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Redeeming the Lost, Page 2

Elizabeth Kerner

  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.

  You may think that love from a distance is easy, and in some ways you are right. But every time she was in danger, as she lived through childhood’s diseases, when pain and sadness visited her, I watched for hours and hours despite the cost to my soul. Jamie and my Lanen have been dearest in the world to me, despite the years and the distance, despite my daughter not knowing I lived. Or cared.

  I could not bear the thought of seeing hatred in her eyes, or in his.

  I met Rella about a year after I first returned to Beskin. She was always coming and going, but in the end it was she who eventually helped me learn how to protect myself from the dark influence of the Farseer. When her daughter Thyris died—Goddess, may I never see such a parting again—I sought to hire the Silent Service to help me find out how to use the damned thing in safety. I was astounded when Rella was assigned, I had no idea she was a part of that guild, but she told me she had asked to work with me, and that it was time there was truth between us.

  Then half a year ago, I looked in on Lanen and found that she had left the safe haven of Hadronsstead and struck out on her own. Even Jamie only managed to go as far as Illara with her. I begged Rella—truth to tell, I paid her—to go after Lanen and guard her for me, and she went with a good will.

  And of course, my daughter was not content even with all the lands of Kolmar, oh no, she had to take ship away west and seek the Dragon Isle, where grow the lansip trees whose leaves are the most powerful healall in the world, and where dwell the True Dragons of legend—great winged, clawed creatures the size of a house, able to speak and reason. In the ballads they are clever and powerful, but all the songs agree that they left Kolmar long ages since. There is one ballad, the Song of the Winged Ones, that tells of them in their new home and touches briefly on their leaving, but even that tale has no more than a hint of why they left Kolmar. Something to do with demons, it seems, but the words are vague. In truth I had thought the True Dragons no more than myth, but Lanen—ah, Lanen not only found them, she fell in love with one.

  Just goes to show she’s truly my daughter. Mad child. As best I could tell, though, that great silver dragon who caught her heart came to love her as well. What happened then I’m not entirely certain, for there were times in that crowded few days when she was gathering lansip and losing her heart to a dragon, when I could keep my eyes open no longer—but when the dust settled there was no more silver dragon and Lanen was helping a man with purest silver hair learn how to walk. They returned to Kolmar and were wed this Midwinter Festival past. That was when I realised that I had to find her myself, to tell her of the greater danger that awaited her and those she loved. I left my home just after midwinter and have been travelling the three moons since. It has been a hideous journey and cold as all the Hells most of the time. Thank the Goddess for the river, though I could not ride its broad back at first—the Kai is too rough and rocky where it springs from the earth to support a boat. Not for many a long league of walking could I hope for rest. Still, I finally reached the great crossroads of Kolmar, the city of Sorún where the Kai and the Kelsun meet. I have been moving swiftly south ever since, on the river when I could, towards the hills north of Verfaren, the city of the Mages.

  The worst of it is that I don’t know what has happened. Lanen is no longer with them. I watched in awe as she and those who travel with her helped bring about a new race of creatures, the little dragons who now bear the same great gems as their larger cousins, but I am only human. I fell asleep, and when I woke and demanded of the Farseer to show me Lanen, I saw her lying in a crumpled heap on the floor in some cramped stone room. I know not how she has come there, or why she is alone. When I spoke Rella’s name, I saw her in solemn conference with the others, and glimpsed Jamie’s face looking—dear Goddess—looking like a lost soul bent on damnation.

  I can only guess that Lanen has been stolen away and that the others seek her. I might be able to help them find her. I have learned that what I see in the Farseer is only the vaguest of directions if I cannot recognise the place I am shown, but from all I can tell I should meet up with Rella, Jamie, and the others in the next few days. There is one of the True Dragons with them now as well, though why in all the green world it has come hither I cannot imagine. Indeed, it seems that the green world is changing profoundly even as I stand here, and my daughter is in the midst of it.

  Dear Goddess. I hope I live through it. I fully expect her to do her very best to break my jaw when finally we meet. Or my arm. I would, in her place. I don’t intend to let her have things all her own way, mind you. At the very least I am bright enough to keep out of arm’s reach until her temper cools.

  Oh—and there is the one last thing I have learned about the Farseer. It corrupts the soul. It was made with the help of demons, after all, and that darkness inhabits it and taints any who dare to use it. I have resisted that taint for more than twenty years, paying in the coin of prayers and devotions to Mother Shia, and in having to live with the Raksha-stink when I could not be shriven immediately. It isn’t a smell, really, more a deep sense of gut-sickness. I have borne it for a very long time, and I fear that all the shriving in the world will never cleanse me of this prolonged contact with demons.

  But if that is the price of watching over my daughter, I will bear it until I break.


  The Return


  The joy of our homecoming was too soon over. None had the strength left to stay aloft for long, and we all soon drifted, weary but grateful, to the ground. My heart was pulled in a dozen directtions at once. My joy at seeing my people come safe again to their ancient home, after an exile lasting full five thousand years, was uppermost. The Kantri, we whom the Gedri—no, Shikrar, in their tongue they are called humans—we whom the humans call True Dragons, were come home at last, to share this vast land with the only other creatures who speak and reason. I knew fear also, of course. In this place where we were largely forgotten as living creatures, where we were become little more than tales to frighten children, we had no way to know what our welcome might be. Behind and through all, however, was deep heart’s-sorrow for Varien, my soulfriend Akhor, whose beloved wife Lanen had been stolen away mere days before.

  I had not the leisure to give any of these feelings the attention they deserved, for I was bound to go and welcome my people to a land I had only known for the last four days. It was enough, I think, for most of them to see me here before them—Eldest, Keeper of Souls, guardian of our people in the place of their tr
ansformed King, Varien.

  Most of the Kantri lay exhausted where they had landed. We all had flown, with only one brief rest, for many days on the back of the Winds. Our home for so many years, the Isle of Exile that the humans name the Dragon Isle, was gone. The earthshakes that had plagued us these last years had grown worse and worse, and at the last the fire mountains had erupted, spewing molten rock over our home. It was gone forever. We had had no choice. Kolmar was the home of our ancestors, after all, and it surely must be clear to the Gedri that neither caprice nor passing fancy drove us to dare the crossing of the Great Sea. The Winds had decided for us that it was time we returned. Our oldest teaching was clear: “First is the Wind of Change, second is Shaping, third is the Unknown, and last is the Word.”

  I could only hope that the Gedri would see it the same way.

  There were a number of our folk ranged along the edge of the field, where a shallow little stream danced over stones, drinking thirstily. I wandered among the weary souls, scattering praise and encouragement where I thought it would be accepted.

  As I passed, I noted that the great sealed golden cask containing the soulgems of the Lost was safe, resting now between the forelegs of my son’s beloved mate Mirazhe. The Lost! The cursed legacy of the great evil that was the Demonlord, the reason the Kantri left Kolmar so long ago. Born a child of the Gedri, the Demonlord sold his name and his soul for a terrible power over us. In the dreadful final battle fully half the Kantri alive in those times, two hundred of our people, had their soulgems ripped from them by demons. They fell from the sky, reduced to the size of mere younglings, and the powers of speech and reason were taken from them; it was that day upon which they were first called the Lesser Kindred. The Demonlord was eventually destroyed—but he died laughing. It is widely believed even now that he will return to trouble us one day. In the normal way of things, when one of the Kantri dies, the soulgem shrinks to a quarter of its size and resembles a large faceted gemstone. Every soulgem is retained reverently, for they are the means by which, through the Kin-Summoning, we may bespeak the Ancestors when need arises. When the soulgems of the Lost were gathered up, however, it was seen that they flickered with some unknown inner fire. From that day to this we have tried to contact them, but neither the Kin-Summoning nor truespeech nor heartfelt prayers to the Winds have made any difference.

  Mirazhe managed a nod to me, and lifted one wing slightly to show the sleeping form of her youngling Sherók. I breathed again. Strange, is it not? I knew that Sherók must be well, but it was not until I saw him safely asleep with his mother curled round him that my heart believed it. A little beyond Mirazhe, piled carefully on the ground, were the lansip trees we had brought with us, the only remembrance of our old home. The Gedri prized lansip, leaf and fruit, beyond all imagining. For thousands of years it had grown only on the Dragon Isle that lay now below the sea. I foresaw a thriving trade in a few years, if we managed to plant the trees quite soon. If they would grow here. The poor creatures who had borne them hither also slept, even more tired than the rest.

  Their weariness was not to be wondered at, for they had flown high and far for the best part of three days and nights, without cease and without hope of rest—and before that, two full days of flight to reach the tiny isle where we had rested and drunk from a small, brackish pool. None had eaten since the fires of the earth had taken our island home from us, and although we do not normally require large amounts of food, we were all in desperate need of sustenance.

  Here, however, came one in whom pride was stronger than exhaustion—Idai, weary but unbowed, striding towards me from the eastern side of the field. She it was who, following me, had led the Kantri through the everlasting Storms and across the wide expanse of the sea. I walked to meet her and bowed formally in the mingled Attitudes of Joy and Praise, in acknowledgement of all that she had accomplished.

  “Iderrisai! My heart rejoices to see thee safe,” I said aloud, adding in truespeech, “Safe and well, and with all our people. It is a great thing that you have done, Idai. You will be remembered among the Kantri forever.”

  “I thank you, Hadreshikrar,” she said gravely, aloud. She remained silent otherwise. I turned to follow her gaze—ah. Yes, she would not bespeak me on seeing him, lest truespeech betray her deeper thoughts. The Gedri—no, human, I must remember—the human called Varien approached us swiftly from the edge of a small stand of trees in the west. Varien, the Changed One. He who had lived a thousand years as Akhor, the Lord of the Kantrishakrim, soulfriend and dear as a son to me, and who for most of his life had been dearly loved by Idai. Poor Idai. Akhor had never returned her love or encouraged her regard: but even among the Kantri we cannot choose whom we will love. It was less than a full year past that he had been changed, through a kind of death and rebirth, impossibly, from his true form to a creature with the form of the Gedri children, but with his soul and his mind as they had ever been.

  I glanced again at Idai and knew the pain in her heart, though she tried to hide it. Truespeech does not always require words, after all. She had loved Akhor for most of her life, knowing full well that he did not return that love but unable to deny her own heart. For her to see him now was little less than agony, It was a measure of her greatness of soul that she did not hate Lanen, who had caught Akhor’s heart between one breath and another while yet he was of the Kantri. She and Lanen had made their peace: but now Lanen was stolen away by great evil, and all Akhor’s thought and all his mind and all his soul were focussed, waking and sleeping, on getting her back. A lesser creature would have rejoiced inwardly at Lanen’s misfortune. Idai has a great soul.

  I had known Akhor from his birth, a thousand and some winters past; he was soulfriend to me, and apart from my son was the only soul on live who knew my full true name. He had possessed the form of a human for less than six moons. It was still very hard for us all to accept, this strange being who was undeniably Akhor in his soul but withal so very different. So small, so fragile! I prayed to the Winds that he would not be so short-lived as the children of the Gedrishakrim usually were. By all rights he should live yet another thousand years, in the common way of our people.

  Varien hurried over to meet us. Idai bowed her head low, and without thinking he leant over and stretched out his neck as if to greet her in the Kantri manner. The very feel of it must have stricken him wrongly, though, for he swiftly stood upright. Instead, he reached out with his hand and placed it, oh, so gently upon her cheek, where the solid faceplates of my people curve back to protect the great vein in the neck. She trembled a little at the contact.

  “Idai! Oh, welcome and welcome, my namefast friend, my heart soars at sight of thee,” he said. He dared to gently stroke her dark copper faceplate, gazing into her steel-grey eyes. “When we parted I feared I would not see you for many long years, and lo, even in this dark hour, the Winds have sent you as a flame to brighten my soul’s darkness. It is good to see you, Iderrisai.” He smiled then, and his soulgem—no longer part of him, as nature meant it, but worn in a circlet of gold that held the stone against his forehead—burned for that moment bright and clear. “I see you were not content to let mine be the only great tale of these times! You and Hadreshikrar have between you accomplished a work that will be remembered as long as our people live and memory lasts. You have brought us all home.” He leaned forward and touched his soulgem briefly to Idai’s faceplate, a deeply personal gesture used only between the nearest of friends.

  I was grateful that Idai closed her eyes in that moment, for Varien’s sake. He could not see the years-long sorrow rise in them, pain and weary loneliness that struck my own heart in the instant. I had to close my eyes against the depth of it. By the time Varien pulled back from the contact, though, Idai was in control of herself again.

  “You are well, then, Ak—Varien?” she asked. Her voice wavered only slightly. Varien might well put it down to her weariness.

  “I rejoice to see thee and my people safe at last, but in truth, I tell thee I
have seldom been worse, Idai,” he said, and as his voice deepened I heard the anger in it rising. If he had been in his old shape his wings would have begun to rattle. In this body, his hands curled in upon themselves and the skin of them began to turn white. “Hath Shikrar told thee of the great ill that hath befallen us, Lady? That a demon-master hath stolen away my beloved from my very side, and I helpless to stop him?” A tremor in his voice betrayed the depth of his feeling. “And that I know not where she bides, or whether she is quick or dead?”

  Even I was shaken. Varien in his fury was using the style of Gedri speech he had learned hundreds of years before. “I have told her, Varien,” I said aloud, adding silently, “Your speech betrays your anger. You must not fail now, Akhor: We are here and our strength is yours. Do not let your heart’s wound blind you. We cannot fly in force and destroy this Berys at once—he is a demon-master and we know not the extent of his strength. Remember the Demonlord, who destroyed the half of our Kindred upon a single day! I do not counsel cowardice, my friend, only prudence. And such a battle, such a war, would not be kind to those innocents around about. We are new-come to this land. Would you arrive as a destroyer?”

  “I would arrive as one bent on saving the life of my beloved!” he cried.

  “We will find Lanen, by my soul I swear it,” I answered solemnly aloud, “but we must go softly at first, lest we break all hope of living here in peace with the Gedri, or break ourselves like fools upon the power of this demon-master.”

  “Oh, I expect you’ll have a good chance of living in peace here,” said a calm voice from near the ground. The Lady Rella stepped forward and bowed briefly to Idai. “Welcome—you’re the Lady Idai, aren’t you?” Idai nodded once, and Rella grinned. “I remember you from the Dragon Isle. I don’t think we ever exchanged names, but Lanen told me about you. Well-met, Lady, and welcome to your new home. I for one am delighted to see you.”