Desilyn was learning to make her father's favorite dish -- chicken with carrots, cooked in white wine vinegar -- when they came. Her aunt Desidra was watching her cut up the chicken, using the smaller cleaver which fit her eight-year-old hand. Her nephew Demaran and little brother Demi were taking their afternoon nap; her father and uncle Ari were out somewhere about their business, and her mother was down at Miss Anna's -- Miss Anna was going to have a baby soon, and her husband was away, and Lynna had taken to dropping in on her two or three times a week to make sure she was all right. That sharp, not unpleasant tang of the vinegar filled the kitchen; the winter sunlight, though not warm, was bright, and the kitchen was cozy. Cook's day off, and Desidra had flour on her chin, and she was giggling over it with her niece. She was, after all, only 21, and she laughed easily and often. But she would never laugh again.
When the sound of the front door being slammed back reached the kitchen, Aunt Desidra went to se what was happening, fussing a little that perhaps her husband was making a mess in the hall or front room, as he was wont to do in his upper-class carelessness. Her voice, raised sharply, preemptorily, didn't really catch Desilyn's attention (Desidra could never really be angry at Ari). But when the babies started screaming, that did. Holding, absurdly, half a chicken, Desilyn ran toward the boys' room. She stopped, frozen with horror, in the doorway. where the door had been slammed back so hard one of the wall hangings had half fallen beside it.
Demi was already dead, although it took a minute for her to realise it. He was lying, pathetically crumpled and terribly, horrifically, broken, on the floor by his bed. The man, the stranger, had grabbed little Demaran and now, before she could understand that this was really happening, was not just one of Daddy's stories, he swing the screaming child by his feet straight into the stone fireplace. The screaming stopped.
She conciously realised that she had the cleaver still, as well as the half chicken, only when she was actually swinging it. But her instincts were good and her aim true, and the cleaver, small but sharp, buried its blade into the nape of the man's neck, where the dark brown hair curled under. He stiffened and dropped, wrenching the blade out of her grasp. He had never seen her.
She fell to her knees, reaching almost blindly for the boys. Then a new sound penetrated her dazed mind: a woman's screaming. Surely, she realised, Aunt Desidra would have heard the boys, would have been in here, except ... except, maybe, the man wasn't alone? O gods. She scrabbled over to the man's body, grabbing for the cleaver. But the neck vertebrae had closed over the slender blade and she couldn't pull it out. The screaming got louder, and she heard laughing, men laughing. She abandoned the cleaver and tried to pull the man's sword from its scabbard, but it was too heavy. "Please, please..." she whimpered, and then saw his long dagger. Grabbing that, she stumbled over him and ran toward the front room.
There were four men there, four men dressed all alike. Three of them were holding Aunt Desidra on the floor, and one was... doing something to her, hurting her, grabbing at her where he'd ripped off her blouse, and then, and then, o gods, hurting her, she was screaming, and Desilyn didn't know what to do. She froze in the hallway, her heart pounding. Why was no one coming? Four of them... what could she do? What?
Then the doorway darkened, and she heard another sound, maybe the most terrible she'd heard yet that afternoon. It was Uncle Ari, though she almost didn't recognise him; there was blood on him, and blood on his sword, and his face was changed. So was his voice, though she knew it when he screamed his wife's name and charged into the room, blade swinging. The men scrambled up, caught off guard, and Uncle Ari's sword bit deeply into one's ribs, adding yet another sound to the barrage assaulting Desilyn's mind. Things seemed to be moving so slowly, as if it were a dream, but she knew it wasn't... it wasn't. The man who'd been holding Aunt Desidra's arms pulled his sword out, grabbing her hair as she tried to get away. She screamed once more, this time a name -- Ari! -- and the man, almost as an afterthought, dragged his sword across her throat as he got to his feet.
Desilyn had heard old stories about men who went mad while they fought; now she saw the truth of them. With yet another anguished screaming of his wife's name, Ronaran wrenched his sword out of the first man's body and lunged, heedless, at the man who'd just killed Desidra. The other two men swung at him, and he ignored them, striving only to kill that one. Blades clashed and rang, and blood sprayed, and Ronaran would certainly have died then, except that Demarist Evarian had been right behind his brother-in-law.
When her father charged into the room, dripping blade swinging, Desilyn thought for a minute that things would resolve themselves now. Not be all right -- she knew better than that -- but be over. And her mother would come, and maybe even the old Eagle Baron, and the murderers would be killed, and maybe even Uncle Ari would be alive. But she still had no concept of what was really happening, and although Demarist and Ronaran were able to hold their own, briefly, against these soldiers, might even have won, there were more outside. And Ronaran was already badly injured....
Three more men came in the door, chasing her father and uncle. And an immeasurable time later, her menfolk lay on the floor, dead, and three strangers with them, besides the ones that were hurt. She was still frozen in the shadowed hall, and didn't know whether she could run if they came after her. But instead, one of them -- taller, his shield scarlet and glints of gold through the scarring and the blood -- swore at the others, saying, "Every man in the regiment should be forced to come look at this. God damn it, can't you bastards keep your mind on your fucking jobs, not your fucking? You shouldn't have been caught off like this -- this kind of thing waits 'till it's over and you're told to enjoy yourselves! Dammit, these are Blackshields we're dealing with, you morons, not rabbits. You deserve to be dead -- and you two, you'll wish you were when I'm done with you. Now, get out of here! Move!"
Now she could hear the screaming outside, and the running horses, and the shouting men. Shouting in Karelhi, like that man had spoken, not Novari like the people around Valerad or Tollrya like her family and the Baron's. Karelhi. She swallowed, and her throat was dry, and her chest hurt. What was-- Mama! O gods, Mama! She crept to the door, resolutely not looking at her daddy, or her aunt and uncle. The street was Chaos itself, filled with bodies and soldiers -- she recognised that now, Imperial soldiers -- and running people. Smoke rose from parts of the town, and, she noted but was too numb to feel any more distress, from the Eagle Keep itself on the height over Valerad. All she was thinking about was how to reach Miss Anna's. Not what she had seen, or what she might find, only how to reach there. She wasn't a little kid anymore, but she still played in the quiet lanes of Valerad Town, and she knew many of the old secret ways that the Tolleran children had explored since generations ago. Taking a deep breath, and holding the soldier's knife tightly, she slipped outside and began to make her way down the lanes and through the fences, hedges, and gardens. Surely Mama would have heard... surely Mama would be careful... Mama was Novari, after all... surely she could find her. Please.
And she did. Halfway to Miss Anna's, she spotted her, draggled and with her long black hair in a tangle around her shoulders, not looking (as Desilyn did) like a tall, blond Blackshield Tolleran. She was taking no chances, though, creeping through the shadows and starting at every sound. "Mama! Oh, Mama!" Desilyn cried, and ran into her arms, holding her tightly to try and pretend that everything was all right, despite the noise, the smells, the memories.
Lynna held her daughter very tight, pulling her into the alley between the two buildings. She ran her hands over Desilyn, and repeatedly kissed her, saying, "Are you all right? Are you? Thank the gods." After a moment, she took hold of herself and said, briskly, "Right. Now, we have to find your father -- what is it?"
Desilyn understood now that Mama didn't really grasp the immensity of the day's events. She knew she couldn't just let Mama go and find Daddy, but she winced away from telling her. Still, she had to, and she did: "Mama, o Mama -- he's dead. He's dead!"
"Hush, Desilyn, shhhh," her mother hugged her again, and said then, "Dead? Demarist... oh, my love." She kept a firm grip on her daughter, to keep herself from forgetting that she still had the living to tend to, and then said suddenly, "Demi? O gods, not my baby too?"
"Everybody, Mama, everybody," sobbed Desilyn, and for a moment the two of them only held each other and cried.
But when Lynna ascertained that Desilyn wasn't sure that both men were dead, just assuming it, she determined to find out. There was no way she could abandon her husband, or her beloved little brother, if they were alive still. So, Desilyn led her mother along the old children's ways, and the fastidious Rhonlynna na-Evarian got more draggled and ragged than she was already.
There were two soldiers outside their house, and the dogs -- black Tipper and old, spotted Buckchaser -- lay in pools of blood on the front walk. No one was watching Ari and Desidra's house, but the door was in the view of the soldiers, and the Evarians were forced to go into the side alley and enter through a window.
They found themselves in the hall between the kitchen and Demaran's room. The sharp smell of vinegar still permeated the air, and Desilyn was never able to smell it in later years without the memories returning as sharply as its tang. She turned her eyes from the boys' room and skittered by the open door as quickly as she could, but Mama went inside, briefly. When she came out, there was blood on her hands and her face was very pale. They paused before turning into the front room, and Mama peered around the corner. But there were no soldiers there, and least no live ones, and they went in.
Desilyn stayed by the door. Her mama closed her eyes and shook her head, biting her lip. Then she went straight to daddy's body, pausing only briefly to whisper, "Desidra ... little sister. O, poor baby.... o Ari. O, my baby brother, o gods, Ari. I'm so sorry, Ari." But it wasn't until she had knelt by Daddy, and touched him, that she began crying in earnest. Her face was hidden by her hair, and Desilyn couldn't really hear what she was saying. But she was there so long that Desilyn began to get nervous. What if the soldiers came?
"Mama," she said. Then again, a little louder, "Mama."
Her mother looked up and said, "Come here, Desilyn. Come here," and held out her hand imperatively. Desilyn gulped, but went. "I promised your father we would not let his name die. Promise him, promise him too," said Rhonlynna and took Desilyn's hand in hers. Desilyn knelt down, and biting the inside of her lip, touched her father's face.
"I promise, Daddy," she said, only half-understanding what she was promising him.
"Demarist, my love--" Rhonlynna broke off, her head jerking up as she heard loud voices pass out in the front yard. "Desilyn," she said, "we can't stay here. We have to go." She reached out and took her husband's sword from where it lay beside him. "Get your uncle's sword, baby; we have to leave."
Desilyn gulped again, but again went. Even if she didn't like what she was being told to do, it was better than trying to guess what she should be doing. She took a deep breath, and stooped down beside her uncle. He was still holding his sword, and when she tried to pull it from his hand, it seemed as though his fingers tightened on it. She swallowed, shook her head, and grabbed his wrist, and then gasped. "Mama -- mama, he's not dead!"
Why he wasn't was a mystery, but he wasn't. And Lynna was galvanised by the discovery. Ruthlessly ripping her sister-in-law's skirt, she bandaged her brother's torn body, all the while ordering her daughter to get this and that from the house. Straining, they shifted him onto a sheet and pulled him to the back door, and, after checking the garden area, out into the back areaway. Then, grimly, Rhonlynna spilled lamp oil on the curtains and the rugs -- and the bodies, murmuring a brief prayer as she did -- and torched the house. "Enough of Valerad Town is burning, anyway," she told Desily. "And we don't want any of Them coming in and finding fewer bodies than should be!"
"And this way," added Desilyn, oddly comforted by the fact, "they can't touch Daddy or Aunt Desidra again. Or the babies, either."
When they finally got out of the small town, they were east of it. There were soldiers north, they could see the fires of their camps in the oncoming dusk. "Where are we going to go, Mama?" asked Desilyn, exhausted. And her mother, crouching over Uncle Ari and just as exhausted, was momentarily at a stand. Where? Where indeed? And then, as if there was no other answer, it came to her.
"Fal Morgan, baby. We're going to Fal Morgan."
Fal Morgan.... childhood home, where she and Ari had grown up, where she had yearned for a romantic and sympathetic husband and he had run wild, laughing-eyed and spoiled, everybody's darling. Fal Morgan, home to Morgans for millenia, long before the Karelhi invasion, breeding ground of peace and happiness. Fal Morgan, where their brother Roncallin still lived, and their sisters Cassie and Rhonda, where people knew and loved them. Fal Morgan, safe and warm and so far away ...
"We're going to Fal Morgan."
It was a terrible journey, made only marginally easier when Desilyn found a horse wandering loose the second day. The horse meant they could steal a cart -- leaving Ari in the trees near a farm, where the horses were all locked in the barn, what with the soldiers nearby, but the carts left outside; backing the docile roan between the shafts and using rope to improvise the harness -- but even so, there was no way they could have explained Ari to any soldier. They were hungry, and they were cold, and they were tired -- and they were terrified the entire time. Ari never woke, and they were frightened for him. Lynna would ride beside him, stroking his hair and whispering, "Don't die, baby. Please don't die. Ari, don't die. Stay with us still," but never sure if he was hearing her or not. Once, Desilyn heard her begging Chalma to "leave Ari here, please, I know You left him before, but we need him still, please" and remembered her mother's telling her about his terrible childhood injury; oddly, it comforted Desilyn, thinking that her uncle was stronger than her mother feared. But other times, she was gripped by cold fear that he would die, after all they had done, and leave them alone, the only people left to remember Valerad, and the Evarians.
She wore the long Tolleran shirt over bare legs, like a young boy, and her mother had cut her blonde braids off the first night. Once, passing soldiers teased her about riding the horse (she had never learned to drive) and she managed to say, with more enthusiasm that she would have thought possible, "Soldiers don't drive carts. I want to be a soldier, like you!"
They had laughed, though one had said with rough kindness, "Don't discourage the boy; you've got a good seat, younker! Keep at it, and you'll wear the Beast Badge yet!" They had passed on, and she had had to stop the horse and throw up.
She didn't sleep much, even though she was exhausted. When she did, the nightmares came, and she woke unrested. And sometimes her mother had to shake her awake, to keep her from crying out.
Lynna herself slept very little -- though Desilyn was tall for eight, eight she was, not older, and there was too much that she simply couldn't do. She could ride the horse, but she couldn't harness it; nor could she find the food they needed, or water; and -- more importantly -- she had never been out of Valerad Town in her life; she had no concept of how far it was to Fal Morgan, or even where Fal Morgan was. Close to Summer, yes, but where was Summer?
And so they travelled, so permanently scared they almost got used to it. Fal Morgan was so far away they couldn't really picture arriving there: they could hardly get through the next hour, the rest of the day, let alone think about being safe. But they yearned for it, and Fal Morgan became for Desilyn almost another name for the Silences... except that this one was real, and reachable.
And one evening she had not stopped to feed the horse, or take a rest; oppressed by an inexplicable urgency, she had ridden on, without waking her mother. She had leaned against the roan's neck, calling him Dawnwind from the old tales, and kept him going all night, while Lynna, worn to the bone and collapsed on her brother's shoulder, had slept on. Whenever she had thought about stopping, something in the night wind had not permitted it; when the horse had faltered, she had seen him throw his head at something in the darkness and find new endurance to escape whatever it was.
When she reached a crossroads, whose signpost had told her that Summer was 15 miles away, she had halted and stared at it until a boy with a few cows had come by. He too had assumed her to be male, and asked, "What's up? Cancha read?"
"No. I mean, yes. But Master said 'Fal Morgan,' and that's not written there." She'd managed to sound sulky, and the boy had laughed, a clear sound she'd found amazing.
"Fal Morgan? Bear right -- but if you're not there soon, you'll miss 'em. Already did, probly, unless you work for the new owner?"
She'd said something, but never could remember what. They'd parted ways, and she had sat and shivered all the way to Fal Morgan.
"Boy! Hey, boy!" The voice was loud, and close. Desilyn was startled into almost losing her seat. The man, who almost certainly had not actually materialised out of thin air like a wizard, grabbed for the horse's head, but Dawnwind had his own ideas about things like that and reared away, jolting the cart sideways. Desilyn clung to his mane, keeping her seat, and glared at the man with an expression that resembled truculence. "Sorry, boy; answer a man, why don't you, and maybe things will go a little more smoothly." His Novari was slower than she was used to, except when her mother and uncle spoke it to each other.
"Sorry, sir," she mumbled; but she kept Dawnwind's head away from him. She could hardly believe him: clean, pleasant, and unarmed. She heard Lynna stirring behind her; to warn her, she raised her voice. "I'm sorry, I was daydreaming. Is this road right for Fal Morgan, then, sir? Master said--"
"Fal Morgan?" His voice had gone a little strange and Desilyn got ready to kick the roan. His tone sharpened: "Yes, this is Fal Morgan. You're here early, boy."
"Gard?" Lynna's voice trembled. "Gard Hawker, is that you?" She sat up in the cart and the man stared at her like he was seeing a woman returned from Chalma's own Table. He ran his hand across his mouth, and then spoke.
"Lady Rhonlynna? Sweet Lady of the Herds, it is. Lady Rhonlynna, we thought you dead! And this lad--?"
Lynna laughed a little in spite of everything, and her voice trembled more. "My daughter, Desidilynna. And Gard -- it was close run. Ronaran is near dead ... Gard, we need a healer. We need to get home," her voice broke on that last word, and she swallowed. "Home. Is Sir Roncallin here?"
"He's here, lady, but you ran it close again. They were leaving this morning." He stepped onto the wheel to look at Ronaran, and whistled softly. "Your beast looks near done, lady; can you get to the house? I'll run for a healer," and he dropped back to the green grass and took off at a run.
Lynna watched him go, and then bent down to whisper something to Ari. Then she climbed up onto the seat of the cart and patted the seat beside her. "Come here, baby. Let me drive. You must be exhausted; did you go on all night?"
Desilyn climbed up beside her, nodding. "I just felt I had to. Where are they going, Mama?"
"I don't know, child. I don't know. But I expect your uncle Callin will tell us, and why... But, Desilyn, we're here! Fal Morgan! We made it!"
The Morgans were leaving Fal Morgan, leaving Novamer, leaving the Dual Kingdom altogether. Rhonlynna's description of the Karelhi attack on Valerad Town only confirmed Callin's reluctant feeling that they had overstayed their welcome: in fact, having his Tolleran-by-marriage siblings and Tolleran-by-birth niece back under his protection made it imperative that they leave, and lucky that they'd already sold out and were ready to go. They held off their departure as long as they could, and when they left they took it slow, for Ari's sake. Lynna and Desilyn bounced back, as far as anyone could tell; after enough sleep, hot food, and baths, they were more than ready to shake the dust of the Dual Kingdom off their feet. Desilyn's nightmares even faded into mere unpleasantness before they were out of Novamer.
Ari, though, was a different problem. The healer's opinion was that he was healing well enough, physically, all that a Grey Priest generally cared about. He remained unconcious, though, and the healer had to guess at why, for there was no real reason for him to, unless -- she guessed -- there was something waiting for him that he didn't want to face, hurt so. "Sometimes, we seem to have two minds inside us," said the old woman, "and one is the mind we know, the mind that knows and plans and speaks, but the other is the one that feels and thinks and gets, and that's the one that's hard to fool. It always wants to be alive and safe, and sometimes it fools the other mind, and fools the body, too: I've know men, brave men, whose bodies were fooled into crippling themselves to avoid some other danger. If this lad thinks he wants to die, he might be better off left to get too strong to do it. Let him be a while, just let him be."
So they did. But the time they got to Fairvixen, he was waking most of the time, but, as she had guessed, his grief was a terrible thing to see. By the time they were at sea, on their way to Terhem, he was up and about, and had made up his mind to live ... though, seemingly, not to enjoy it. By the time they came to Taleavlad, he was, to all outward appearances, just a quiet, almost somber, young man, healthy if not exuberant. Only the Morgans knew how much he had changed.
|PART ONE: Ari 1 | PART TWO: Ari 2 | PART THREE: Desilyn | PART FOUR: Ari 3 | PART FIVE: Ari 4|
|Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans ||
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