Read an Excerpt
The Wandering Fire
The ice of eternal winter has reached out to enshroud Fionavar, the first of all worlds. For the Unraveller has broken free after millennia enchained—and now his terrible vengeance has begun to take its toll on mortals and immortals, mages and warriors, dwarves and the lios alfar, the Children of Light.
Only five men and women of our own world, brought by magic across the Tapestry of worlds to the very heart of the Weaver’s pattern, can hope to wake the allies they so desperately need. Yet none can foretell whether even these beings out of legend have the power to shatter the Unraveller’s icy grip of death upon the land. . . .
Praise for The Fionavar Tapestry
“This is the only fantasy work I know which does not suffer by comparison to Lord of the Rings.” —Interzone
“Satisfying . . . a highly literate, lovingly detailed work of fantasy.” —Fantasy Reviews
“A grand galloping narrative . . . reverberates with centuries of mythic and incantory implications—with a little Prince Hal and Falstaff on the side.” —Christian Science Monitor
“As fine a piece of fantasy as has been published for some time.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“Kay has an acrobatic imagination . . . one ingenious plot after another . . . well-staged and presented.” —Montreal Gazette
“Excellent fantasy reading . . . The Fionavar Tapestry will deserve a place among the best of fantasy.” —Regina Leader Post
Look for the first volume of
The Fionavar Tapestry: The Summer Tree
The Fionavar Tapestry:
Guy Gavriel Kay
The Wandering Fire is dedicated to my wife,
who came with me to find it.
This second book of the Tapestry was written on the farm of our friends, Marge and Antonios Katsipis, near the town of Whakatane, New Zealand. The shaping of my own world was immeasurably aided by the warmth with which the two of them, and their son, Iakomi, welcomed us to theirs.
What Has Gone Before
In THE SUMMER TREE it was told how Loren Silvercloak and Matt Sören, a mage and his magical source from the High Kingdom of Brennin in the world of Fionavar, induced five people from our own world to “cross” with them to Fionavar. Their ostensible purpose was to have the five participate in the festivities attendant on the celebration of the fiftieth year of the reign of Ailell, the High King. In fact, there were darker premonitions underlying the mage’s actions.
In Brennin, a brutal drought was afflicting the Kingdom. Ailell’s older son, Aileron, had already been exiled for cursing his father’s refusal to allow him to sacrifice himself on the Summer Tree in an attempt to end the drought.
In Fionavar, the five strangers quickly found themselves drawn into the complex tapestry of events. Kim Ford was recognized by the ancient Seer, Ysanne, as the successor she had prophetically dreamt. Kim was initiated into the knowledge of the Seers by the water spirit, Eilathen, and presented with the Baelrath, the “Warstone” that Ysanne had been guarding. As a gesture of ultimate sacrifice, Ysanne used Lokdal, the magic dagger of the Dwarves, to kill herself—but not before tracing a symbol on the brow of the sleeping Kim, which action enabled her to make of her own soul a gift for Kimberly.
Meanwhile, Paul Schafer and Kevin Laine were initiated in quite a different way. Paul played—and lost—a night game of chess with the High King, during which an unexpected bond of sympathy was forged between the two. The next morning he and Kevin joined the band of the reckless prince Diarmuid, Ailell’s younger son, in a raid across the River Saeren to Cathal, the Garden Country. There, Diarmuid achieved his intended seduction of Sharra, the Princess of Cathal. After the company’s return to Brennin, they passed a wild night in the Black Boar tavern. Late at night a song Kevin sang reminded Paul too acutely of the death in a car accident of Rachel Kincaid, the woman he had loved. Paul, blaming himself for the accident, which had occurred moments after Rachel had announced she was going to marry someone else, took a drastic step: he approached the High King and received Ailell’s sanction to sacrifice himself in the King’s stead on the Summer Tree.
The next night, the glade of the Summer Tree in the Godwood saw an epic battle. As Paul, bound on the Tree, watched helplessly, Galadan the Wolflord, who had come to claim Paul’s life, was opposed and driven back by a mysterious grey dog. The following night—Paul’s third on the Tree—a red full moon shone in the sky on a new moon night, as Dana, the Mother Goddess, granted Paul release from his guilt, by showing that he had not, in fact, subconsciously willed the accident that had killed Rachel. As Paul wept, rain finally fell over Brennin. Paul, though, did not die. He was taken down from the Tree alive by Jaelle, the High Priestess of Dana.
By now it was clear that an epochal confrontation was at hand; Rakoth Maugrim, the Unraveller, defeated a thousand years before and bound under the great mountain, Rangar, had freed himself and had caused the mountain to explode with a hand of fire to proclaim the fact.
His freedom was to have immediate consequences for Jennifer Lowell, the fourth of the strangers. In Paras Derval she had witnessed an unsettling incident during a children’s counting game. A young girl, Leila, had “called” a boy named Finn to “take the Longest Road” for the third time that summer. No one, not even Jaelle, who had also been watching, knew exactly what that meant. The next day, riding outside the town walls, Jennifer met Brendel of the lios alfar—the Children of Light—and a party of his people. She spent the night in the woods with them, and in the darkness they were attacked. Concerned about the arrival of the five strangers, Rakoth Maugrim had Galadan and Metran—the traitorous First Mage of Brennin—abduct Jennifer. She was bound to the back of the black swan, Avaia, and borne north toward Rakoth’s fortress of Starkadh.
Meanwhile, the explosion of the mountain had caused the death of the aged High King. This led to a tense confrontation between Diarmuid and his brother, Aileron—who had been disguised as Ysanne’s servant since his exile. The potentially violent situation was ended by Diarmuid’s voluntarily relinquishing his claim to the throne, but not before he had received a knife in the shoulder, courtesy of Sharra of Cathal.
In the meantime, Dave Martyniuk, the last of the five strangers, had been separated from the others in the crossing to Fionavar. He ended up far north among the Dalrei, the “Riders” on the Plain, and found himself drawn into the life of the third tribe, led by Ivor, their Chieftain.
Ivor’s young son Tabor, fasting in the forest for a vision of his totem animal, dreamt a seemingly impossible creature: a winged, chestnut unicorn. The next night, at the edge of the Great Wood, Pendaran, he met and flew up upon this creature of his fast, Imraith-Nimphais—a double-edged gift of the Goddess, born of the red full moon.
The following day Dave was escorted toward Brennin by a party of Dalrei led by Ivor’s older son, Levon. The company was ambushed by a great number of the evil svart alfar, and only Dave, Levon, and a third Dalrei, Torc, survived, by riding into the darkness of Pendaran Wood. The trees and spirits of Pendaran, hating all men since the loss of the beautiful Lisen of the Wood a thousand years before, plotted the death of the three men. They were saved by the intervention of Flidais, a diminutive forest power, who claimed, among other things, to know the answers to all the riddles in all the worlds, save one: the name by which the “Warrior” could be summoned. As it happened, the search for this name was one of the tasks Ysanne had left with Kimberly.
Flidais sent word to Ceinwen, the capricious, green-clad goddess of the Hunt, who had taken a special liking to Dave. The goddess arranged for the three friends to awaken safely on the southern edge of the Great Wood in the morning.
She did more. She also caused Dave to find a long lost object of power: Owein’s Horn. Levon, who had been taught by wise old Gereint, the blind shaman of his tribe, then found the Cave of the Sleepers nearby: a cave wherein Owein and the Kings of the Wild Hunt lay asleep.
The three friends rode south with this knowledge to Paras Derval, in time to arrive for the first council of Aileron’s reign. The council was interrupted twice. The first time, by the arrival of Brock, a Dwarf from Banir Tal who knelt before Matt Sören—once King of the Dwarves—and proferred the terrible tidings that the Dwarves, under the leadership of two brothers, Kaen and Blöd, had helped the Unraveller to free himself by treacherously breaking the Wardstone of Eridu, thus preventing any warning of Rakoth’s stirring under the mountain. They had also found and delivered to Rakoth the Cauldron of Khath Meigol, which had the power to raise the newly dead.
In the midst of this terrible recitation, Kimberly suddenly saw—in a vision shaped by the Baelrath—Jennifer being raped and tortured by Rakoth in his fortress. She gathered Dave, Paul, and Kevin to her, reached out for Jennifer with the wild power of her ring, and drew the five of them out of Fionavar back to their own world.
And so ended THE SUMMER TREE.
KIMBERLY FORD, Seer of Brennin
DAVE MARTYNIUK (‘Davor’)
PAUL SCHAFER, Lord of the Summer Tree (‘Pwyll Twiceborn’)
AILERON, High King of Brennin
DIARMUID, his brother
LOREN SILVERCLOAK, First Mage of Brennin
MATT SÖREN, his source, once King of the Dwarves
TEYRNON, a mage
BARAK, his source
JAELLE, High Priestess of the Goddess
AUDIART, her second in command, in the province of Gwen Ystrat
LEILA, a young priestess
COLL, lieutenant to Diarmuid
GORLAES, the Chancellor of Brennin
MABON, Duke of Rhoden
NIAVIN, Duke of Seresh
CEREDUR, Warden of the North Marches
VAE, a woman in Paras Derval
FINN, her son
SHAHAR, her husband
BRENDEL, a lord of the lios alfar, from Daniloth
BROCK, a Dwarf, from Banir Tal
SHALHASSAN, Supreme Lord of Cathal
SHARRA, his daughter and heir (‘the Dark Rose’)
BASHRAI, Captain of the Honor Guard (eidolath)
On the Plain:
IVOR, Chieftain of the third tribe of the Dalrei
LEITH, his wife
TORC, a Rider of the third tribe
GEREINT, shaman of the third tribe
RA-TENNIEL, King of the lios alfar
THE WEAVER at the Loom
MÖRNIR of the Thunder
DANA, the Mother
CERNAN of the Beasts
CEINWEN of the Bow, the HUNTRESS
OWEIN, Leader of the Wild Hunt
RAKOTH MAUGRIM the UNRAVELLER
GALADAN, Wolflord of the andain, his lieutenant
METRAN, once First Mage of Brennin, now allied with the Dark
AVAIA, the Black Swan
BLÖD, a Dwarf, servant to Rakoth
KAEN, brother to Blöd, ruling the Dwarves in Banir Lök
From the Past:
IORWETH FOUNDER, first High King of Brennin
CONARY, High King during the Bael Rangat
COLAN, his son, High King after him (‘the Beloved’)
AMAIRGEN WHITEBRANCH, first of the mages
LISEN of the Wood, a deiena, source and wife to Amairgen
REVOR, ancestral hero of the Dalrei, first Lord (Aven) of the Plain
Winter was coming. Last night’s snow hadn’t melted and the bare trees were laced with it. Toronto woke that morning to see itself cloaked and made over in white, and it was only November.
Cutting across Nathan Philips Square in front of the twin curves of the City Hall, Dave Martyniuk walked as carefully as he could and wished he’d worn boots. As he maneuvered toward the restaurant entrance on the far side, he saw with some surprise that the other three were already waiting.
“Dave,” said sharp-eyed Kevin Laine. “A new suit! When did this happen?”
“Hi, everyone,” Dave said. “I got it last week. Can’t wear the same corduroy jackets all year, can I?”
“A deep truth,” said Kevin, grinning. He was wearing jeans and a sheepskin jacket. And boots. Having finished the obligatory apprenticeship with a law firm that Dave had just begun, Kevin was now immersed in the equally tedious if less formal six-month Bar Admission course. “If that is a three-piece suit,” he added, “my image of you is going to be irrevocably shattered.”
Wordlessly, Dave unbuttoned his overcoat to reveal the shattering navy vest beneath.
“Angels and ministers of grace defend us!” Kevin exclaimed, crossing himself with the wrong hand while making the sign against evil with the other. Paul Schafer laughed. “Actually,” Kevin said, “it looks very nice. Why didn’t you buy it in your size?”
“Oh, Kev, give him a break!” Kim Ford said. “It is nice, Dave, and it fits perfectly. Kevin’s feeling scruffy and jealous.”
“I am not,” Kevin protested. “I am simply giving my buddy a hard time. If I can’t tease Dave, who can I tease?”
“It’s okay,” said Dave. “I’m tough, I can take it.” But what he was remembering in that moment was the face of Kevin Laine the spring before, in a room in the Park Plaza Hotel. The face, and the flat, harshly mastered voice in which he’d spoken, looking down at the wreckage of a woman on the floor:
“To this I will make reply although he be a god and it mean my death.”
You gave some latitude, Dave was thinking, to someone who’d sworn an oath like that, even if his style was more than occasionally jarring. You gave latitude because what Kevin had done that evening was give voice, and not for the only time, to the mute rage in one’s own heart.
“All right,” said Kim Ford softly, and Dave knew that she was responding to his thought and not his flippant words. Which would have been unsettling, were she not who she was, with her white hair, the green bracelet on her wrist, and the red ring on her finger that had blazed to bring them home. “Let’s go in,” Kim said. “We’ve things to talk about.”
Paul Schafer, the Twiceborn, had already turned to lead them through the door.
* * *
How many shadings, Kevin was thinking, are there to helplessness? He remembered the feeling from the year before, watching Paul twist inward on himself in the months after Rachel Kincaid had died. A bad time, that was. But Paul had come out of it, had gone so far in three nights on the Summer Tree in Fionavar that he was beyond understanding in the most important ways. He was healed, though, and Kevin held to that as a gift from Fionavar, some recompense for what had been done to Jennifer by the god named Rakoth Maugrim, the Unraveller. Though recompense was hardly the word; there was no true compensation to be found in this or any other world, only the hope of retribution, a flame so faint, despite what he had sworn, it scarcely burned. What were any of them against a god? Even Kim, with her Sight, even Paul, even Dave, who had changed among the Dalrei on the Plain and had found a horn in Pendaran Wood.
And who was he, Kevin Laine, to swear an oath of revenge? It all seemed so pathetic, so ridiculous, especially here, eating fillet of sole in the Mackenzie King Dining Room, amid the clink of cutlery and the lunchtime talk of lawyers and civil servants.
“Well?” said Paul, in a tone that made their setting instantly irrelevant. He was looking at Kim. “Have you seen anything?”
“Stop that,” she said. “Stop pushing. If anything happens I’ll tell you. Do you want it in writing?”
“Easy, Kim,” Kevin said. “You have to understand how ignorant we feel. You’re our only link.”
“Well, I’m not linked to anything now, and that’s all there is to it. There’s a place I have to find and I can’t control my dreaming. It’s in this world, that’s all I know, and I can’t go anywhere or do anything until I find it. Do you think I’m enjoying this any more than you three are?”
“Can’t you send us back?” Dave asked, unwisely.
“I am not a goddamned subway system!” Kim snapped. “I got us out because the Baelrath was somehow unleashed. I can’t do it on command.”
“Which means we’re stuck here,” Kevin said.
“Unless Loren comes for us,” Dave amended.
Paul was shaking his head. “He won’t.”
“Why?” Dave asked.
“Loren’s playing hands-off, I think. He set things in motion, but he’s leaving it up to us now, and some of the others.”
Kim was nodding. “He put a thread in the loom,” she murmured, “but he won’t weave this tapestry.” She and Paul exchanged a glance.
“But why?” Dave persisted. Kevin could hear the big man’s frustration. “He needs us—or at least Kim and Paul. Why won’t he come for us?”
“Because of Jennifer,” said Paul quietly. After a moment he went on. “He thinks we’ve suffered enough. He won’t impose anymore.”
Kevin cleared his throat. “As I understand it, though, whatever happens in Fionavar is going to be reflected here and in the other worlds too, wherever they are. Isn’t that true?”
“It is,” said Kim calmly. “It is true. Not immediately, perhaps, but if Rakoth takes dominion in Fionavar he takes dominion everywhere. There is only one Tapestry.”
“Even so,” said Paul, “we have to do it on our own. Loren won’t demand it. If the four of us want to go back, we’ll have to find a way ourselves.”
“The four of us?” Kevin said. So much helplessness. He looked at Kim.
There were tears in her eyes. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “I just don’t know. She won’t see the three of you. She never goes out of the house. She talks to me about work and the weather, and the news, and she’s, she—”
“She’s going ahead with it,” Paul Schafer said.
Golden, she had been, Kevin remembered, from inside the sorrow.
“All right,” said Paul. “It’s my turn now.”
Arrow of the God.
She’d had a peephole placed in the door so she could see who was knocking. She was home most of the day, except for afternoon walks in the park nearby. There were often people at the door: deliveries, the gas man, registered mail. For a while at the beginning there had been, fatuously, flowers. She’d thought Kevin was smarter than that. She didn’t care whether or not that was a fair judgment. She’d had a fight with Kim about it, when her roommate had come home one evening to find roses in the garbage can.
“Don’t you have any idea how he’s feeling? Don’t you care?” Kimberly had shouted.
Answer: no, and no.
How could she come to such a human thing as caring, anymore? Numberless, the unbridged chasms between where she now was, and the four of them, and everyone else. To everything there yet clung the odor of the swan. She saw the world through the filtered unlight of Starkadh. What voice, what eyes seen through that green distortion, could efface the power of Rakoth, who had shoveled through her mind and body as if she, who had once been loved and whole, were so much slag?
She knew she was sane, did not know why.
One thing only pulled her forward into some future tense. Not a good thing, nor could it have been, but it was real, and random, and hers. She would not be gainsaid.
And so, when Kim had first told the other three, and they had come in July to argue with her, she had stood up and left the room. Nor had she seen Kevin or Dave or Paul since that day.
She would bear this child, the child of Rakoth Maugrim. She intended to die giving birth.
She would not have let him in, except that she saw that he was alone, and this was sufficiently unexpected to cause her to open the door.
Paul Schafer said, “I have a story to tell. Will you listen?”
It was cold on the porch. After a moment she stepped aside and he entered. She closed the door and walked into the living room. He hung up his coat in the hall closet and followed her.
She had taken the rocking chair. He sat down on the couch and looked at her, tall and fair, still graceful though no longer slim, seven months heavy with the child. Her head was high, her wide-set green eyes uncompromising.
“I walked away from you last time, and I will again, Paul. I will not be moved on this.”
“I said, a story,” he murmured.
“Then tell it.”
So he told her for the first time about the grey dog on the wall of Paras Derval and the fathomless sorrow in its eyes; he told her about his second night on the Summer Tree, when Galadan, whom she also knew, had come for him, and how the dog had appeared again, and of the battle fought here in the Mörnirwood. He told her about being bound on the Tree of the God, and seeing the red moon rise and the grey dog drive the wolf from the wood.
He told her of Dana. And Mörnir. The powers shown forth that night in answer to the Darkness in the north. His voice was deeper than she remembered; there were echoes in it.
He said, “We are not in this alone. He may break us into fragments in the end, but he will not be unresisted, and whatever you may have seen or endured in that place you must understand that he cannot shape the pattern exactly to his desire. Or else you would not be here.”
She listened, almost against her will. His words brought back words of her own, spoken in Starkadh itself: You will have nothing of me that you do not take, she had said. But that was before. Before he had set about taking everything—until Kim had pulled her out.
She lifted her head a little. “Yes,” Paul said, his eyes never leaving her face. “Do you understand? He is stronger than any of us, stronger even than the God who sent me back. He is stronger than you, Jennifer; it is not worth saying except for this: he cannot take away what you are.”
“I know this,” said Jennifer Lowell. “It is why I will bear his child.”
He sat back. “Then you become his servant.”
“No. You listen to me now, Paul, because you don’t know everything either. When he left me . . . after, he gave me to a Dwarf. Blöd was his name. I was a reward, a toy, but he said something to the Dwarf: he said I was to be killed, and that there was a reason.” There was cold resolution in her voice. “I will bear this child because I am alive when he wished me dead—the child is random, it is outside his purposes.”
He was silent a long time. Then, “But so are you, in and of yourself.”
Her laugh was a brutal sound. “And how am I, in and of myself, to answer him? I am going to have a son, Paul, and he will be my answer.”
He shook his head. “There is too much evil in this, and only to prove a point already proven.”
“Nonetheless,” said Jennifer.
After a moment his mouth crooked sideways. “I won’t press you on it, then. I came for you, not him. Kim’s already dreamt his name, anyhow.”
Her eyes flashed. “Paul, understand me. I would do what I am doing whatever Kim said. Whatever she happened to dream. And I will name him as I choose!”
He was smiling, improbably. “Stick around and do that then. Stay with us, Jen. We need you back.” Only when he spoke did she realize what she’d said. He’d tricked her, she decided, had goaded her quite deliberately into something unintended. But she couldn’t, for some reason, feel angry. Had this first tenuous spar he’d thrown across to her been a little firmer she might, in fact, have smiled.
Paul stood up. “There is an exhibition of Japanese prints at the Art Gallery. Would you like to see it with me?”
For a long time she rocked in the chair, looking up at him. He was dark-haired, slight, still frail-seeming, though not so much as last spring.
“What was the dog’s name?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I wish I did.”
After another moment she rose, put on her coat, and took her first careful step on the first bridge.
Dark seed of a dark god, Paul was thinking, as he tried to simulate an interest in nineteenth-century prints from Kyoto and Osaka. Cranes, twisted trees, elegant ladies with long pins in their hair.
The lady beside him wasn’t talking a great deal, but she was there in the gallery, and it was not a small grace. He remembered the crumpled figure she had been seven months before, when Kim had brought them desperately from Fionavar with the wild, blazing power of the Baelrath.
This was Kim’s power, he knew: the Warstone and the dreams in which she walked at night, white-haired as Ysanne had been, two souls within her, and knowledge of two worlds. It had to be a difficult thing. The price of power, he remembered Ailell the High King telling him, the night they played their game of ta’bael. The night that had been overture to the three nights that became his own hard, hardest thing. The gateway to whatever he now was, Lord of the Summer Tree.
Whatever he now was. They had moved into the twentieth century now: more cranes, long, narrow mountain scenes, low boats riding on wide rivers.
“The themes don’t change much,” Jennifer said.
He had been sent back, he was Mörnir’s response, but he had no ring with which to burn, no dreams down which to track the secrets of the Tapestry, not even a horn such as Dave had found, no skylore like Loren, or crown like Aileron; not even—though he felt a chill at the thought—a child within him like the woman at his side.
And yet. There had been ravens at his shoulder in the branches of the Tree: Thought and Memory were their names. There had been a figure in the clearing, hard to see, but he had seen horns on its head and seen it bow to him. There had been the white mist rising up through him to the sky in which a red moon sailed on new moon night. There had been rain. And then the God.
And there was still the God. At night, sometimes, he could feel the tacit presence, immense, in the rush and slide of his blood, the muffled thunder of his human heart.
Was he a symbol only? A manifestation of what he had been telling Jennifer: the presence of opposition to the workings of the Unraveller? There were worse roles, he supposed. It gave him a part to play in what was to come, but something within—and there was a god within him—said that there was more. No man shall be Lord of the Summer Tree who has not twice been born, Jaelle had said to him in the sanctuary.
He was more than symbol. The waiting to learn what, and how, seemed to be part of the price.
Almost at the end now. They stopped in front of a large print of a river scene: boats being poled along, others unloading at a crowded dock; there were woods on the far side of the stream, snowcapped mountains beyond. It was badly hung, though; he could see people behind them reflected in the glass, two students, the sleepy guard. And then Paul saw the blurred reflection in the doorway of a wolf.
Turning quickly on a taken breath he met the eyes of Galadan.
The Wolflord was in his true shape, and hearing Jennifer gasp Paul knew that she, too, remembered that scarred, elegant force of power with the silver in his dark hair.
Grabbing Jennifer’s hand, Paul wheeled and began to move quickly back through the exhibition. He looked over his shoulder: Galadan was following, a sardonic smile on his face. He wasn’t hurrying.
They rounded a corner. Mumbling a swift prayer, Paul pushed on the bar of a door marked EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY. He heard a guard shout behind him, but no alarm sounded. They found themselves in a service corridor. Without saying a word, they clattered down the hallway. Behind them Paul heard the guard shout again as the door opened a second time.
The corridor forked. Paul pushed open another door and hurried Jennifer through. She stumbled and he had to hold her up.
“I can’t run, Paul!”
He cursed inwardly. They were as far from the exit as they could be. The door had taken them out into the largest room in the gallery, Henry Moore’s permanent sculpture exhibit. It was the pride of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the room that placed it on the artistic map of the world.
And it was the room in which, it seemed, they were going to die.
He helped Jennifer move farther away from the door. They passed several huge pieces, a madonna and child, a nude, an abstract shape.
“Wait here,” he said, and sat her down on the broad base of one of the sculptures. There was no one else in the room—not on a weekday morning in November.
It figures, he thought. And turned. The Wolflord walked through the same door they had used. For the second time he and Galadan faced each other in a place where time seemed to hang suspended.
Jennifer whispered his name. Without taking his eyes from Galadan he heard her say, in a voice shockingly cold, “It is too soon, Paul. Whatever you are, you must find it now. If not, I will curse you as I die.”
And still reeling from that, he saw Galadan raise a long slender finger to a red weal on his temple. “This one,” said the Lord of the andain, “I lay at the root of your Tree.”
“You are lucky,” Paul said, “to be alive to lay it anywhere.”
“Perhaps,” the other said, and smiled again, “but no more fortunate than you have been until now. Both of you.” There was, though Paul had not seen it come, a knife in his hand. He remembered that knife. Galadan moved a few steps closer. No one, Paul knew, was going to enter the room.
And then he knew something more. There was a deep stirring, as of the sea, within him, and he moved forward himself, away from Jennifer, and said, “Would you battle the Twiceborn of Mörnir?”
And the Wolflord replied, “For nothing else am I here, though I will kill the girl when you are dead. Remember who I am: the children of gods have knelt to wash my feet. You are nothing, yet, Pwyll Twiceborn, and will be twice dead before I let you come into your force.”
Paul shook his head. There was a tide running in his blood. He heard himself say, as if from far off, “Your father bowed to me, Galadan. Will you not do so, son of Cernan?” And he felt a rush of power to see the other hesitate.
But only for a moment. Then the Wolflord, who had been a force of might and a Lord of the mighty for past a thousand years, laughed aloud and, raising his hand again, plunged the room into utter darkness.
“What son have you ever known to follow his father’s path?” he said. “There is no dog to guard you now, and I can see in the dark!”
The surging of power stopped within Paul.
In its place came something else, a quiet, a space as of a pool within a wood, and he knew this, instinctively, to be the true access to what he now was and would be. From within this calm he moved back to Jennifer and said to her, “Be easy, but hold fast to me.” As he felt her grip his hand and rise to stand beside him, he spoke once more to the Wolflord, and his voice had changed.
“Slave of Maugrim,” he said, “I cannot defeat you yet, nor can I see you in the dark. We will meet again, and the third time pays for all, as well you know. But I will not tarry for you in this place.”
And on the words he felt himself dropping into the still, deep place, the pool within, which uttermost need had found. Down and down he went, and, holding tight to Jennifer, he took them both away through the remembered cold, the interstices of time, the space between the Weaver’s worlds, back to Fionavar.
Vae heard the knocking at the door. Since Shahar had been sent north she often heard sounds in the house at night, and she had taught herself to ignore them, mostly.
But the hammering on the shop entrance below was not to be ignored as being born of winter solitude or wartime fears. It was real, and urgent, and she didn’t want to know who it was.
Her son was in the hallway outside her room, though; he had already pulled on trousers and the warm vest she had made him when the snows began. He looked sleepy and young, but he always looked young to her.
“Shall I go see?” he said bravely.
“Wait,” Vae said. She rose, herself, and pulled on a woolen robe over her night attire. It was cold in the house, and long past the middle of the night. Her man was away, and she was alone in the chill of winter with a fourteen-year-old child and a rapping, more and more insistent, at her door.
Vae lit a candle and followed Finn down the stairs.
“Wait,” she said again in the shop, and lit two more candles, despite the waste. One did not open the door on a winter night without some light by which to see who came. When the candles had caught, she saw that Finn had taken the iron rod from the upstairs fire. She nodded, and he opened the door.
In the drifted snow outside stood two strangers, a man, and a tall woman he supported with an arm about her shoulders. Finn lowered his weapon; they were unarmed. Coming nearer, and holding her candle high, Vae saw two things: that the woman wasn’t a stranger after all, and that she was far gone with child.
“From the ta’kiena?” said Vae. “The third time.”
The woman nodded. Her eyes turned to Finn and then back to his mother. “He is still here,” she said. “I am glad.”
Finn said nothing; he was so young it could break Vae’s heart. The man in the doorway stirred. “We need help,” he said. “We are fleeing the Wolflord from our world. I am Pwyll, this is Jennifer. We crossed here last spring with Loren.”
Vae nodded, wishing Shahar were there instead of in the windy cold of North Keep with his grandfather’s spear. He was a craftsman, not a soldier; what did her husband know of war?
“Come in,” she said, and stepped back. Finn closed and bolted the door behind them. “I am Vae. My man is away. What help can I offer you?”
“The crossing brought me early to my time,” the woman called Jennifer said, and Vae saw from her face that it was true.
“Make a fire,” she said to Finn. “In my room upstairs.” She turned to the man. “You help him. Boil water on the fire. Finn will show you where the clean linen is. Quickly, both of you.”
They left, taking the stairs two at a time.
Alone in the candlelit shop, among the unspun wool and the finished craftings, she and the other woman gazed at each other.
“Why me?” said Vae.
The other’s eyes were clouded with pain. “Because,” she said, “I need a mother who knows how to love her child.”
Vae had been fast asleep only moments before; the woman in the room with her was so fair she might have been a creature from the dreamworld, save for her eyes.
“I don’t understand,” said Vae.
“I will have to leave him,” the woman said. “Could you give your heart to another son when Finn takes the Longest Road?”
In daylight she might have struck or cursed anyone who said so flatly the thing that twisted through her like a blade. But this was night and half a dream, and the other woman was crying.
Vae was a simple woman, a worker in wool and cloth with her man. She had a son who for no reason she could understand had been called three times to the Road when the children played the prophecy game, the ta’kiena, and then a fourth time before the Mountain went up to signal war. And now there was this.
“Yes,” said Vae, simply. “I could love another child. It is a son?”
Jennifer wiped away her tears. “It is,” she said. “But there is more. He will be of the andain, and I don’t know what that will mean.”
Vae felt her hands trembling. Child of a god and a mortal. It meant many things, most of them forgotten. She took a deep breath. “Very well,” she said.
“One thing more,” the golden woman said.
Vae closed her eyes. “Tell me, then.”
She kept them closed for a long time after the father’s name was spoken. Then, with more courage than she would have ever guessed she had, Vae opened her eyes and said, “He will need to be loved a great deal. I will try.” Watching the other woman weep after that, she felt pity break over her in waves.
At length Jennifer collected herself, only to be racked by a visible spasm of pain.
“We had best go up,” said Vae. “This will not be an easy thing. Can you manage the stairs?”
Jennifer nodded her head. Vae put an arm around her, and they moved together to the stairway. Jennifer stopped.
“If you had had a second son,” she whispered, “what name would he have had?”
The dreamworld it was. “Darien,” she said. “For my father.”
It was not an easy thing, but neither was it a long one. He was small, of course, more than two months early, but not as small as she had expected. He was placed on her breast for a moment, afterward. Looking down for the first time upon her son, Jennifer wept, in love and in sorrow for all the worlds, all the battlegrounds, for he was beautiful.
Blinded, she closed her eyes. Then, once only, and formally, that it should be done and known to be done, she said, “His name is Darien. He has been named by his mother.” Saying so, she laid her head back upon the pillows and gave her son to Vae.
Taking him, Vae was astonished how easily love came to her again. There were tears in her own eyes as she cradled him. She blamed their blurring and the shifting candlelight for the moment—no more than that—when his very blue eyes seemed red.
It was still dark when Paul went out into the streets, and snow was falling. Drifts were piling up in the lanes of Paras Derval and against the shops and houses. He passed the remembered signboard on the Black Boar. The inn was dark and shuttered, the sign creaked in the pre-dawn wind. No one else was abroad in the white streets.
He continued, east to the edge of the town and then—though the going became harder—north up the slope of the palace hill. There were lights on in the castle, beacons of warmth amid the wind and blowing snow.
Paul Schafer felt a deep desire to go to those beacons, to sit down with friends—Loren, Matt, Diarmuid, Coll, even Aileron, the stern, bearded High King—and learn their tidings even as he shared the burden of what he had just witnessed.
He resisted the lure. The child was Jennifer’s thread in this weaving, and she was owed this much: he would not take that thread away by spreading word throughout the land of a son born that day to Rakoth Maugrim.
Darien, she had named him. Paul thought of Kim saying, I know his name. He shook his head. This child was something so unpredictable, so truly random, it numbed the mind: what would be the powers of this newest of the andain, and where, oh, where, would his allegiance fall? Had Jennifer brought forth this day not merely a lieutenant but an heir to the Dark?
Both women had cried, the one who had given birth and the one who would raise him. Both women, but not the child, not this fair blue-eyed child of two worlds.
Did the andain cry? Paul reached down toward the still place, the source of the power that had brought them here, for an answer but was not surprised to find nothing there.
Pushing through the last swirling mound of snow he reached his destination, drew a breath to steady himself, and pulled on the chain outside the arched doorway.
He heard a bell ring deep within the domed Temple of the Mother; then there was silence again. He stood in the darkness a long time before the great doors swung open and the glow of candlelight spun out a little way into the snowbound night. He moved sideways and forward to see and be seen.
“No farther!” a woman said. “I have a blade.”
He kept his composure. “I’m sure you do,” he said. “But you also have eyes, I hope, and should know who I am, for I have been here before.”
There were two of them, a young girl with the candle and an older woman beside her. Others, with more light, were coming forward as well.
The girl moved nearer, raising her light so that his face was fully lit by the flame.
“By Dana of the Moon!” the older woman breathed.
“Yes,” said Paul. “Now quickly, please, summon your Priestess. I have little time and must speak with her.” He made to enter the vestibule.
“Hold!” the woman said again. “There is a price of blood all men must pay to enter here.”
But for this he had no tolerance.
Stepping quickly forward, he grabbed her wrist and twisted. A knife clattered on the marble floor. Still holding the grey-robed woman in front of him Paul snapped, “Bring the Priestess, now!” None of them moved; behind him the wind whistled through the open door.
“Let her go,” the young girl said calmly. He turned to her; she looked to be no more than thirteen. “She means no harm,” the girl went on. “She doesn’t know that you bled the last time you were here, Twiceborn.”
He had forgotten: Jaelle’s fingers along his cheek as he lay helplessly. His glance narrowed on this preternaturally self-possessed child. He released the other priestess.
“Shiel,” the girl said to her, still tranquilly, “we should summon the High Priestess.”
“No need,” a colder voice said, and walking between the torches, clad as ever in white, Jaelle came to stand facing him. She was barefoot on the cold floor, he saw, and her long red hair was twisted down her back in untended spirals.
“Sorry to wake you,” he said.
“Speak,” she replied. “And carefully. You have assaulted one of my priestesses.”
He could not afford to lose his temper. This was going to be difficult enough as it was.
“I am sorry,” he lied. “And I am here to speak. We should be alone, Jaelle.”
A moment longer she regarded him, then turned. “Bring him to my chambers,” she said.
“Priestess! The blood, he must—”
“Shiel, be silent for once!” Jaelle snapped in a wholly unusual revealing of strain.
“I told her,” the young one said mildly. “He bled the last time he was here.”
Jaelle hadn’t wanted to be reminded. She went the long way around, so he would have to pass the dome and see the axe.
The bed he remembered. He had awakened here on a morning of rain. It was neatly made. Proprieties, he thought wryly—and some well-trained servants.
“Very well,” she said.
“News first, please. Is there war?” he asked.
She walked over to the table, turned, and faced him, resting her hands behind her on the polished surface. “No. The winter came early and hard. Not even svart alfar march well in snow. The wolves have been a problem, and we are short of food, but there have been no battles yet.”
“So you heard Kim’s warning?” Don’t attack, he’s waiting in Starkadh! Kimberly had screamed, as they passed into the crossing.
Jaelle hesitated. “I heard it. Yes.”
“No one else?”
“I was tapping the avarlith for her.”
“I remember. It was unexpected.” She made an impatient movement. “They listened to you then?”
“Eventually.” This time she gave nothing away. He could guess, though, what had happened, knowing the deep mistrust the men in the Great Hall that morning would have had for the High Priestess.
“What now?” was all he said.
“We wait for spring. Aileron takes council with everyone who will talk to him, but everyone waits for spring. Where is the Seer?” Some urgency there.
“Waiting also. For a dream.”
“Why are you here?” she asked.
Smile fading, then, with no levity at all, he told her: Arrow of Mörnir to Priestess of the Mother. Everything. Softly he gave her the name of the child and, more softly yet, who the father was.
She didn’t move during the telling of it or after; no indication anywhere in her of the impact. He had to admire her self-control. Then she asked again, but in a different voice, “Why are you here?”
And he said, “Because you made Jennifer a guest-friend last spring.” She hadn’t been ready for that—this time it showed in her face. A triumph for him of sorts, but the moment was too high by far for petty score-keeping in the power game. He went on, to take away the sting, “Loren would mistrust the wildness of this too much, but I thought you could deal with it. We need you.”
“You trust me with this?”
His turn to gesture impatiently. “Oh, Jaelle, don’t exaggerate your own malevolence. You aren’t happy with the power balance here, any fool can see that. But only a very great fool would confuse that with where you stand in this war. You serve the Goddess who sent up that moon, Jaelle. I am least likely of all men to forget it.”
She seemed very young in that moment. There was a woman beneath the white robe, a person, not merely an icon; he’d made the mistake of trying to tell her that once, in this very room, with the rain falling outside.
“What do you need?” she said.
His tone was crisp. “A watch on the child. Complete secrecy, of course, which is another reason I came to you.”
“I will have to tell the Mormae in Gwen Ystrat.”
“I thought as much.” He rose, began pacing as he spoke. “It is all the same, I gather, within the Mormae?”
She nodded. “It is all the same, within any level of the Priestesshood, but it will be kept to the inner circle.”
“All right,” he said, and stopped his pacing very close to her. “But you have a problem then.”
“This!” And reaching past her, he pulled open an inner door and grabbed the listener beyond, pulling her into the room so that she sprawled on the carpeted floor.
“Leila!” Jaelle exclaimed.
The girl adjusted her grey robe and rose to her feet. There was a hint of apprehension in her eyes, but only a hint, Paul saw, and she held her head very high, facing the two of them.
“You may owe a death for this.” Jaelle’s tone was glacial.
Leila said hardily, “Are we to discuss it with a man here?”
Jaelle hesitated, but only for a second. “We are,’ she replied, and Paul was startled by a sudden change in her tone. “Leila,” the High Priestess said gently, “you must not lecture me, I am not Shiel or Marline. You have worn grey for ten days only, and you must understand your place.”
It was too soft for Paul’s liking. “The hell with that! What was she doing there? What did she hear?”
“I heard it all,” Leila said.
Jaelle was astonishingly calm. “I believe it,” she said. “Now tell me why.”
“Because of Finn,” said Leila. “Because I could tell he came from Finn.”
“Ah,” said Jaelle slowly. She walked toward the child then and, after a moment, stroked a long finger down her cheek in an unsettling caress. “Of course.”
“I’m lost,” said Paul.
They both turned to him. “You shouldn’t be,” Jaelle said, in complete control again. “Did Jennifer not tell you about the ta’kiena?”
“And why she wanted to bear her child in Vae’s house? Finn’s mother’s house?”
“Oh.” It clicked. He looked at slim, fair-haired Leila. “This one?” he asked.
The girl answered him herself. “I called Finn to the Road. Three times, and then another. I am tuned to him until he goes.”
There was a silence. “All right, Leila,” Jaelle said. “Leave us now. You have done what you had to do. Never breathe a word.”
“I don’t think I could,” said Leila, in a small voice. “For Finn. There is an ocean inside me sometimes. I think it would overrun me if I tried.” She turned and left the room, closing the door softly behind her.
Looking at the Priestess in the light of the tall candles, Paul realized that he had never seen pity in her eyes before.
“You will do nothing?” he murmured.
Jaelle nodded her head, still looking at the door through which the girl had gone. “Anyone else I would have killed, believe me.”
“But not this one?”
“Not this one.”
She turned to him. “Leave me this secret,” she said softly. “There are some mysteries best not known, Pwyll. Even for you.” It was the first time she had spoken his name. Their eyes met, and this time it was Paul who looked away. Her scorn he could master, but this look in her eyes evoked access to a power older and deeper, even, than the one he had touched on the Tree.
He cleared his throat. “We should be gone by morning.”
“I know,” said Jaelle. “I will send in a moment to have her brought here.”
“If I could do it myself,” he said, “I would not ask this of you. I know it will drain the earthroot, the avarlith.”
She shook her head; the candlelight made highlights in her hair. “You did a deep thing to bring her here by yourself. The Weaver alone knows how.”
“Well, I certainly don’t,” he said. An admission.
They were silent. It was very still in the sanctuary, in her room.
“Darien,” she said.
He drew a breath. “I know. Are you afraid?”
“Yes,” she said. “And you?”
They looked at each other across the carpeted space that lay between, a distance impossibly far.
“We had better get moving,” he said finally.
She raised her arm and pulled a cord nearby. Somewhere a bell rang. When they came in response she gave swift, careful orders, and it seemed very soon when the priestesses returned, bearing Jennifer.
After that it took little time. They went into the dome and the man was blindfolded. She took the blood from herself, which surprised some of them; then she reached east to Gwen Ystrat, found Audiart first, then the others. They were made aware, manifested acceptance, then traveled down together, touched Dun Maura, and felt the earthroot flow through them all.
“Good-bye,” she heard him say, as it changed for her, in the way it always had—the way that had marked her even as a child—into a streaming as of moonlight through her body. She channeled it, gave thanks, and then spun the avarlith forth to send them home.
After, she was too weary to do anything but sleep.
In the house by the green where the ta’kiena had been chanted, Vae held her new child in her arms by the fire. The grey-robed priestesses had brought milk and swaddling clothes and promised other things. Finn had already put together a makeshift crib for Darien.
She had let him hold his brother for a moment, her heart swelling to see the brightness in his eyes. It might even keep him here, she thought; perhaps this awesome thing was so powerful it might overmaster the call that Finn had heard. It might.
And another thought she had: whatever the father might be, and she laid a curse upon his name, a child learned love from being loved, and they would give him all the love he needed, she and Finn—and Shahar when he came home. How could one not love a child so calm and fair, with eyes so blue—blue as Ginserat’s wardstones, she thought, then remembered they were broken.
Paul, on lookout up the road, whistled the all-clear. Dave grabbed the post for support and hurdled the fence, cursing softly as he sank ankle deep in spring mud.
“Okay,” he said. “The girls.”
Kevin helped Jen first and then Kim to balance themselves on the stiff wire for Dave to swing them up and over. They had been worried that the fence might be electrically charged, but Kevin’s checking earlier had established that it wasn’t.
“Car coming!” Paul cried sharply.
They flattened themselves on the cold, mucky ground till the headlights went by. Then Kevin rose and he too vaulted over the fence. This part was easy, but the ground was pressure-sensitive farther in, they knew, and an alarm would sound in the guards’ underground room when they walked that far.
Paul jogged up and neatly cleared the fence. He and Kevin exchanged a glance. Despite the immensity of what they were about to do, Kevin felt a surge of exhilaration. It was a joy to be doing something again.