Meanwhile, Captain Aedhir Fainne learns the terrible truth about the Torachan Empire's interest in the Enghan--and that when the Empire has conquered these beleaguered tribes, they will come next for his own homeland of Tiralainn. When imperial troops ambush Aedhir and his new-found friends, abducting Aedhir's son and daughter, as well as the young heir to the Enghan throne, Aedhir takes his place among the Enghan army ranks, riding headlong to their rescue, and to brutal, bloody war.
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Temu awoke to the soft sound of Yeb's voice, murmuring incantations and the whisper of his boot soles in the snow and fallen pine needles as he walked slowly around the perimeter of the campsite. "Ene mor ayu manu jaga," Yeb said softly. "Ta yadaqu getulku dotura ene yajar." This line shall be our border. You cannot pass into this place.
Temu sat up, drawing away from the warmth of Toghrul's body. Toghrul shrugged his shoulder, settling himself comfortably beneath his blankets without stirring. Temu rubbed his eyes sleepily and looked out from beneath the lean-to's canopy. He could see Yeb, more silhouette than solid form, moving on the far side of the clearing, just beyond the circumference of the fire's glow. The shaman held a dalbuur--a small ritual fan made of thin hide stretched taut across a frame of wood--in one hand, flapping it over the ground as he passed. In the other, he held a small pouch upturned, letting something that looked like sand or ash sprinkle down onto the snow.
"Ugei rid ayu boke adali manu buyu," Yeb said. "Ba minu kucun ayu masi tomu. Bi ibegel bide." No sorcery is stronger than mine, and my power is vast. I shall protect us.
His quiet words did not disturb anyone else among the sleeping Oirat. Jelmei and Nakhu, the two Kelet guards assigned to the watch sat near the fire, watching Yeb with interest. A light, but persistent snow had started to fall, filtering down through the pine boughs overhead.
"Ugei lus, ugei kelberi getulku bi," Yeb said, waving his fan skyward and then down at the ground again. No spirit, no form shall pass me. "Bi managa degere bide. Bi ibegel bide." Iam guard over us. I shall protect us.
Temu crawled out from beneath his blankets and furs and stood, keeping one burlagh hide wrapped about his shoulders against the chill. He ducked his head and stepped carefully among the dozing forms of his friends. He moved into the circumference of firelight, drawing Nakhu and Jelmei's gazes. Yeb did not seem to notice Temu's approach at all, and continued walking slowly, sprinkling the contents of his little pouch, flapping his fan and chanting.
"What is he doing?" Temu whispered to Jelmei, wide-eyed with wonder.
"Buyu," Jelmei whispered back. Magic.
Temu sat next to the two guards as they watched Yeb in fascination. He noticed Rhyden asleep across from them by the fire, curled beneath heavy layers of furs. Aigiarn slept near him, resting on her side facing the warmth of the blaze. She was close enough that the cap of her head nearly met Rhyden's, and her hand lay draped against his.
He is lonely ... alone ... Aigiarn had told Toghrul of Rhyden. As though he is haunted by things he cannot bear to recall, but does not dare to forget. I can see it in his eyes sometimes ... when he thinks no one is looking...
Temu had always been able to see Aigiarn's own loneliness and sorrow in her eyes. Yeb was right; a part of her still mourned for his father. She was isolated by her grief, imprisoned by it.
The way he looks at Temu ... it is as though Temu draws him out, chases that burden from his heart ... when he smiles at Temu, that sorrow lifts from him and he is beautiful for it.
Temu smiled softly. Aigiarn could have just as easily been describing herself with those words, and the effect Rhyden had on her lately. A couple of days earlier, while they had brought the knarr briefly ashore, Rhyden had coaxed Aigiarn into playing a round of pingachu with him and Temu. When she had accepted, Temu had been astounded; he had never seen his mother play anything before. She was not the sort for games or goofing, and he had been further astonished when Aigiarn turned out to be very good at pingachu--she had beaten them both, as a matter of fact. She had laughed with them, a deep, visceral, joyous laugh Temu had not heard from her in a long, long time. She had opened her mouth in a wide, happy smile and laughed aloud with abandon, and Temu had been nearly dumbstruck with wonder.
"What do you think it means?" he had whispered to Yeb once they had been underway once more that morning. He had kept his voice low, lest Toghrul overhear. Toghrul had not missed the playful exchanges between Aigiarn and Rhyden, and to judge by his scowl, he had not approved.
"I think it means perhaps other destinies were meant to be served by Rhyden's company than just Ag'iamon's promise," Yeb had replied quietly. He had glanced at Temu, raising his brow. "Does it trouble you, Temu?"
Temu had blinked at him, surprised. "No, Yeb," he said, shaking his head. "Not at all. It is just different about her, that is all. I like it--I like that she is happy."
Yeb had tousled Temu's hair with his fingertips, smiling. "For every winter, no matter how long it may seem in the duration, Temu, there is always a spring."
Temu thought he understood what Yeb had meant, although he was not certain. Aigiarn had found within Rhyden a like mind and heart. Both of them had withdrawn in their own ways following the deaths of those beloved to them--and both harbored feelings of shame and responsibility for those deaths. Aigiarn never spoke of such things to Temu, but he had sensed them about her, just as he could about Rhyden, without Rhyden saying a word.
Toghrul had always understood Aigiarn's pain, because he, too, had known his share of loss and grief, but he had never shared in it. Toghrul railed against his sorrow in actions and anger; Aigiarn had retreated from it. She had harbored it very much in private and secrecy, just like Rhyden had with his own. The two shared this common bond, and when they were together, somehow it lessened upon their hearts for awhile.
For every winter, no matter how long it may seem in the duration, Temu, there is always a spring, Yeb had said, and Temu smiled again, gazing at the Elf and his mother, at the simple but somehow poignant image of their hands folded together, aglow in the firelight.
"It is late. You should be asleep," Yeb said, startling him from his thoughts. He had not even heard Yeb approach and he blinked at the shaman as he sat on the ground, folding his legs beneath him.
"I heard you chanting," Temu said. He watched as Yeb folded his dalbuur and tucked it within the bogcu pouch at his sash. He produced two small, relatively flat items in place of the fan, each wrapped carefully, deliberately in squares of wool. "What were you doing, Yeb? What was that you spilled on the ground?"
"It is a ritual called toyuriqu," Yeb replied. He set the two bundles on the ground before his lap and set about unwrapping one. It was a toli, a small, circular amulet made of silver. The medallion was smooth and featureless, polished like a mirror. It was fastened to a loop of sinew, which Yeb drew over his head, draping about his neck.
"I spilled salt upon the ground," Yeb said, glancing at Temu. "I drew a ring around our campsite. It is a jaqa, as a spiritual barrier, to keep our uthas within--yours, mine and Rhyden's--and keep any spirits or spells the Khahl send to spy on us from drawing near."
"Will it work?" Temu asked, watching as Yeb unfolded the second bundle. This one contained seven dark, shriveled, dried berries tucked inside. Yeb pinched two of the berries between his fingertips and popped them in his mouth. He chewed slowly, but did not swallow.
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