the desert. Thanks to a raven’s gratitude, he lived.When he dreamed, he dreamed of the Lady Cerelinde.On the back of a blood-bay horse, Ushahin Dreamspinner rode the pathways between waking and dreaming, plunging into the Midlands and leaving a trail of nightmares in his wake. A wedge of ravens forged his path, and on either side, a riderless horse flanked him; one a spectral grey, the other as black as coal.If he had dreamed, which he did not, he would dream of the counsel of dragons.Vorax the Glutton, muttering over his stores, awaited them in Darkhaven.The immortal Three were soon to be reunited.Haomane’s Prophecy was yet to be fulfilled.In the mighty fortress of Darkhaven, where the Lady Cerelinde endured imprisonment and fought against a rising tide of doubt, the marrow-fire yet burned. Within it hung the dagger, Godslayer; ruby-red, a Shard of the Souma. Once, it had wounded Satoris; the wound that would not heal. Godslayer alone could end a Shaper’s life; the life of Lord Satoris, the life of any of the Shapers. And while the marrow-fire burned, no mortal hand could touch it. None but a Shaper would dare.Only the Water of Life, drawn from the Well of the World, could extinguish the marrow-fire. The Water had been drawn, but its Bearer was lost.Thrust out of the Ways by Malthus the Counselor in a desperate gambit, abandoned and lost, Dani of the Yarru wandered the cold lands of the Northern Harrow, deep in Fjeltroll territory, with only his uncle to guide him. Together, they sought to follow the rivers, the lifeblood of Urulat, to Darkhaven.And they, too, were being hunted … .Led by Skragdal of the Tungskulder, the Fjel were on the hunt. Their loyalty to Lord Satoris was beyond question. Haomane’s Prophecy promised them nothing but death. No matter where it led them, they would not abandon their quest. They would succeed or die trying.All things converge.
NEHERINACH WAS A GREEN BOWL cradled in the mountain’s hands. Here and there, small boulders breached its surface; elsewhere, a half dozen small hillocks arose, covered in flowering ivy. A small river, spring-fed, wound through the center of it, meandering westward to sink belowground. Low mountains, sloping upward with a deceptively gentle grade, surrounded it. Patches of gorse offered grazing to fallow deer, shelter to hare that crouched in the shadow of small crags.It was a peaceful place, and a terrible one.On the verges, the Kaldjager scouts waited, glancing sidelong out of yellow eyes to watch the others’ straggling progress. Skragdal, leading them, knew what the Kaldjager felt. This was where it had begun.They assembled in silence on the field of Neherinach. The green grass was soft beneath their feet. Water sparkled under the bright sun. Birds stirred in the trees, insects took flight from grass stems.“Come,” Skragdal said quietly.They crossed the field together, and the grass flattened beneath their approach, springing back once they had passed. It smelled clean and sweet. Skragdal felt his talons breach the surface of the soil beneath, rich and crumbling. It filled him with an ancient fury. There was old blood in that soil. Thousand upon thousand of Fjel had died in this place, fighting without weapons against a vast army of Men and Ellylon, attacked without quarter for the crime of giving shelter to the wounded Shaper who had taught them the measure of their own worth. The ivy-covered hillocks that dotted the field marked the cairns of Fjel dead; one for each of the six tribes.In the end, they had won; by treachery and stealth, according to the songs of Haomane’s Allies. It was true, they had laid traps, but what was treachery to a people invaded without provocation? It had been a bitter victory.Near the riverbank, where the ground was soft enough to hold an impression, they found a trace of old hoofprints. Skragdal frowned. Only Men and Ellylon rode horses, and he did not like the idea of either despoiling Neherinach.“A rider,” Thorun said.“Aye.“The earl’s Galäinridder?”“Perhaps.”Led by the Kaldjager, they followed the tracks to their origin. At the northern tip of Neherinach, a node-point of the Marasoumië had lain buried in a hollow place. Now, a great crater had been gouged from the earth. Splintered rock thrust outward in every direction. Whatever had emerged had done so with great force. The innermost surfaces of the granite were smooth and gleaming, as if the rock itself had become molten. It had not happened all that long ago. There were fresh scratches on the rock, and the remnants of hoofprints were still visible on the churned ground.“That’s not good,” Thorun said.“No.” Staring into the hole, Skragdal thought of Osric’s Men gossiping in the tunnels, and of Osric in Gerflod Hall, grinning his dead grin at the ceiling. The ragged hole gaped like a wound in the green field of Neherinach, exposing the ashen remains of the node far below. Earl Coenred’s final words echoed in his memory, making his hide crawl with unease. Dead, and you don’t even know it! “It’s not.”He thought about changing their course, setting the Kaldjager to track the Galäinridder; but General Tanaros had told them, again and again, the importance of obeying orders. It was important to obey orders, even those Lord Vorax had given. Anyway, it was already too late. Gerflod Keep lay a day behind them, and the Rider had some days’ start. Not even the Gulnagel could catch him now.But they could warn Darkhaven.“Rhilmar,” he said decisively. “Morstag. Go back. If General Tanaros has returned, tell him what we have seen here. Tell him what happened in Gerflod. If he is not there, tell Lord Vorax. And if he will not listen, tell Marshal Hyrgolf. No; tell him anyway. He needs to know. This is a matter that concerns the Fjel.”“Aye, boss.” Rhilmar, the smaller of the two, shivered in the bright sun. In this place of green grass, sparkling rivers, and old bones, fear had caught up to him; the reek of it oozed from him, tainting the air. “Just … just the two of us?”One of the Kaldjager snorted with contempt. Skragdal ignored it. “Haomane’s Allies didn’t fear to send only two, and smallfolk at that,” he said to Rhilmar. “Go fast, and avoid Men’s keeps.” He turned to the Kaldjager. “Blågen, where is the nearest Fjel den?”The Kaldjager pointed to the east. “Half a league.” His yellow eyes gleamed. “Are we hunting?”“Aye.” Skragdal nodded. “We follow orders. We will spread word among the tribes until there is nowhere safe and no place for them to hide. Whoever—whatever—this Galäinridder is, he did well to flee Fjel territories and put himself beyond our reach.” Standing beside the desecrated earth, he bared his eyetusks in a grim smile. “Pity the smallfolk he left behind.”
THEY SPENT AN ENTIRE DAY camped beneath the jack pines, reveling in the presence of water and shade. Red squirrels chattered in the trees, providing easy prey for the Gulnagel. Speros, ranging along the course of the creek, discovered a patch of wild onion. Tanaros’ much-dented helmet, having served as bucket and shovel, served now as a makeshift cooking pot for a hearty stew.By Tanaros’ reckoning, they had emerged to the southeast of Darkhaven. Between them lay the fertile territories of the Midlands, then the sweeping plains of Curonan. It was possible that they could locate an entrance to the tunnels on the outskirts of the Midlands, but there was still a great deal of open ground to cover. It would be an easy journey by the standards of the desert; but there was the problem of the Fjel. Two Men traveling in enemy territory were easily disguised.Not so, three large Gulnagel.“We’ll have to travel by night,” Tanaros said ruefully. “At least we’re well used to it.” He eyed Speros. “Do you still remember how to steal horses?”The Midlander looked uncertain. “Is that a jest, sir?”Tanaros shook his head. “No.”They passed a farmstead on the first night and stole close enough to make out the shape of a stable, but at a hundred paces the sound of barking dogs filled the air. When a lamp was kindled in the cottage and silhouetted figures moved before the windows, Tanaros ordered a hasty, ignominious retreat, racing across fields, while the Gulnagel accompanied them at a slow jog.Not until they had put a good distance between themselves and the farmstead did he order a halt. Back on the dusty road, Speros doubled over, bracing his hands on his thighs and catching his breath. “Why … not just … kill them? Surely … farmers wouldn’t be much trouble.”Tanaros cocked a brow at him. “And have their deaths discovered? We’ve leagues to go before we’re in the clear, and all of the Midlands standing on alert. You were the one served in the volunteer militia, Speros of Haimhault. Do you want one such on our trail?”“Right.” Speros straightened. “Shank’s mare it is, General.”They walked in silence for several hours. After the desert, Tanaros reflected, it was almost pleasant. Their waterskins were full, and the fields provided ample hunting for the Gulnagel. The air was balmy and moist, and the stars overhead provided enough light to make out the rutted road. On such a night, one could imagine walking forever. He thought about the farmstead they had passed and smiled to himself. While his motive for having done so was reasoned, there was a luxuriant pleasure in having spared its inhabitants’ lives. Such choices seldom came his way. He wondered what story they would tell in the morning. They’d pass a sleepless night if they knew the truth. Likely the scent of the Gulnagel had set the dogs to barking; better to send Speros alone, next time. He wondered if Fetch, who had flown ahead, might be able to scout a likely candidate for horse-thievery.“It’s funny, isn’t it?” Speros remarked. “I never could have imagined this.”“What’s that?”“This.” The Midlander waved one hand, indicating the empty road, the quiet fields. “Us, here. Tramping across the country like common beggars. I’d have thought … I don’t know, Lord General.” He shrugged. “I’d have thought there’d be more magic.”“No.” Tanaros shook his head. “There’s precious little magic in war, Speros.”“But you’re … one of the Three, sir!” Speros protested. “Tanaros Blacksword, Tanaros …” His voice trailed off.“Kingslayer,” Tanaros said equably. “Aye. An ordinary man, rendered extraordinary only by the grace of Lord Satoris.” He touched the hilt of his sword. “This blade cannot be broken by mortal means, Speros, but I wield no power but that which lies in reach of it. Are you disappointed?”“No.” Speros studied his boots as he walked, scuffing the ruts in the road with cracked heels. “No,” he repeated more strongly, lifting his head. “I’m not.” He grinned, the glint of starlight revealing the gap amid his teeth. “It gives me hope. After all, Lord General, I could be you!”As Tanaros opened his mouth to reply, one of the Gulnagel raised a hand and grunted. The others froze, listening. Motioning for silence, Tanaros strained his ears. Not the farmsteaders, he hoped. Surely, they had seen nothing. There had been only the warning of the dogs to disturb their sleep. Like as not, they had cast a weary gaze over the empty fields, scolded the dogs, and gone back to sleep. What, then? The Fjel had keener ears than Men, but all three wore perplexed expressions. Speros, by contrast, bore a look of glazed horror.Tanaros concentrated.At first he heard nothing; then, distantly, a drumming like thunder. Hoofbeats? It sounded like, and unlike. There were too many, too fast—and another sound, too, a rushing, pulsating wind, like the sound of a thousand wings beating at once. It sounded, he realized, like the Ravensmirror.“Fetch?” Tanaros called.“Kaugh!”The fabric of the night itself seemed to split beneath the onslaught as they emerged from the dreaming pathways into the waking world; ravens, aye, a whole flock, sweeping down the road in a single, vast wing. There, at the head, was Fetch, eyes like obsidian pebbles. And behind them, forelegs churning, nostrils flaring …Horses.They emerged from darkness as if through a doorway, and starlight gleamed on their sleek hides. All around them, the ravens settled in the fields; save for Fetch, who took up his perch on Tanaros’ shoulder. Their iron-shod hooves rang on the road, solid and real, large bodies milling. There were three of them; one grey as a ghost, one black as pitch, and in the middle, a bay the color of recently spilled blood.And on its back, a pale, crooked figure with moonspun hair and a face of ruined beauty smiled crookedly and lifted a hand in greeting.“Well met, cousin,” said Ushahin Dreamspinner. “A little bird told me you were in need of a ride.”“Dreamspinner!” Tanaros laughed aloud. “Well met, indeed.” He clapped one hand on Speros’ shoulder. “I retract my words, lad. Forgive me for speaking in haste. It seems the night holds more magic than I had suspected.”Speros, the color draining from his desert-scorched skin, stared without words.“I have ridden the wings of a nightmare, cousin, and I fear it has brushed your protégé’s thoughts.” Ushahin’s voice was amused. “What plagues you, Midlander? Did you catch a glimpse of your own mortal frailties and failings, the envy to which your kind is prey? A rock, perchance, clutched in a boyish fist? But for an accident of geography, you might have been one of them.” His mismatched eyes glinted, shadows pooling in the hollow of his dented temple. “Are you afraid to meet my gaze, Midlander?”“Cousin—” Tanaros began.“No.” With an effort of will, Speros raised his chin and met the half-breed’s glittering gaze. Clenching one hand and pressing it to his heart, he extended it open in the ancient salute. His starlit face was earnest and stubborn. “No, Lord Dreamspinner. I am not afraid.”Ushahin smiled his crooked smile. “It is a lie, but it is one I will honor for the sake of what you have endured.” He nodded to his left. “Take the grey. Do you follow in my footprints, within the swath the ravens forge, she will bear you in my wake, Tanaros.” He pointed to the black horse. “You rode such a one, once. Here is another. Can your Gulnagel keep pace?”“Aye,” Tanaros murmured, his assent echoed by the grinning Fjel. He approached the black horse, running one hand along the arch of its neck. Its black mane spilled like water over his hand, and it turned its head, baring sharp teeth, a preternaturally intelligent eye glimmering. Clutching a hank of mane low on the withers, he swung himself astride. Equine muscle surged beneath his thighs; Fetch squawked with displeasure and took wing. Using the pressure of his knees, Tanaros turned the black. He thought of his own stallion, his faithful black, lost in the Ways of the Marasoumië, and wondered what had become of it. “These are Darkhaven’s horses, cousin, born and bred. Where did you come by them?”“On the southern edge of the Delta.”Tanaros paused. “My Staccians. The trackers?”“I fear it is so.” There was an unnerving sympathy in Ushahin’s expression. “They met a … a worthy end, cousin. I will tell you of it, later, but we must be off before Haomane’s dawn fingers the sky, else I cannot keep this pathway open. Night is short, and there are … other considerations afoot. Will you ride?”“Aye.” Tanaros squeezed the black’s barrel, feeling its readiness to run, to feel the twilit road unfurling like a ribbon once more beneath its hooves. He glanced at Speros and saw the Midlander, too, was astride, eyes wide with excitement. He glanced at the Gulnagel and saw them readying themselves to run, muscles bunching in their powerful haunches. “Let us make haste.”“Boss?” One held up Tanaros’ helmet. “You want this?”“No.” Thinking of water holes, of shallow graves and squirrel stew, Tanaros shook his head. “Leave it. It has served its purpose, and more. Let the Midlanders find it and wonder. I do not need it.”“Okay.” The Fjel laid it gently alongside the road.Tanaros took a deep breath, touching the sword that hung at his side. His branded heart throbbed, answering to the touch, to the echo of Godslayer’s fire and his Lordship’s blood. He thought, with deep longing, of Darkhaven’s encompassing walls. He tried not to think about the fact that she was there. A small voice whispered a name in his thoughts, insinuating a tendril into his heart, as delicate and fragile as the shudder of a mortexigus flower. With an effort, he squelched it. “We are ready, cousin.”“Good,” Ushahin said simply. He lifted one hand, and a cloud of ravens rose swirling from the fields, gathering and grouping. The blood-bay stallion shifted beneath his weight, hide shivering, gathering. The road, which was at once like and unlike the road upon which they stood, beckoned in a silvery path. “Then let us ride.”Home!The blood-bay leapt and the ravens swept forward. Behind them ran the grey and the black. The world lurched and the stars blurred; all save one, the blood-red star that sat on the western horizon. Now three rode astride, and two were of the Three. The beating of the ravens’ wings melted into the drumming sound of hoofbeats and the swift, steady pad of the Gulnagel’s taloned feet.And somewhere to the north, a lone Rider veered into the Unknown Desert.In the farmsteads and villages, Midlanders tossed in their sleep, plagued by nightmares. The color of their dreams changed. Where they had seen a horse as white as foam, they saw three; smoke and pitch and blood.Where they had seen a venerable figure—a Man, or something like one—with a gem as clear as water on his breast, they saw a shadowy face, averted, and a rough stone clenched in a child’s fist, the crunch of bone and a splash of blood.Over and over, it rose and fell.Onward, they rode.
LILIAS WAS SEASICK.She leaned over the railing of the dwarf ship Yrinna’s Bounty and spewed her guts into the surging waves. When the contents of her belly had been purged to emptiness, her guts continued to churn. There was no surcease upon these lurching decks, this infernal swell. The waves rose and fell, rose and fell, a constant reminder that the world she knew had vanished. Lilias retched and brought up bile until her very flesh burned with dry, bitter heat. It was no wonder she failed to hear the approach of the Ellyl behind her.“Pray, steady yourself, Sorceress.” A cool hand soothed her brow, and there was comfort and sweet ease in the touch. “’Tis but Meronin’s waves that do disturb those accustomed to the solid ground of Uru-Alat.”“Get away!” Lilias, straightening, shoved him. “Leave me alone.”“Forgive me.” The Ellyl took a graceful step backward, raising his slender hands; Peldras, one of Malthus’ Companions. The one with the damnable shadow of sorrow and compassion in his gaze. “I meant only to bring comfort.”Lilias laughed, a sound as harsh as the calling of gulls. Her mouth was parched and foul. She pushed strands of dark hair, sticky with bile, out of her face. “Oh, comfort, is it? Can you undo what is done, Ellyl? Can you restore Calandor to life?”“You know that such a thing cannot be.” The Ellyl did not flinch, and the sorrow in his gaze only deepened. “Lady Sorceress, I regret the deaths at Beshtanag. Even, yes, perhaps even that of the Eldest. It grieves me to have come too late. Believe me, if I could have prevented them, I assure you, I would have. I did seek to do so.”“So.” Lilias shrugged and glanced across the deck toward where Aracus Altorus bent his head, listening to the Dwarf captain, who was the picture of ease upon the pitching decks, with his short stature and his root-gnarled legs astraddle. She was unsure how or why Yrinna’s Children had stood ready at Port Eurus to ferry Haomane’s Allies over the waters. “You failed.”“Yes.” Peldras bowed his head, fair, gleaming hair falling to curtain his somber brow. “Lady Sorceress,” he said softly, “I do not think your heart is as black as it has been painted. I would speak to you of one I met, Carfax of Staccia, an agent of the Sunderer’s will who by Arahila’s mercy became a Companion in truth at the end—”“No.” Gritting her teeth and swallowing hard, Lilias pushed past him. “I don’t want to hear it, Ellyl. I don’t want your cursed pity. Do you understand?”He took another step backward; avoiding her foul breath, no doubt. Once, even one of the Rivenlost would have stood awed in her presence. Now, there was nothing to her but bile and decay. This foulness, this mortality, it rotted her from the inside out. The stench of it bothered her own nostrils. “Forgive me, Sorceress,” he breathed, still reaching out toward her with one pale, perfect hand. “I did not mean to offend, but only to offer comfort, for even the least of us are deserving. Arahila’s mercy—”“—is not something I seek,” Lilias finished brusquely. “And what did Arahila the Fair know of dragons?”It was something, to see one of the Ellylon at a loss for words. She took the image with her as she stumbled toward the cabin in which she had been allotted space. Haomane’s Children, scions of the Lord-of-Thought. Oh, it gave them such pleasure to imagine themselves wiser than all other races, than all of the Lesser Shapers.The air was hot and close inside the narrow cabin, but at least it blocked out the sunlight that refracted blindingly from the waves, making spots dance in her vision. Here it was mercifully dark. Lilias curled into a Dwarf-size bunk, wrapping herself around her sick, aching belly into a tight bundle of misery.For a few blessed moments, she was left in solitude.The door cracked open, slanting sunlight seeping red through her closed lids.“Sorceress.” It was a woman’s voice, speaking the common tongue with an awkward Arduan inflection. The cool rim of an earthenware cup touched her lips, moistening them with water. “Blaise says you must drink.”“Get away.” Without opening her eyes, Lilias slapped at the ministering hand; and found her own hand stopped, wrist caught in a strong, sinewy grip. She opened her eyes to meet the Archer’s distasteful gaze. “Let go!”“I would like to,” the woman Fianna said with slow deliberation, “but I have sworn a vow of loyalty, and it is the will of the King of the West that you are to be kept alive. It is also the will of our Dwarfish hosts that no Man shall accompany one of our gender in closed quarters. So … drink.”She tilted the cup.Water, cool and flat, trickled into Lilias’ mouth. She wanted to refuse it, wanted to flail at the life-sustaining invasion. The Archer’s hard gaze and the calloused grip on her wrist warned her against it. And so, with resentful gulps, she drank. The cool water eased the parched tissues of her mouth and throat, rumbling in her belly. Still, it stayed where it was put.“Good.” Fianna sat back on her heels. “Good.”“You should wish me dead,” Lilias rasped. “Aracus is a fool.”“You know his reasons. As for me, I do.” The Archer’s voice was flat, and there was no burdensome compassion in her mien, only hatred and steady distrust. “Would you say elsewise of me?”“No.” Lilias drew herself up until her back touched the wall of the cabin. “Oh, no. I would not.”“Then we understand one another.” She refilled the cup. “Drink.”Lilias took it, careful to avoid contact with the Archer’s fingers. Those were the hands that had nocked the Arrow of Fire, those the fingers that had drawn back the string of Oronin’s Bow. She did not want to feel their touch against her skin ever again. “Indeed, we do.” She sipped at the water, studying Fianna’s face. “Tell me, does Blaise Caveros know you are enamored of him?”A slow flush of color rose to the Archer’s cheeks; halfanger, half-humiliation. “You’re not fit to speak his name!” she spat, rising swift to her feet.Lilias shrugged and took another sip. “Shall I tell him?”For a moment, she thought the other woman would strike her. Fianna stood, stooped in the tiny cabin, her hands clenching and unclenching at her sides. At length, the habit of discipline won out, and she merely shook her head. “I pity you,” she said in a low voice. “I shouldn’t, but I do. You’ve forgotten what it means to be a mortal woman.” She regarded Lilias. “If, indeed, you ever even knew. And it’s a pity because it’s all that’s left to you, and all that ever will be.”“Not quite.” Lilias gave a bitter smile. “I have my memories.”“I wish you the joy of them!”The door slammed on the Archer’s retort. Lilias sighed, feeling her tense body uncoil. If nothing else, at least the confrontation had distracted her from her misery. It felt as though she might survive the sea journey after all. Aracus’ will, was it? Well, let him have his way, then. It was nothing less than the Son of Altorus demanded. “I wish you the joy of it,” Lilias whispered.Finishing the water, she curled onto her side and slept.When she awoke, it was black as pitch inside the cabin, and stifling hot. Somewhere, the sound of breathing came from another bunk, slow and measured. Was it the Archer? Like as not, since the Dwarfs maintained a prohibition on men and women sharing quarters.The thought of it made her stomach lurch. Moving silently, Lilias clambered from the bunk and made her way to the door. It was unlatched and opened to her touch. She exited onto the deck, closing the door quietly behind her.Outside, the sea breeze blew cool and fresh against her face, tasting of salt. She took a deep breath, filling her lungs. For a mercy, her stomach settled in the open air. It was almost pleasant, here beneath the vault of night. The stars seemed to shine more brightly than ever they did in the mountains, and the waxing moon laid a bright path on the dark waves. Here and there, lanterns were hung from the ship’s rigging, lending a firefly glow. Dwarfish figures worked quietly by their light, tending to this and that, ignoring her presence.It was bliss to have no keeper for the first time since Beshtanag. Lilias made her way to the prow of the ship, finding its swaying no longer discomforted her as it had earlier. To her chagrin, she found she was not alone; a tall figure stood in the prow, gazing outward over the water. His head turned at her approach, moonlight glinting on the gold fillet that encircled his brow.She halted. “My lord Altorus. I did not mean to intrude.”“Lilias.” He beckoned to with one hand. “Come here. Have you ever seen Meronin’s Children?”She shook her head. It was the first time he had addressed her thusly, and it felt strange to hear her name in his mouth. “No, my lord. Until this morning, I had never even seen the sea.”“Truly?” Aracus looked startled. “I would have thought … ah, ’tis of no mind. Come then, and see. Come, I’ll not bite.” He pointed as she came hesitantly to stand beside him. “See, there.”In the waters beyond the ship’s prow, she saw them; a whole gathering, graceful forms arching through the waves in joyous leaps. Their sleek hides were silvery beneath the stars and there was a lambent wisdom in their large, dark eyes, at odds with the merry smiles that curved their slim jaws.“Oh!” Lilias exclaimed as one blew a shining plume of spray. “Oh!”“Wondrous, aren’t they?” He leaned pensively on the railing. “It seems, betimes, a passing pleasant way to live. The world’s strife does but pass across the surface of their world, leaving no trail. Though they will never be numbered among the Lesser Shapers, perhaps Meronin was wise to Shape his children thusly. Surely, they are happier for it.”“‘And Meronin the Deep kept his counsel,’” Lilias quoted.Aracus glanced at her. “You know the lore.”“Does it surprise you so?” She gazed at the graceful figures of Meronin’s Children, describing ebullient arcs amid the waves. “I have never seen the sea, but I have lived for a thousand years on my mountain, Aracus Altorus, and the counsel of dragons is as deep as Meronin’s.”“Perhaps,” he said. “But it is false.”Lilias eyed him. “Do you know, my lord, that dragons number Meronin’s Children among the Lesser Shapers? They say their time is not come, nor will for many Ages. Still, they say, Meronin has planned well for it. Who benefited most when the world was Sundered?”He frowned at her. “You know well it was the Sunderer himself.”“Was it?” She shrugged. “Haomane First-Born says so, but Lord Satoris has lived like a fugitive upon Urulat’s soil with ten thousand enemies arrayed against him. Meanwhile, Meronin’s waters have covered the Sundered World, and his Children multiply in peace.” Lilias nodded at the leaping forms. “Meronin the Deep keeps his counsel and waits. It may be that one day he will challenge the Lord of Thought himself.”“You speak blasphemy!” Aracus said, appalled.“No.” She shook her head. “Truth, as I know it. Truth that is not found in scholars’ books or Shapers’ prophecy. Whatever I may be, I am Calandor’s companion, not Haomane’s subject. You spoke of lore. There is a great deal I know.”“And much you will not share.” His voice turned blunt. “Why?”Lilias shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. “You speak of the Soumanië? That is another matter, and my lord knows why.”His gaze probed hers. “You understand a woman’s life is at stake?”“Yes.” She met his gaze without flinching. “Would you believe me if I told you Satoris will not kill her?”He raised his brows. “Surely you cannot pretend to believe such a thing.”She sighed. “I can, actually. Once upon a time, Satoris Third-Born, too, was much given to listening to the counsel of dragons; aye, and speaking with them, too. For good or ill, I know something of his nature. Although it is twisted, there is nobility in it—and pride, too. A Shaper’s pride. He will not slay her out of hand.”“No.” Aracus debated, then shook his head. “No!” Beneath the dull, emberless stone of the Soumanië, his face was set. “Do you see that?” With one stabbing finger, he pointed unerring at the red star that rode high overhead in the night skies. “It is a declaration of war, Sorceress. I saw the innocent dead at Lindanen Dale. I witnessed my betrothed wrenched away in vile captivity, and followed into a trap that would have slain us all, save for Haomane’s grace. If the Sunderer spoke to you of mercy, he has ensnared your thoughts in his lies.”“No,” Lilias said gently. “You declared war upon Satoris, my lord Aracus, when you pledged yourself to wed the Lady of the Ellylon. The red star merely echoes that deed. I do not absolve him of his actions, any more than I ask absolution for mine. Only … what else did you expect him to do?”“It is Haomane’s Prophecy.” His hands gripped the railing until his knuckles whitened, and he stared over the waters, watching Meronin’s Children disport themselves with a mix of unconscious envy and fresh unease. “I did not ask for this destiny.”“I know.” Lilias watched him. “But you accepted it nonetheless.” Moonlight cast faint shadows in the lines worry and weariness had etched into his features. He was young, yes; but he was a Man, and mortal. How would it be to watch his beloved endure, unaging, while his flesh withered and rotted? She, who had replaced scores of pretty attendants in her own ageless time, had the strangest urge to smooth his furrowed brow.“What choice had I?” He turned his wide gaze upon her, filled with that compelling combination of demand and trust. “Truly, what had I?”All things must be as they are, little sssister. All thingsss.“I don’t know, my lord,” Lilias whispered, tears blurring her vision. Lifting one hand, she touched his cheek, laying her palm against it and feeling the warmth of his skin, the slight rasp of red-gold stubble. On his brow, the Soumanië pulsed with a brief, yearning glow at her nearness. It made her heart ache. “Tell me, do you love her?”“Yes.” His fingers closed on her wrist. “I do.”There were a thousand things he could have said; how Cerelinde’s beauty put the stars to shame, how her courage made him curse his inadequacy. How he understood the sacrifice she had made for the Rivenlost, and how terrible the cost would be. Aracus Altorus said none of them, and yet all were present in his simple, blunt words, in his wideset, demanding gaze. He was a warrior; oh, yes.One who loved the Lady of the Ellylon.“Well, then.” Lilias opened her hand, letting him steer it away, deflecting her touch harmlessly. “You had no choice, did you?”He stared at her. “You trouble me, Sorceress.”“Good.” She smiled through her tears. “You should be troubled, my lord Altorus.” Wrenching her hand free, she took a stumbling step away from him. “Thank you for sharing your vision of Meronin’s Children with me. Whether or not it was true, it was a pleasant dream.”The disinterested Dwarfs watched her progress, and Aracus’ stare followed her back to her cabin, until she closed the door onto stifling darkness and the Archer snoring in the second bunk.Lilias closed the door, and wept.Copyright © 2005 by Jacqueline Carey