The Riddled Night: Everien: Book 2by Valery Leith
In a world of shifting realities, two warriors begin a deadly quest for truth....
It is winter in Everien. The land is under the thumb of the Pharician warlord Tash, and the Clans are thrown into rebellion. Tash will stop at nothing to exploit the mysterious Knowledge of the lost Everiens, to produce terrible weapons seen only in the visions of young… See more details below
In a world of shifting realities, two warriors begin a deadly quest for truth....
It is winter in Everien. The land is under the thumb of the Pharician warlord Tash, and the Clans are thrown into rebellion. Tash will stop at nothing to exploit the mysterious Knowledge of the lost Everiens, to produce terrible weapons seen only in the visions of young Impressionists. Still, the Pharicians cannot control the Clans ... or vanquish the Sekk.
Meanwhile, in Istar's homeland a winged skeleton has been discovered unearthing an ancient legend and rousing a bloodthirsty Sekk warrior who will prove to be Istar's greatest challenge.
In the midst of these struggles, an ancient Everien skyfalcon, long thought to be extinct, has arrived in Jai Khalar bearing a cryptic message that will transform Everien forever. The mystery of the skyfalcon is bound with the fate of Tarquin the Free lost between reality and Everien's past with his elusive love, Jaya Paradox and with Tarquin's dark foe, Night, who haunts an Everien riddled by war, love, magic, and time itself.
"Lovely scenes and compelling characters ... a strong demonstration of Leith's potential as a writer."
-- Publishers Weekly
"The real attraction here ... is Leith's shimmering, vaulting imagination: complex, enigmatic, seemingly limitless, her creations nonetheless have a satisfyingly plausible shape and weight and structure."
-- Kirkus Reviews
Don't miss the first book in this groundbreaking fantasy series:
Everien: Book One
The Company of Glass
"Utterly fascinating ... [with] an inventiveness that takes no prisoners, dazzling embroidery, and astounding plot wrinkles."
-- Kirkus Reviews
And look for Valery Leith's next book:
The Way of the Rose
Coming in fall 2001
Read an Excerpt
The Pelt of a Snow Lion
Thietar and the Sekk faced each other across the white void. Falling snow blew over the icy crust with a scoffing sound, like dry laughter. Thietar closed his eyes.
"I will not love it," he chanted to himself. "I will not love it. I do not have to hate it but I will not love it. It is only a stone. It is only a piece of shadow on the snow. I will not love it."
Yet he couldn't take his eyes off the distant figure. The Sekk did nothing. It was out of earshot anyway, although Thietar supposed it might possibly be influencing the tenor of the wind with its song. It had not moved for hours; neither had Thietar. He kept hoping the others would realize what had happened and come up Tyger Pass looking for him. Surely they could put two and two together: the ruined caravan lying half buried in the gully, the absence of any enemy, the silence of the hills and the whiteness of the sky. Now, of course, it seemed so obvious to him that the Sekk had been watching him all along, maybe had even been calling him. It seemed so obvious. It had taken the caravan and then lain in wait for whoever would come along next. Sekk didn't need food like people. They didn't need heat like people. They could lie underground for years, like corpses, like hidden pools of water, unknown to light or time. And now this one had him in its sights, and he would either freeze to death or be Enslaved. It was only a matter of time.
O great Hawks of my ancestors, thought Thietar, who was relatively unversed in the Animal Magic and usually disinterested in spiritual matters. O killer Hawk savior, O taloned one please let thecold come quickly. Please let my heart be frozen. Do not let me love it. Please!
His toes and fingers had no more feeling. It was said that when you froze to death you felt warm and comfortable and sleepy, but he was shivering violently, and he was hungry, and his teeth ached. Death was not close enough to rescue him from the Slaving spell. Suicide was a possibility but he didn't think he had the will to do violence to himself. Did that mean the Sekk was getting to him, even at this distance? Why could he not move his hand to his dagger, draw it swiftly across each of his own wrists, bleed himself to death here in the snow? Was he Enslaved already? No, it was merely that he could not move his arms. He could not move anything, but his teeth chattered.
I will not love it. I will not love it. I will not love it.
Like a ceremonial chant he repeated it. If you said something enough times you had to believe it eventually. Right?
The expedition had been ill-advised from the start. Thietar and his brothers had been hunting snow lion in Tyger Pass for the past several days. It had been his brother Birtar's idea. Birtar was besotted with Lyntar the outbreed, who was going to be rich now that the Elder Mintar's fortune was passing to Lyntar and her twin sister Pietar, already all but promised to Grietar whom nobody wanted to cross. So, like every unattached Seahawk man with eyes in his head, Birtar was applying his whole imagination to the problem of impressing Lyntar.
He had recruited his younger brothers to his cause, saying, "We will bring back the pelt of the snow lion, and when I spread it across her shoulders and arrange her braids on its fur, I will say, 'Here is the most elusive, the rarest, the most beautiful of creatures. I found her in the lonely snows, and I told her that I was your hunter, and she threw herself upon my arrow that she might adorn you rather than live.' Then I will look in Lyntar's eyes and say, 'Do not let this snow lion's death be for nothing! Make my words true, Exquisite One. Make me yours.'"
After Birtar's brothers had finished groaning and throwing their socks at him, Birtar had reminded them that if bound to Lyntar he would be one of the wealthiest men in the Seahawk Clan and could repay their favors tenfold. So it was that they had gladly set out through the ice and snow in search of the shy snow lion. Three weeks later, they were still looking. Thietar was the youngest but also the best hunter, and on a hunch he had gone off on his own up Tyger Pass. He had seen no tracks, and he knew it would be a long shot finding a snow lion so close to a trade route. But it was the dead of winter, and the snow lions would know that weather closed the pass from October to April or May every year, making the territory safe for them. Thietar always played his hunches, and Tyger Pass seemed to be calling to him.
It was almost noon when he came across the remains of the caravan overturned in a gully halfway up the Seahawk side of the pass. It was not a large vehicle; probably the tail end of a longer train crossing back to Snake Country from Seahawk Country last autumn. It was laid deep in this year's snow, and at first Thietar thought it had merely been emptied of its cargo and abandoned. He headed toward it, being careful to stay downwind in case a snow lion had chosen it as a place to shelter; if one had not done so, Thietar himself might use the caravan as a hide. He shuffled toward it across the icy crust on his snowshoes, head down and eyes half closed against the midday glare.
There were no tracks anywhere near the caravan. He could not get at the doors for the snow was too deep, so he cut the ropes that held the hide roof to the frame and peeled it back. The cargo was still there: sacks of whalebone carvings, a couple of casks of the best Seahawk mead, tins of fine lamp oil and even finer caviar, and enough mink skins to make cloaks for an entire family.
Thietar let out a whoop. He capered in the snow, then ate some caviar and thought about breaking into the mead. But it was too cold up here for drinking. Instead he focused his mind on how to remove all the plunder. It was not a fortune, to be sure, but it was better than one blessed snow lion skin, especially when they hadn't even seen a lion in three weeks, much less caught one.
He couldn't understand what had happened. Surely if the traders had come back down the Seahawk side of the pass after abandoning their caravan, he would have heard the tale. The style of the vehicle was Snake, but when Thietar searched further he found Pharician coinage, and he thought it more likely that Pharicians could afford such a haul than the Snake Clan. Besides, the Snakes would never be caught up here once the snows were falling.
Then again, Pharicians usually did their trade with Seahawk by ship. Why labor over the pass when they could sail up the coast from the Floating Lands? It was a puzzle. Thietar thought about going straight to the rendezvous and waiting for his brothers with the news of his find; but he was curious. He got a spade out of the caravan and began digging through the snowdrift, wondering what other treasures might have been left behind.
Things started to make a little more sense when his shovel hit frozen bone.
The scavengers had not left much. There were skeletons of men and mules, and pieces of armor and clothing; but it could not have been the case that the caravan had been halted by snow, or the bodies would have been frozen and covered, protected from the buzzards until spring.
Thietar could not stop digging. He worked up a fine sweat, and the noon hour passed, but he kept finding things. The men had been Pharician according to their equipment. He was compelled onward by a macabre curiosity. After a time he uncovered a wooden chest, and although he was tired and hungry, the sight of it excited him so much that he cleared all the snow around it. Then he pried it open.
The bird that flew out was big enough to set him tumbling by the force of its wings beating the air alone, and it exploded out of the box in a blinding flash of light. Thietar spun ass over head and saw the bird silhouetted against the sky, wings fully outspread and threatening with their great span. At first he thought there was some trick of the shadows, and then he thought he'd seen lightning, for the feathers on the falcon's wings seemed white for a moment, and then just as quickly they were black; and then, as if the bird itself had rent a hole in the sky, he saw no feathers at all, but a distant view of a green and sunlit forest cut out in the shape of the falcon. It was a small perfect world, utterly incongruous in the snow and wind, and it drew his gaze like a gem. He stumbled after the bird as it ascended, trying to see what was moving in the trees of the unlikely vision, for he thought he'd glimpsed a figure, possibly a horse. But the falcon rose into the air as quickly as other things could fall, as if gravity were reversed for it alone. Thietar watched the falcon becoming a glittering mote and then disappearing altogether. His eyes ached with the effort.
Someone said his name. It was his own voice, saying "Thietar." He turned.
"Who's there?" he said, unnerved. As he turned back toward the empty box, the snow before him rose up in human form and confronted him with eyes that dragged him toward their own emptiness.
"I am here," said Thietar's voice to himself.
There was no hope now that the others would come for him before he froze. And if they did, what would he do? What could he do?
I want to live, he thought.
But he must pray for the cold to take him quickly. The Sekk, motionless, worked its spell. Invisible, silent, still, the Slaving spell must surely be descending on him. Just because he couldn't feel it didn't mean it wasn't happening.
Thietar tried to stir. His vision was growing dark. Was it night settling in? Was it storm? Was it the frost? Was it the Slaving? Did it matter? Why did he persist in having to know what was happening to him when he was so obviously doomed?
He had done everything he could to resist. As soon as he had taken in the Sekk's white face and white hands, its white braids and white cloak made all of snow lion pelts, its green eyes and its silver voice and its wavering form that made it seem no more substantial than a candle or reflection on water, he had ripped his sword from the scabbard on his back and charged. Thietar had lived all his life with the threat of the Sekk an ever-present, shadowy possibility. His father, his uncle, and his two eldest brothers had joined Ajiko's army and were marched off to their deaths, all of them, in the thrall of Night. None had returned from Jai Pendu.
He screamed as he attacked. His heart was hard as he drove the sword into its belly.
The Sekk did not cry out. It was bleeding. It looked at him.
As his sword came back toward him, it somehow swung wide and cut across his own leg. He didn't feel pain at first, but he was surprised and angry at his own clumsiness, and he was afraid. He went after the Sekk again, but it had fallen into the deeper snow and when he tried to pursue, his snowshoes got tangled and he almost fell.
He looked down and blood was gushing from a deep gash in his thigh. The sight of his own blood made him want to faint. Thietar hid his eyes from the Sekk and began to run, clumsy in the snowshoes. His sword was dripping. His leg screamed at him. Blood soaked his fur boot inside and out. The Sekk should be finished after that blow. Any man would be mortally wounded. Oh, but it had been waiting in the snow, it had risen before his eyes like smoke, like material light. What was blood to a Sekk?
He had not run very far before his leg gave out a second time. He broke through the crust as he fell, lying in the soft, deep snow that had been protected by ice. He looked back.
From this distance he couldn't see any blood on it. The Sekk was crouched in a hollow in the snow just as Thietar was: his opposite watching him across a chessboard. But all the squares were white, and the other pieces were gone. Thietar bound his leg as best as he could, desperate to stop the bleeding. He intended to get up and keep going, limping, staggering crawling if necessary to get away from the Sekk.
But he didn't move.
He didn't know how much time had passed in the stalemate. Too long. Too long. He could not end it. He was angry. An animal would never panic like this. An animal would not equivocate. It simply would not think. If it was given to an animal to die, then it would die; and if it was given to it to fight, then it would fight. There would be none of this miserable inner debate.
Oh, but he was cold. Would his companions really leave him to the elements? Were they so stupid that they could not find his tracks? Or did they not care?
It was getting so dark, soon he would not be able to see his enemy. Would he then be released? Or would it move in to finish him?
Voices. In the stillness they sounded metallic and strange, but he recognized them all the same. They had come for him!
His brothers were approaching him from behind and he began to panic again. What was he going to do? An animal would not give its soul. An animal would fight. I will not love it, he said to himself again but they were only words; it was too late. He belonged to the Sekk.
They were almost upon him. Turning in the grayness of his own vision, he reached out feebly with his knife and tried to slash it at Birtar, but the other man took the knife away, grabbed his hair, and hauled him to his feet.
"Look into my eyes!" commanded Birtar brokenly, and Thietar saw that tears were streaming down his cheeks. "Oh, Ysse, tell me you are not Enslaved, my brother! Look into my eyes."
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