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First Lords Fury, Page 8

Jim Butcher
can say what he wishes and wear anything on his head that he likes - but he isn't the First Lord, and he never will be. "

  Veradis shook her head. "I. . . my lady. . . " She spread her hands. "Someone must lead. "

  "And someone will," Isana said. "The rightful First Lord, Gaius Octavian. "

  Veradis looked down. "If," she said, very quietly, "he is alive. "

  Isana folded her hands in her lap and looked out the window as the valley below began to grow larger, the colors brighter. "He is alive, Veradis. "

  "How can you know that?"

  Isana stared out the window and frowned, faintly. "I. . . I'm not sure," she said, finally. "But I feel certain of it. It feels to me as if. . . as if it is nearly sup pertime, and he is about to come in from tending the flock. " She shook her head. "Not literally, of course, but the sense of it, the emotion, is the same. "

  Veradis watched Isana with calm, serious eyes, and said nothing.

  "He's coming home," she said quietly. "Octavian is coming home. "

  There was silence. Isana watched the walls of Garrison, the fortress-town her brother commanded, grow larger and more distinct. They changed from lines to sharp-edged ridges to constructions of seamless, furycrafted stone. The flag of the First Lord, a scarlet eagle on a blue field, fluttered in the breeze, and beside it flew her brother's banner - a brown bear on a field of green.

  The town had grown again, even though Isana had been there only two weeks before. The shantytown originally erected just outside of Garrison's walls had been replaced with solid buildings of furycrafted stone, and a new wall had been raised to protect them. Then a second shantytown had gone up at the base of that wall, and Isana had been there the day Bernard's engineers had brought up the third one, another layer of concentric half circles that enfolded the growing town.

  The shanties were gone, replaced by more buildings of stone - rather square, blocky buildings with very little to distinguish one from the next, but Isana was sure that they were perfectly functional and practical.

  And outside the third wall, still another shantytown was growing, like moss on the northern side of a stone.

  Veradis's eyes widened as she saw the place. "My. This is rather a large town for a Count to have in his keeping. "

  "There are many people without homes these days," Isana said. "My brother will probably give you some perfectly logical explanation as to why they are here, if you should ask. But the truth is that he's never turned anyone away from his door. Anyone who made it this far. . . " She shook her head. "He'd do whatever he could for them. And he would make sure they were taken care of. Even if all he could do was give them the cloak off his own back. My brother finishes what he begins. "

  Veradis nodded thoughtfully. "He raised Octavian, did he not?"

  Isana nodded. "Especially the last several years. They were close. "

  "And that is why you feel that Octavian will return. Because he finishes what he begins. "

  "Yes," Isana said. "He's coming home. "

  Veradis was quiet for a moment more as the coach soared over the outer walls of Garrison. Then she bowed her head, and said, "As you say, my lady. "

  Isana pushed away the ugly worry that had been ripping its way into her thoughts since her son had left with the Canim armada.

  Tavi was coming home.

  Her son was coming home.

  Gaius Octavian, son of Gaius Septimus, son of Gaius Sextus, and the uncrowned First Lord of Alera, lay quietly on his back, staring up at the stars.

  Given that he was lying on the floor of a cavern, it probably wasn't a good sign.

  He searched his alleged memory for an explanation as to why he might be doing such a thing, and why the stars were so brilliant and swirling around so quickly, but he seemed to have misplaced that fact. Perhaps the bump he felt swelling on his skull had dislodged his memory. He made a mental note to ask Kitai if she'd seen it lying around on the floor somewhere.

  "A reasonably educational attempt, child," murmured a woman's voice. "Do you see now why it is important not only to maintain a windstream beneath you but a windshield in front of you?"

  Ah, that was right. Lessons. He was taking lessons. Cramming for an examination, really, with a particularly astute tutor. He struggled to remember which subject they'd been working on. If he was pushing things this hard, final examinations must be soon, and the Academy had very little sympathy for its students during the grueling chaos of final exams.

  "We're doing history?" he mumbled. "Or mathematics?"

  "I know that you find it counterintuitive to project wind both ahead of you and behind," his tutor continued in a calm tone. "But your body was not designed for high-speed flight. If you do not take measures to protect yourself, especially your eyes, even relatively minor amounts of particulate matter in the air could blind you or otherwise bring your flight to a. . . terminally instructive conclusion. Adept fliers accomplish it so naturally that they have no need to consciously think about creating the shield. "

  The stars had begun to wink out. Perhaps there was weather moving in. He'd have been concerned about rain if he wasn't already in a cave - which again brought up the question about where the bloody stars had come from.

  "Ow," Tavi said. His head throbbed as the stars faded, and he suddenly remembered where he was and what he was doing. "Ow. "

  "I doubt that you will die, child," Alera said calmly. "Let us repeat the exercise. "

  Tavi's head pounded. He sat up, and the throbbing pressure eased somewhat. He'd clipped his head on a hanging icicle nearly three feet around at its base, and the thing had been harder than stone. He looked blearily around the cavern, which was lit by a dim glow emanating from the thirty-foot circular pool in its center, the water coming up to just below the level of the floor. Light and shadow danced and rippled around the ice cave, separated into bands of various colors by the water.

  Ice groaned and crackled all around them. The floor of the cave swayed and rolled in a steady motion, though the size of the ice ship above and around them meant that it moved far more gently than the deck of any vessel.

  "Maybe we shouldn't call it a cave," he said thoughtfully. "It's really more of a cargo hold. "

  "It is my understanding," Alera said, "that the occupants of a vessel are generally aware of the presence of a cargo hold. This space is secret to everyone but me, you, and Kitai. "

  Tavi tried to shake some of the ringing out of his ears and looked up at his tutor. Alera appeared to be a tall young woman. Despite the cold of the cavern, she wore only a light dress of what at first seemed to be gray silk. A closer look would show that the dress was made from cloudy mist as dark as a thunderhead. Her eyes constantly swirled with bands of color, endlessly cycling through every imaginable hue. Her hair was the color of ripe wheat and long, her feet were bare, and she was inhumanly beautiful.

  Which was appropriate, Tavi supposed, since Alera wasn't human at all. She was the embodiment of a fury, perhaps the greatest fury upon the face of Carna. Tavi didn't know how old she was, but she spoke of the original Gaius Primus, the half-legendary founder of the Realm, as though she had been having a conversation with him just the other day. She had never displayed what sort of power she might have - but under the circumstances, Tavi had decided that treating her with courtesy and polite respect was probably a wiser action than trying to elicit some sort of display from her.

  Alera arched an eyebrow at him. "Shall we repeat the exercise?"

  Tavi stood up with a groan and brushed fine, soft snow from his clothing. There was better than a foot of powder on the ground. Alera said she had put it there in order to increase his chances of surviving his training.

  "Give me a second," Tavi said. "Flying is hard. "

  "On the contrary, flight is quite simple," Alera said. Her mouth had curved into an amused smile. "Surviving the landing is less so. "

  Tavi stopped himself from glaring at her after a second or so.
Then he sighed, closed his eyes, and focused on his windcrafting.

  Though the air of the cavern did not contain any discrete, manifest furies, such as windmanes or Countess Calderon's fury, Cirrus, it was full to bursting with furies nonetheless. Each individual was a tiny thing, a mite, with scarcely any power whatsoever; but when gathered together by the will and power of a windcrafter, their combined strength was enormous - a mountain made from grains of sand.

  Gathering the numbers of ambient furies necessary for flight was a tedious process. Tavi began to picture the furies in his mind, visualizing them as motes of light that swirled through the air like a cloud of fireflies. Then he began to picture each individual mote being guided toward him by a featherlight breath of wind, one by one at first, then two at a time, then