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Furies of Calderon, Page 16

Jim Butcher

Chapter 16

  Isana woke to the sounds of wind groaning over the valley and the hollow clanging of the storm chimes hanging outside.

  She frowned and rubbed at her eyes, struggling to orient herself. Her last memories were of being carried to her bed, after tending to Bernard. She must have slept for hours. She didn't feel thirsty, which was no surprise; Rill often tended to such matters on her own initiative. But her stomach growled and roiled with an almost painful need for food, and her body ached as though she'd not moved for days.

  Frowning, Isana pushed aside the purely physical sensations, until she reached something deeper, more detached. And once she had isolated that feeling, she focused on it, closing her eyes to shut out the miscellaneous emotional noise she always felt around her.

  Something was wrong.

  Something was very wrong.

  It was a quiet, nauseating feeling deep down, something that made her think of funerals and sickbeds and the smell of burnt hair. It felt familiar, and it took her a moment to track back through her memory, to realize when she had found such a sensation within her before.

  Isana's heart lurched in sudden panic. She threw off the covers and rose, drawing a robe on over the shift she'd slept in. Her hair hung down past her waist, loose and tangled, but she left it so. She belted the robe and stepped toward her door. Her balance swayed, and she had to lean against the door for a moment, closing her eyes, until she regained her balance.

  She opened the door, to find her brother moving quietly out of his room across the hall. "Bernard," she cried, and went to him, gripping him in a sudden, tight embrace. He felt warm and solid and strong in her arms. "Oh, thank all the furies. You're all right. " She lifted her eyes to his and asked, anguish making the words tight, "Is Tavi-"

  "He's all right," Bernard said. "A little banged up, not terribly happy, but he'll be fine. "

  Isana felt sudden tears blur her eyes, and she pressed her face against her brother's chest and hugged him again. "Oh. Oh, Bernard. Thank you. "

  He hugged her back and said, voice gruff, "Nothing I did. He'd already taken care of himself and was on the way home. "

  "What happened?"

  Bernard was silent for a moment, and she could feel the discomfort in him. "I'm not sure," he said finally. "I remember setting out with him yesterday, but beyond that. . . nothing. I woke up in bed about an hour before sunrise. "

  Isana forced the tears back and stepped back from him, nodding. "Crafting trauma. Memory loss. Like when Frederic broke his legs. "

  Bernard made a growling sound. "I don't like it. If what Tavi says is true-"

  She tilted her head to one side. "What does Tavi say?"

  She listened as Bernard recounted Tavi's story to her, and she could only shake her head. "That boy. " She closed her eyes. "I don't know whether to hug him or scream at him. "

  "But if we were attacked by one of the Marat-sis, this could be very bad. We'd have to take word of it to Gram. "

  Isana bit her lip. "I think you should. Bernard, I've got a bad feeling. Something's wrong. "

  He frowned down at her. "What do you mean, wrong?"

  She shook her head and knew that the frustration she felt showed in her voice. "Bad. Wrong. I can't explain it. " She took a deep breath and told him very quietly, "I've only felt like this once before. "

  Bernard's face went pale. He was silent for a long minute before he said, "I don't remember any Marat, 'Sana. I can't take word of it to Gram. His truthfinder would know. "

  "Then Tavi will have to do it," Isana said.

  "He's a child. You know how Gram is. He'll never take Tavi seriously. "

  Isana turned and paced a few steps, back and forth. "He'll have to. We'll make him. "

  Bernard shook his head. "No one makes Gram do anything. " He shifted his weight a bit, so that more of his body fell between Isana and the door to his room.

  "This isn't anything to trifle with, or to let Gram's stiff neck-" Isana frowned and leaned to look past her brother. Without changing expression, he moved a bit more to block her view with his body. Isana let out an impatient breath and shouldered her brother a bit to one side, looking past him.

  "Bernard," she said. "Why is there a girl in your bed?"

  Her brother coughed and flushed. "Isana, when you say it that way-"

  She turned to blink up at him. "Bernard. Why is there a girl in your bed"?"

  He grimaced. "That's Amara. The slave Tavi helped. I was going to lay her down on a cot by the fire, but she panicked. Begged me not to let her sleep down there. Whispering like she was afraid of something. So I told her I wouldn't, and she just passed out. " He glanced back toward his room. "I brought her up here. "

  "To your bed. "

  "Isana! Where else was I supposed to take her?"

  "Just tell me you don't think she's actually a lost slave who Tavi happened to rescue. "

  "No," he said. "I don't. Her story didn't add up. It sounded all right at first, but I cleaned out her cuts and didn't give her anything for the pain. She got tired fast. Nearly collapsed. "

  "She's hurt?"

  "Nothing to kill her, so long as she doesn't take fever. But yes. Her feet got cut up on rocks, and she's got what looks like a blade wound on her arm. Says she got them falling down. "

  "Clumsy girl," Isana said. She shook her head. "Sounds like she's someone. Maybe an agent of one of the Lords?"

  "Who knows. She seemed decent enough. I suppose she could be what she says. "

  A quiet and desperate fear curled through her. Isana felt her hands start to shake, and her knees. "And she just happened to arrive that close to him?"

  He sighed and shook his head. "I didn't like that part, either. And there's more. Strangers, downstairs. Three of them. They're asking for shelter until the storm blows over. "

  "And they just happened to show up today. " Isana swallowed. "It's happening, isn't it. "

  "We knew it might. "

  She swore softly. "Furies, Bernard. Crows and bloody furies. "

  His voice sounded pained. "Isana-"

  She held up her hand toward him. "No, Bernard. No. There's too much to do. How is Tavi?"

  He pressed his lips together for a moment, but said, "Not good. I was hard on him. Guess I was upset at not knowing what was going on. Worried. "

  "We have to find out what's going on. We must know whether or not he's in any danger. "

  "All right. What do you want me to do?"

  "Get downstairs, to those strangers. Be polite with them. Get them some food. Get their shoes off. "

  "Their shoes-?"

  Isana snapped, "Have someone wash their feet, city-style. Just do it. " She closed her eyes, thinking. "I'll talk to Tavi. And this Amara. Make sure they aren't hurt worse than you thought. "

  "She's exhausted," he pointed out. "Looks like she's been run into the ground. "

  "She shouldn't be up to telling much of a lie, then," Isana said. "I'll be downstairs to talk to the strangers in a bit. Do you know how the storm is shaping up?"

  He nodded. "Not as bad as last night, but not pretty. Everyone should be all right if they're indoors, but I've called everyone into the Hall, just to be safe. "

  "Good," Isana said. "The more people there, the better. Don't leave them alone, Bernard. Don't let them out of your sight. All right?"

  "I won't," he promised. "What about Tavi? He should know. "

  She shook her head. "No. Now more than ever, no. He doesn't need that on his head. "

  Bernard looked unhappy with her words, but did not gainsay them. He turned toward the stairs, but hesitated, looking into his bedroom, at the girl who lay on the bed. "Isana. . . the girl is barely more than a child. She's exhausted. She had a chance to do wrong, and she didn't. Tavi says she saved his life. You should let her rest. "

  "I don't want anyone to be hurt," Isana said. "Go on. "

  His expression hardened. "I mean it. "

&n
bsp; "All right. "

  He nodded to her and vanished silently down the stairs again.

  Isana went back into her bedroom and took up her bone-handled brush. She took it with her, gathering her hair over one shoulder, and knocked at

  Tavi's door. There was no response. She knocked again and said, "Tavi, it's me. May I come in?"

  Silence. Then the doorknob turned and the door opened a fraction. She opened the door the rest of the way and walked into the room.

  Tavi's room was dark, with no lights lit. Of course, he couldn't use the furylamps, she reminded herself, and he'd been inside since Bernard had come home earlier that day. With the windows shuttered and the storm gathering outside, the place held a surprisingly deep collection of shadows. She could just see him settling back down onto his bed, no more than a dim outline across the room.

  She began to brush at her hair, giving him a chance to speak. He remained silent, and after several moments she asked, "How are you feeling, Tavi?"

  "Why don't you tell me?" he said, his tone sullen. "I don't know any watercrafting, so how am I supposed to know?"

  Isana sighed. "Tavi, that's not fair. You know that I don't have a choice about what I sense from others. "

  "Plenty of things aren't fair," he shot back.

  "You're upset about what your uncle told you. "

  "I worked all year to get those sheep he promised. And this. . . " He shook his head, his voice tightening with anguish, frustration that pressed against Isana like the heat from an old fire.

  "You made some bad choices, Tavi. But that doesn't mean that-"

  "Choices," Tavi spat the word bitterly. "As though I ever had that many to make. It isn't like I'm going to have to worry about that again, now. "

  She tugged the brush at a tangle in her hair. "You're just upset. So was your uncle. This isn't anything to get worked up about, Tavi. I'm sure that when everyone's calmed down-"

  The sudden surge of frustration and pain from Tavi hit her like a tangible wind. The brush tumbled from her fingers and to the floor. She caught her breath, though the intensity of the boy's emotions nearly robbed her of balance. "Tavi. . . are you all right?"

  He whispered, "It's nothing to get worked up about. "

  "I don't understand why these sheep are so important to you. "

  "No," he said. "You wouldn't. I want to be by myself. "

  Isana pressed her lips together and bent carefully to recover her brush. "But I need to talk to you about what happened. There are some things-"

  Anger, real, vibrant rage rushed across the room along with the other sensations pouring from him. "I am finished talking about what happened," Tavi said. "I want to be alone. Please leave. "

  "Tavi-"

  His dim shape rolled over on the bed, turning his back to the door. Isana felt her own emotions begin to drift dangerously toward what the boy felt, his feelings beginning to bleed into hers. She drew a breath, steeling herself against them and said, "All right. But we aren't through talking. Later. "

  He didn't answer.

  Isana retreated from the room. She had hardly shut the door when she heard the latch slide shut on the inside and lock it closed. She had to take several steps down the hall before she emerged from the deluge of the boy's emotions. She couldn't understand it: Why was Tavi so upset over what had happened1?

  More to the point, what didn't she know about the events of the day before? Could they have any bearing on the arrival of so many strangers to the Valley at once?

  She shook her head and leaned against the wall for a moment. Tavi had a powerful personality, a formidable force of will that leant his passions an extra weight, somehow, and forced her to struggle more sharply to keep them separate from her own. Not that it was surprising that she should feel him more keenly than anyone else, in any case. She loved him too much, had been near him too long.

  To say nothing of the other reasons.

  Isana shook her head firmly. Regardless of how drained she felt from last night's crafting, there was no time to waste. She should have remembered her purpose when speaking to the boy: to learn what she could of the previous day's events that Bernard could not remember.

  She turned toward her brother's room and took a deep breath. Then she paced inside, determined.

  Bernard had left the lamp burning on a low flame, and the room's interior was lit by soft, golden light. Bernard lived simply: He had, ever since Cassea and the girls had died. He had removed all of her things, packing them in a pair of trunks stowed underneath his bed. He lived out of a single trunk, now, as he had in the Legions. His weapons and gear were stowed on

  racks on one wall, across from the bare writing desk, all the records for the steadholt stowed neatly in its drawers.

  The girl slept in Bernard's bed. She was tall, with lean features that seemed particularly drawn in the light, dark circles like bruises beneath her eyes. Her skin glowed golden, almost the same shade as her hair. She was beautiful. A braid of leather circled her throat.

  Isana frowned at her. Her brother had gotten down the extra blankets and piled them over the girl-though she had evidently stirred enough that her feet had slipped from beneath them. Isana stepped forward absently to cover her feet again and saw that they had been bandaged and covered in slippers of soft calfskin.

  Isana stared down at the slippers for a moment. Pale white, stitched neatly, with delicate beadwork tracing a design over the tops. She recognized it at once: She had done it herself, perhaps ten years before. The slippers had been a birthday gift for Cassea. They had been in the chest beneath the bed for more than a decade.

  Isana stepped back from the bed. She wanted to speak to the girl- but her brother had warned her against disturbing her. She had hoped for years that he would find someone else, after he'd lost Cassea and the girls, but he never had. Bernard had continually kept a quiet distance between himself and anyone else, and those who lived in the Valley, those who remembered his wife and daughters, had simply given him the solitude he wished.

  If her brother had found it in himself again to reach out to someone else-and from his words to her and the way he had treated the girl, it seemed that he had-could she so readily act against him?

  Isana stepped forward and laid her hand across the girl's forehead. Even before she had reached out through Rill, she felt the mild fever in her. She shivered and slowly extended her senses out, through the fury, and into the sleeping slave.

  Bernard had not been mistaken. The girl bore several injuries, from painful cuts upon her legs to a painfully swollen ankle to a sharp, vicious cut along her upper arm. Her body had been pushed to exhaustion, and even in sleep, Isana could feel that the girl was gripped by a terrible worry and fear. She murmured softly to Rill and felt the fury course gently through the girl, mending closed the smaller cuts and easing the swelling and pain. The

  effort left Isana's head light, and she drew her hand back and concentrated on remaining on her feet.

  When she looked down again, the girl had opened her exhausted eyes and was staring up at her. "You," she whispered. "You're the watercrafter that healed the Steadholder. "

  Isana nodded and said, "You should rest. I just want to ask you one question. "

  The girl swallowed and nodded. She let her eyes fall closed.

  "Have you come for the boy?" Isana asked. "Are you here to take him?"

  "No," the girl said, and Isana felt the simple truth in her words as clearly as the tone of a silver bell. There was a purity to the way she spoke, a sense of sincerity that reassured Isana, let her shoulders unknot, if only a little.

  "All right," Isana said. She adjusted the blankets over the girl, covering her feet once more. "Sleep. I'll bring you some food in a little while. "

  The girl did not reply, motionless on the bed, and Isana withdrew from the room, to the top of the stairs. She could hear voices, below, as the hold-folk gathered into the hall. Outside, thunder rumbled,
low and ominous, from the north. The events of the night before, the Kordholders' attack on her, came rushing back in memory, and she shivered.

  Then she straightened and walked down the stairs, to deal with the other strangers who had come to Bernardholt.