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[Lanen Kaelar 03] - Redeeming the Lost

Elizabeth Kerner

  Redeeming the Lost

  Lanen Kaelar, Book 3

  Elizabeth Kerner



  Tor Books by Elizabeth Kerner

  Song in the Silence

  The Lesser Kindred

  Redeeming the Lost


  the Glory of God

  and to

  Martha Newman Morris Ewing


  Sarah Alice Morris Gramley

  The Marvellous Morris Girls

  My mother, Martha, so desperately missed,

  so dearly loved,

  even if we did fight like cats and dogs

  for quite a few years:

  so far away in death, and as near as my mirror

  where I sometimes catch a heart-stopping glimpse of you—

  the ache in my heart that never forgets that you are gone,

  the joy that remembers all that you were

  and the indomitable warrior spirit in you

  to fight for those who could not fight for themselves

  My dear Aunt Sarah, whose love and affection have upheld me

  in the good times, the bad times, and the dry, hard times—

  whose strength and tenacity and sheer zest for life

  have inspired me for many years,

  whose faith in me has braced a flagging heart,

  and whose truth-speaking is as rare and precious a gift

  as the loving heart that prompts it—

  to you, who have become my second mother

  I dedicate this work


  Maran Vena

  Bone to iron, blood to flame—hammer, anvil, tongs, coal, water, air, fire, hammer—thus the blacksmith’s soul.

  At last. Nearly there. I can find the way from here, and have finally been able to release the Silent Service guide who has led me thus far. I’ve a feeling I should arrive on my own.

  I have been ninning after my daughter these last six months, across half of Kolmar. Wretched girl. When I saw her return from the Dragon Isle with that man who was no man, when I saw my dear friend Rella stabbed the moment she stepped off the boat, I knew the time was come when I would have to face my child at last.

  I have had to watch my daughter all her life from a distance. From her first step to her first kiss I have been with her half a world away and she has known nothing of me. She passed through all of childhood’s more dreadful moments well enough, as far as I could tell, but when she came up against a demon-master I realised I could dwell in shadows no longer. What worse could happen, after all?

  I can hear you. Already you have decided who and what I am. You think me evil, or at the very least unfeeling and unnatural. You are wrong. Listen with a mind open to wider possibilities and you may learn something.

  Or perhaps there is some justice to your point of view. To be honest, I wonder about it myself in the long nights. It’s not an easy question, and there’s no simple answer that I can find. Life’s like that—messy and mixed, heroes and cowards in the one skin. It’s only in the bard’s tales that good and evil are so cleanly divided.

  Or in people like my daughter.

  When I was young and just coming of age I was desperate to leave my home to see the wider workl—not unlike Lanen, as it happens. My mother loved me well enough, but it suited her that I should go a-wandering, for I was not to her taste as a child. My blacksmith father Heithrek loved me best of all his children and feared for me out in the world alone. I have never been a fool and understood the dangers well enough, so I waited, but each day the waiting grew harder.

  Working beside my father made it at least bearable. When I first grew taller than my brothers, he laughed and put me to work in the forge. As I stayed and learned the beginnings of the craft, he would have me tend the iron in the fire, pumping away at the leather bellows until the sparks and the colour of the metal told him the iron was ready to work. I loved the fire, the warm darkness of the forge, the music of my father’s hammer against the anvil, the air of mystery and creation that blew through the glowing coals as he transformed stubborn iron into well-behaved tools. The forge called me unto itself as some are called to serve the Goddess, and I answered gladly.

  My father was pleased with me, but the whole idea of a female blacksmith unsettled my mother who soon asked him to dissuade me from such a strange pursuit. Heithrek did his best. He put me to drawing down the pig iron, hoping that the sheer weight of the stuff and the dullness of the work involved would put me off, but I found it a challenge and laughed with delight the first time I managed to draw down half a pig in a day without having to stop and rest.

  Each of my three brothers had come to the forge to try if they were true smiths. Each one left after a short season when he found it was not in him. The eldest has become a scholar, the second a farmer, the third a shaper of wood rather than iron. My two younger and more delicate sisters, Hildr and Hervor, simply thought I was insane, and told me so when they were old enough and brave enough.

  “Maran, you’ll never find a man if you spend every waking moment with fire and iron,” Hildr told me. “The only time the lads ever see you is when you’re soot-black from the forge.” She had a point, but there again, given the lads in our village, I didn’t really care. It wasn’t those puny lads I wanted to know more of, but the world that lay about me, enticing, so wide and so unknown. We lived in Beskin, on the edge of the Trollingwood within sight of the great East Mountain range. I grew up in the sight of mountains that reached halfway to the sky, and my heart longed for them as other maidens longed for a man.

  The wanderlust grew as the years passed, as I worked beside my father and grew to my full height and strength. I had known for years that the village lads would never be a match for me m any sense. Truth be told, I was all but ready to set out into the wide world alone if there was no other way, but as luck would have it there came through our village, just in time, a mercenary looking for work. He was well-enough looking, built small but wiry, and there was that about his eyes that intrigued me—a strangeness, as of pain long borne; an otherness that spoke of distant lands; a depth in him that I could not fully understand, but that spoke of wisdom hard-gained and worth the knowing.

  In any case he was obviously a man well able to keep himself. He came looking for work, and said he’d be willing to act as bodyguard—well, my father knew that I would leave soon in any case, and Jamie was a good compromise.

  Jamie. The man I have loved best in all the world, though my best love has been shoddy enough. Not Lanen’s father, though he should have been. Jameth of Arinoc. My Jamie.

  Rella’s Jamie now, damn it.

  I can hardly grudge them their happiness. I left him alone to raise my daughter, and Rella has known me and been my faithful friend these twenty years gone. I should have known this would happen were they to meet.

  I knew they travelled together with my daughter, some three moons past now. When I saw Jamie every day as I watched Lanen, I tried to convince myself that the long years had loosed Jamie’s hold on me, but when finally I realised that Jamie and Rella were become lovers I felt a pain sharp as a knife in my breast. Part of me cries even now, like a spoiled child, but he was mine!

  Aye. If he was mine, I should have been with him.

  Why wasn’t I with him, a neat near-family with Lanen as our daughter, and mayhap other childer for our own?

  Ah. It never was meant. And it’s all the fault of Marik and that Hells-be-damned Farseer.

  Jamie and I had travelled together some three years, and we had been lovers much of that time. He asked me to wed him, several times, but I was young and did no
t want to be tied to the first man I had ever known. Fool that I was, too stupid to realise how fortune had favoured me! He taught me to defend myself, and though I never took to the blade properly, I learned enough to keep my head on my shoulders. We roamed the length and breadth of Kolmar together—oh, the tales I could tell!—until, upon a day in early autumn, in Illara during the Great Fair, I met Marik of Gundar.

  A kind of madness took me. For the first and last time in my life I was stricken as by a blow by the sheer presence of a man, and I desired him with all my being. I’ve never done nor felt such a thing before or since, and I have long wondered if even then he was practicing demon-craft.

  Alas, I fear he was not.

  Marik and I were of a height, which was unusual enough, and although he was easy to look at—his hair was golden red, his eyes the yellow-green of the first grass of spring, and his nose bent like a fine hawk’s—it was not his appearance alone that swayed me, nor even the fact that there was a scent about him that made my knees weak. No, the truth is, I heard him speak only once and I was lost. Dear Shia. His voice. Goddess preserve us, it was pure seduction. Light, clear as crystal, with the soft accent of the East Mountains, and bis every word sang to some part of me that had nothing to do with words. Or with thought, come to that.

  I fobbed Jamie off with some stupid excuse, which he recognised for what it was, but he was older in the ways of the world than I.I can only think that Jamie assumed I would enjoy a night’s pleasure with this stranger and come back to seek him out again the next day, ashamed but with this madness out of my heart. Would that I had been so wise.

  Marik and I were lovers that very first night, and many nights after. For two months we—well, never mind. At the end of it I learned, purely by chance, that he was dealing with a demon-master name of Berys to gain power for bis Merchant House. Between them, Marik and Berys created the Farseer, sacrificing an innocent babe in the making, and promising further the life of Marik’s firstborn to the demons that made it. The Farseer itself Jamie and I took with us, to keep its power from the benighted souls that created it. I have it yet, an innocent-looking smoky glass globe about the size of a small melon.

  Marik knew no more than I did that Lanen lay under my heart already. He meant to rise to power through the stupid thing, to make a way for demons to enter Kolmar under his control, for his own profit and power, with never a thought of the evil that would come down upon us all. Jamie and I stole the Farseer from him the instant it was made and took it with us when we ran. We escaped, but only by the width of a hair, from Berys’s revenge. Jamie and I kept running, far to the north and west, where I met Hadron of Ilsa, a horse-breeder in an obscure comer of Kolmar. He fell head over heels for me and I wed him.

  Well, what would you?

  Of course I should have wed Jamie, of course I knew it, but Jamie—oh, Hells. I hate this.

  Still, I have sworn to myself to write the truth here, lest I forget it amid all the lies I have told myself and others over the years.

  I feared that the demons would find Jamie and me, find us and rend us and send us screaming down into darkness. And if they were going to take my husband, I could lose Hadron well enough, but if Jamie came to harm through me I would have gone mad. If I had told Jamie as much he’d have married me anyway, and I couldn’t let that be. Instead I told my dearest love that I needed somewhere stable and safe for the growing babe, and that Hadron would do.

  Jamie stayed with me and I will never know why. Surely no man could love anyone so deeply?

  You know, it’s amazing, you get in the habit of lying to everyone and in the end you lie to yourself. I’ve always been a damn good liar. Conies of being honest most of the time. When I lie, hardly anyone can tell. Even I lose track on occasion.

  I knew fine that Jamie loved me truly and I took ruthless advantage of it. And when Lanen was born, I could see in his eyes that he yet had some hope that she was his. I never told him she wasn’t. Truth be told, I wasn’t absolutely certain who her father was. I prayed it was him, but deep inside I suspected she was Marik’s.

  I lived with Hadron for nearly a year after she was born, my shining girl, and I honoured him with my work and my body as best I could. Jamie’s every look, every movement, burned in my eyes and in my heart, but for his sake I never spoke word or let him see my own desperation. I would not, for my own comfort, give him hope, shame Hadron, and then leave them both. That would have been too great an evil even for me.

  To say truth, before she was born I tried to hate my babe because it was very likely the child of Marik of Gundar. Before she was born I had some idea of abandoning the child to Hadron’s tender mercies and leaving with Jamie, because I was going to hate it, of course I was.

  Yes, yes, I know, I was an idiot. I’ve known it for many, many years, so you can keep your thoughts to yourself.

  Flesh of my flesh, whom my father would have adored had he lived to see her—tiny, helpless, this stranger who had shared my body for nine moons now alive, breathing for herself, shaking the air in her demands for food—how could I do anything but love her? It was not her fault that her father was such a man. From the moment she first drew breath I thought her the loveliest, most incredible child in all creation. What mother does not know this to be so? Her eyes, the smell of her hair, the feel of her at my breast, the wonder I knew as I watched her first steps: at least I have had these memories to keep me company through the long lonely years.

  And yet I left her, for the demons came.

  They pursued me always in dreams, from the time I arrived in Ilsa, and then one terrible day during a late winter storm one came in truth. Like an idiot I fought it with my knife—they can’t be killed that way, though they don’t like being cut—until I started thinking and put my free hand to the silver Ladystar I wore on a chain. I prayed then, aloud, for help, and the next time my blade touched the thing it disappeared. I went straight to a Servant of the Lady that I knew of thereabouts and had myself shriven and my wounds dressed in secret. I asked the Servant if she knew how to deal with demons, but she seemed to think I had brought it on myself by summoning demons, no matter how often I denied I’d done any such thing. I couldn’t tell her about the Farseer, of course, but I knew I’d been standing next to it when the creature had appeared.

  I took the short sword that Jamie had taught me to use, found my way into the forge at night, and managed to grave the sign of the Lady, the Goddess Shia, Mother of us All, on both sides of the blade. It worked much better the next time, and the next—but then they started coming once every se’ennight. The worst was the time I was feeding Lanen when one arrived, and it scratched her. She screamed to shatter the sky as I fought it, and I was scarce able to breathe for terror by the time I had dispelled it. I washed the scratch with water tinged with honey and she stopped crying. I did not. I knew that Marik had promised the life of his firstborn child in payment for the Farseer, though he’d had no idea then that she was already growing in my womb. Lanen was their prey, I was sure of it, and I was convinced that they sought her through the damned Farseer and through me.

  I left that night, taking the Farseer with me. I released Hadron from his vows to me, that he might pursue any chance of happiness left to him without hindrance. Hadron I never worried about, Goddess forgive me, my cold heart, but Jamie—Jamie I left without a word, and Shia knows I have cursed myself roundly for that for many a year. I prayed he would stay and watch over my Lanen, and he did.

  I know not what fate awaits us all after we die, but, dear Goddess, if there is a judgement awaiting all souls I dread it to my bones. So unspeakable a trick, to abandon them all three together. I knew I was doing ill, but all I could see in my heart was a vision of Lanen torn from my arms and sundered by cackling demons. I killed all the love left to me in the world that day and I would have done so ten times over to keep my daughter and my best-beloved safe.

  What life have I had? A very quiet one. I came home, to Be-skin in eastern Eynhallow, to my fathe
rs forge, long cold. I had learned at his shoulder the working of iron, and in time I made a decent blacksmith for the villages round. It has kept me here, unremarkable save for my profession—for even here in the North Kingdom, where women are vastly more independent than in any of the other kingdoms, I know of no other female smiths. I have remained safe and largely unnoticed, while I have studied the service of the Lady and used the Farseer to watch over my daughter Lanen.

  Why did I not destroy the Farseer? I have been tempted, a thousand times. But I learned in that dark hour when Jamie and I saw it made that there can only be one in the world at a time. If I smashed the thing, Marik could make another and all my sacrifices would have been in vain. He would have found us in an instant, and Lanen, Jamie, and I would surely be dead in moments.

  Yes, yes, of course I was a fool. How could I know then what I have learned since? It has taken me years to discover that the Farseer has its own defences as part of its making. Jamie and I escaped with the thing nearly the moment it was made and its makers spent vast resources trying to find it. The results of nearly all of Marik’s fortune and Berys s power at that time were those few Rikti that found me and attacked me in Hadronsstead. The Farseer is invisible to the Rakshasa, those few that found it and me must have been a few out of thousands sent all over Kolmar, discovering by chance a needle in a hay field. Berys has not given up the hunt, over the years, but I have studied and spent a great deal of time in prayer to the Goddess, and I have learned that if I invoke Her name and bless the thing when I use it, and have myself shriven afterwards, the stink of it is dispelled and the demons can’t find me.

  I had owned it for sixteen winters before I learned that. I could have gone back then, when Lanen was fifteen, I suppose—but by then she was at one of the hardest times of life, and I didn’t want to—oh, Hells. It is so much easier to lie, and I’d sound so much more like the person I wish that I were.

  I didn’t dare face Lanen and her anger—Jamie’s anger—Hadron—I told you I was a coward. Had it been Lanen in my place, she’d have done it. The girl fears nothing. But it wasn’t Lanen, it was me, and I couldn’t bear it. I had abandoned her as an infant, for the love I bore her and for her safety, and I was convinced that she would never believe me. Or forgive me.