Storied Lives, Part One

A free story to connect Eagle Eye with Dingus. Here’s Eagle’s part.

Story’s End

For the second time that week, Eagle Eye Wormsbane woke in the cellar. It was stupid to sleep here, he knew, and still, at least one morning out of seven, he opened his eyes and found himself on the dirt floor with dawn leaking around the access doors to outside.

It took a moment, as always, for pain to penetrate his sleep-fogged mind. As always, he was aware of something not right with his body, but he never had enough time to brace before it struck him.

Belly first, like his guts were being drawn out, and slowly. He moaned, curling over himself, nearly crumpling the old paper book in his lap before he flung it away. It bounced off a sack of flour and thumped to the floor.

Eagle’s head began to pound. He clenched fists at his temples, groaning Bey, low in his throat. Fox wouldn’t come. He knew that; he forced the memory through his mind. Fox was dead.

More. He pushed through his past, the persistent images of his youth. Fox was dead. He’d had practice remembering it all. His thoughts hurt almost as badly as his flesh, but he shoved them through his brain until at last he could produce, “Rhi! The God…” Sweat broke out on his skin, chilly and slick. “Rose!”

He twisted, straining into an arch that any moment, any instant, would break. He shouldn’t have come down here. “Rose! Help me!” he cried, his voice as thin as a child’s, and he heard her steps rush softly across the floor above.

Light streamed in when she flung the doors wide. He recoiled from it, screaming when it hit his eyes. “Fuck me,” he heard her mutter, as she came down the steps. Her touch was the faintest sting, hardly noticeable over the rest of it. “Come on now, Eagle. You know the drill—you gotta unroll.”

Panting, he struggled to obey. It seemed forever before she pulled his arm over her slim shoulders. Together they rose. She drew him more than not, though he tried not to let her; tried to do it himself. “Rose,” he said, as they fought past shelves upon shelves of dusty treasure. “My book.”

“Okay, okay.” She set him at the bottom of the steps. “Where?”

“By—” He rubbed his forehead. Think. “By the flour.”

“Okay, sweetheart. I’ll get it.”

He watched his wife cross the cellar. Sometimes he watched her. Not to remember why he’d married her—he remembered that every time she rescued him this way—but to remember what she was. Beautiful, his Rose was so beautiful, with her hair glinting in the sun where it escaped the braided knot at the base of her neck, like wheat, like gold. She wore it long, as she’d done for centuries, and when she let it down at night it rippled in the candlelight as, by the steady glow of mage-lanterns ages past, it had not.

Beautiful, but she was so much more than beautiful. Unlike Eagle, years and cataclysm and heartbreak had diminished her power not in the slightest. He hoped she had someone to please her; he managed it perhaps four or five times a year, and it couldn’t be enough.

She turned to him, holding up the book, with a wry set to her pink mouth. “This again?” Magister Ferocious. It had been Fox’s favorite.

He said simply, “Yes.”

Rose only put the book in a floury apron pocket and came back to him, among the shelves of beautifully-made, enchanted things, things that no longer worked, but pulled viciously at Eagle’s own magic. When she reached him, she looked down, and her lips pursed. She looked exceedingly put out with him, he realized.

“What is it, my heart?” he said, shaping his face into what he hoped was more charming smile, less agonized rictus.

She laughed. “Chuck that my heart stuff in the bin,” she said, helping him up. “We both know you left your heart in Shirith under a whole mountain full of lava.”

Where once he’d scaled mountains, the stairs were as desperately terrifying as any cliff. Cramps lanced down his legs. “What is there left of me to love you, then?” He grimaced. “What is there left for you to love?”

Until they reached the top, behind the bakery counter, she held her tongue. She shut the door behind them, and the pain lessened; the wood, or maybe the token of the closed portal, held the once-enchanted things in check, at least a little. Things still got a bit strange, he’d found, around what had been magic.

Rose stepped close, putting her hands on either side of his face. “There’s enough,” she said softly, and pressed her forehead to his.

“Whatever’s left, it does love you.”

“More left than you think, Eagle. Go on up and have your breakfast. I got customers here.”

He turned out to the bakery and saw a line: Adair the smith, already grimed from his forge; Rogen the bailiff, neat and polished; and half a dozen more. “Oh,” he said faintly, and none of them looked at him, not one. They kept their faces turned firmly aside from Poor Mad Voalt—what a shame, so respectable, so very illustrious, but really, out of his mind. His breath caught in his chest. For a blink he could do no more than stare, and then he wheeled and stalked up to the flat on the top floor, fleeing, but managing—he hoped—not to look it.

Once there, he dropped himself into his place at the table and stared into space. It hurt less up here, though he hadn’t found any place it didn’t hurt at all. The wild was the best he could hope for; at least there, nobody could see him in pain.

Out there he could scream his throat raw, and did. Not often, but sometimes. It wasn’t the pain of a body rent by forces now beyond mortal touch he screamed for. In the days that followed magic’s breaking, yes, then it had been. Now the pain was mostly duller, the noise of outraged nerves in the background of his mind, except when he got stupid and fell asleep in the basement among the artifacts of a long life’s wandering. But how could he resist it?

He pulled his breakfast across the table, trying to banish his treasonous thoughts. Rose had baked muffins rich with maple and nuts, fixed him eggs and sausages to feed a crowd—or one small witch with a hundred demands on his power. She loved him, and he Rose. Their daughter, he loved, and their small grandson. The people, he loved, but this life—the God—he could not hate this life more. The routine of it, and the sameness, and the nothing.

Nothing to do but rot. In the house, in the wild, what difference was there really? Usually he could forget, but sometimes a passion of loathing rose up and threatened to strangle him. He shoved bite after bite of eggs into his mouth, eating them as savagely as one could eat fluffy scrambled eggs. He could go. Nothing could really stop him.

Well—Rose could, but she’d have to kill him to do it, and he knew she wouldn’t. And Rose could only stop him if she knew he meant to leave. So simple… pack a bag as if he were going out camping. He didn’t need much, and he could be in Brightwater in a week; less if he pushed himself. He had money. He had money nobody knew about, not even Rose.

He could be there within a week, and aboard a ship within a week after that. In less than a month he could be getting drunk on a beach in the Monmouths and waiting for an adventure to find him. He could see Raven again, and Wolf.

Raven, at least, he thought, grimacing. The last time his old friends had come to Thundering Hills, he and Wolf had argued: a loud, nasty row over Fox’s young son taking the Knights’ leaf on his remaining hand. What did it matter? Beagan could never be High King, even if there were a mountain left to accept him, and anyway there were so few Revanar left in the world, the office would be no more than a puppet show for an audience that no longer cared. Eagle bit into a muffin loaded with walnuts, topped with crunchy maple sugar, and sighed. Rose was a good cook.

At best, the Movanar would greet a new High King with apathy. Fox had been popular enough, but millennia of oppression tended to leave a bad taste in the mouth. More likely it would be hostility, and in no time they’d be looking for someone to do away with Beagan—if the remnants of the Revanar didn’t get to it first. There were six left in Long Knife, last Eagle knew, clinging to their power and their lives by their manicured nails, and three in Wealaia: King Velrach, his wife, and his son. Wolf was left, and Raven; Rose’s friend Amaranth, and Beagan himself. Eagle supposed there might be a few more, but wherever they might be, they weren’t showing themselves. All the ages of the Revanar were buried and gone.

Let the boy be, he thought firmly at Wolf, stuffing down the rest of the muffins one by one. He deserves his own life. High King of nothing!

Fox wouldn’t have wanted it. He would have wanted his son free, and Beagan was as free as a boy shackled to his own past could be; even doing well, when Eagle had seen him last.

Maybe thirty years had been enough to cool Wolf’s temper.

Eagle sat back from the table, folding his hands over his stomach. It still bulged when he ate, though that would go away soon; if anything, he was more of a bottomless pit than he’d been as a young man, and gained less weight from it. He guessed it must have something to do with being a furnace in a great hall with no other warmth.

Thirty years! He chuckled to himself. Wolf had likely forgotten he was ever angry with Eagle before Thundering Hills had disappeared over the horizon. They’d never been friends exactly, but they weren’t completely unfriendly either, and Eagle missed him more than he could admit. Wolf was more volatile than flame, but once he decided to burn for you, that was the end.

Inside a month—how good it would be to see them! Plenty had come and gone, drifted away or died, but Raven and Wolf had made a nice life for themselves in the tropics, and made it clear Eagle was welcome there, Eagle and anyone connected to him.

He could go. But the moment he began to work through the logistics of the trip, his mind quailed. Rose would be so worried about him, and rightly so. The food—there was no way he could carry all he’d need onto the ship.

And then there was Dingus, too little to understand, but old enough to be hurt by Eagle’s dereliction; old enough to associate Eagle’s leaving with his own father’s, however wrong he might be to make that connection.

Maybe not so great a wrong to Eagle. Angus had at least wanted to take the boy with him, but all Eagle could think of was how much he wanted to be out of this place, out from beneath the weight of stares.

Selfishness, that was the only word for it. It would be wrong to leave without saying good-bye to Dingus. Over centuries of life, he’d done plenty of things he wasn’t proud of, but that was a cruelty not even Eagle’s numb heart could withstand. He couldn’t leave without saying good-bye to his grandson, but he couldn’t say good-bye and still leave.

He could never leave while Dingus remained.

He rose from the table and began the washing-up. This, at least, he could do for Rose. He pumped a dishpan full of water, added soap, and tried not to think about wandering. He tried not to think of all the times he had left one place and gone to another, of the wind in his hair as a ship carried him out of port.

It wouldn’t be the same. In his memory, Fox stood next to him smiling, as eager as he to see something new. In his memory they were together, but there wasn’t any more Fox and there never would be.

He put the last dish aside to drain off, dried his hands, and swiped tears from his face with the towel. Times like these, he felt like moldy leftovers—like a child’s stuffed toy cast aside, no longer needed. He felt old when he strapped the knives to his upper arms, old and over-cautious, but without them he might as well go out naked. He would go out, he decided, rolling his sleeves down over the sheaths. He would go and see Dingus, and remind himself why he stayed.

Down the steps to the bakery, then. Rose asked him, “Where you goin’?”

“Dingus,” he said.

“Give him a kiss from me.”

“Yes, Rose,” he said, but he’d forgotten it halfway through the square. He should have gone the back way. The little square was full this time of morning, bustling with women and children, youths and old men. Most of those around Eagle’s age were at their work—another way he was strange and different. But then, with Eagle’s money, he’d never have to take a job in his life. It was a lucky thing. Rose ran the bakery for something to do, and he helped when he could, but sometimes his pain overwhelmed him and he needed to retreat.

He decided to skirt the village after all, and practically dove off the square next to the smithy, where there was space between buildings. Pretending not to hear Adair’s call of “Good morning,” he strode the few hundred feet between the edge of the square and the edge of the village proper. Thundering Hills was woefully small; the only good place to get a bit of Hayedi food was if Rose cooked lamb with yogurt.

Damn this backwater, anyhow! His memories tangled. Fox kneeling before Rose, pressing a beautiful ear to her pregnant belly, both of them smiling brightly enough to blind. Grilled mussels fresh from the bay, any bay. Dancing with Rose on hot sand; Fox kissing him in the snow among ancient pines. Cat’s sweet pipe notes in the dusk. Magic circles poured on mountainsides, any mountain—salt, potash, drops of blood: Fox and Raven and Wolf and Owl, raising voices together, raising power. Aster’s burnt beautiful face, cold winter light in her eyes as she whispered ice from the desert.

He cursed Thundering Hills, not for the first time, not for the last. The places he’d loved were all changed; he was changed, and the last time he’d been down to Brightwater, before Dingus was born, the agony of being among so many who were meant to touch magic had rent him asunder. Even Elwin’s Ford, the nearest large town, had brought him blinding pain. He was all a-snarl like a bobbin unwound by a naughty child. He wanted to leave. He couldn’t bear to.

Hadn’t he just been dreaming of that? Leaving? Eagle stopped at the base of a hill, and after a moment he recognized it. It was Her hill, the fairy hill. He hadn’t realized he’d wandered so far. He’d used to be sharp.

High above at the top, Dingus stood in front of the ancient oak that grew there. His hands were deep in his pockets, and the sun stood behind him, turning him into a shadowbox cutout: hill, tree, and boy.

Eagle never went to the top of that hill, though he wanted to. He had sat there one moonless night, thirty-eight years gone, and watched the fairies dance for their Lady: an honor, oh, and the greater honor still that he had seen Her take a long-legged woman’s shape and dance along. The starlight on her crown of leaves… and then the end had come. The fairies whisked away on a sparkling wind, and the great oak swallowed their Lady, and the sky over Shirith, far and away, caught fire.

They left Eagle behind, the fairies and Fox, in a forever shadow of dragging pain and longing that drowned him.

Dingus was seven now, but he walked and talked like a full-blood lad with a score of years. Only seven, and in the shadow where Eagle dwelt it seemed to be fewer years than that, since Rhiada had laid the warm blanket bundle in his arms. “Here, Daddy,” she’d said, rough with exhaustion, but smiling. “You hold him, too.”

All the long night, while his wife searched for Angus the Red, he’d sat with his daughter sleeping on the bed and his grandson sleeping in his arms and his heart was full that freezing night. That night they were his and only his. The moment Rhiada gave him the nameless baby who would be called Dingus in the morning, he had known. Finding the boy on this hill, head bowed before this tree, was hardly a surprise.

He’d known the moment he’d ventured—unable to resist—to touch Dingus’s tiny face with a fingertip. To trace the faint, nearly invisible brows, so soft, the snub nose, the miniature lips, wide and unmistakably Xavier. Dingus was like him. Dingus had his own magic.

Eagle’s fear had made him clutch the baby close, curling his body over the bundle as if to protect it. Dingus had his own magic, and he let out an affronted cry as Eagle squeezed tight, too tight, rocking back and forth. Weeping from relief: Dingus didn’t hurt to the touch. He drew nothing from the empty well that Eagle had become.

Fear, though—he wept for that too, fear like he’d never known, even facing High King Beagar that final time. No Worm had ever terrified him like the awful knowledge that Dingus was doomed to be different. Whether destiny or not, who could say? It hardly mattered. The God, if the wrong person discovered this baby, just one wrong person…

Seven years he’d kept it locked away. Eagle hadn’t breathed a word, not to Rose, not to Rhiada, not even to Dingus; a secret was only safe with one. Keep him safe, protect him. That anyone like Eagle could still be born was, he felt, a sign of hope. And Dingus wasn’t quite like Eagle after all… he hardly cried, and never complained of the pains Eagle suffered.

Boy, tree, hill. Menyoral, Eagle thought, and not for the first time. He’d met one or two before. It would fit. Any Power still alive and stirring, any of the great Powers humans called gods—if they deigned to look down on Rothganar—would have seen Dingus like a beacon in the night. He had story blood, the blood of legends: Rose’s blood, Eagle’s blood, Xavier blood.

Eagle shivered at the sudden touch of cold on the back of his neck, and drew up his hood. Old, instinctive anxiety lifted his hackles. “Dingus!” he called. “Come down, little shadow!” Father had called him that, centuries ago. It spilled out of him now—but he felt cold again, certain that he was the shadow of Dingus, or would be, in time—a dark thing flickering before a great light.

“Dingus!” he called again. For now, little shadow, his to keep secret and safe. For a little while.

Dingus touched the oak’s bark. Eagle saw his hand linger, but then he streaked down the brown grassy hill, coat flapping, and thumped into Eagle at the bottom. Eagle let himself get bowled over, let the solid warm weight bear him down and the soft strong baby arms embrace him. He embraced in return. No words. None necessary until Dingus had finished hugging him.

“It hasn’t been all that long since we last saw each other,” he said, sitting up, but he grinned as he said it.

“Two whole days!” Dingus said, flinging his arms wide to indicate the endless span. His open coat, the brown of dead leaves, flapped again.

Eagle laughed. “Come here, little shadow. Why haven’t you buttoned your coat?”

“I’m not cold,” Dingus protested, but he suffered Eagle to do it up.

“No? What’s this?” Eagle tapped his nose, red at the end, and touched his little chin. “So red! And your ears, too. You still need your hat and mittens and muffler, especially if we’re going camping.”

“Are we? Are we really?”

“Oh, yes,” Eagle said gravely, as if it had been his plan all along instead of a moment’s impulse. “The green wood grows again, and the forest is blinking sleep from her eyes. We’d better go and bid her good morning.”

Dingus glanced back at the oak on the hill, confirming Eagle’s suspicions, but a moment later turned with eager eyes. “Okay. But Grandpa, it’s halfway to noon. You don’t think she’ll be mad, do you? The forest?”

“Morning is a long time when you’re as big as a forest. Don’t worry; she’ll be glad to see you whenever you come.” The little boy beamed, but Eagle thought he didn’t know how much truth he’d just heard. No matter. “Let’s go to your mother’s house first, and collect your things.”

The boy’s smile stretched broader, and he dashed off ahead of Eagle, who walked behind—whistling as he’d used to do, when he’d had a purpose. Well, he had one now, too. Dingus’s enemy, whoever that might be, was sure to be greater even than Beagar. There was work to be done, and much scolding to endure before Rhiada would let them go. While Dingus zipped from place to place in the tiny cottage, Rhiada rained exhortations and threats on Eagle’s head.

He didn’t listen much. “All right, Rhiada,” he said, when he saw Dingus head for the door, snatching up her lantern. “I’m taking this. We’ll be back inside a week.” She spluttered, but he kissed her on the cheek in spite of the twist of pain in his belly and went out with Dingus following.

“Hey! Where’s my hug and kiss?” she shouted after Dingus, who ran back to deliver them. When he returned, he put his mittened hand into Eagle’s, and they went away.

All day long they rambled over the hills clothed in naked branches, Dingus skipping ahead or falling behind, leaping and bounding, roaming out of sight or walking next to Eagle. The air was cold and sharp, the humidity slicing through clothes, and they would have shivered but for the activity. The smell of humus hung thick around them; it was wet, and last year’s leaves rotted under melting snow. A few of the trees had already started to bud. Eagle pointed them out. He showed Dingus the soft pussy willows, the spring-skinny squirrels, the tracks of animals great and small, the bright spears of crocus and clean white snowdrops. Dingus absorbed it all.

At last, when dusk gathered and night began to fall, he built a fire, carefully showing Dingus the way of it in a pit—an old one he’d dug out that summer—lined and ringed with stones. “I’m cold!” Dingus said. “Can we light it yet?”

“Not yet,” Eagle said, arranging the driest wood they’d been able to find. Into the bottom of the structure, he poked some small twigs and a bit of fur they’d found caught in a thicket. “Now we can light it.” He sat back, brushed off his hands, and put a long twig into the lantern until it flamed. He cupped his hand around it as he passed the twig to Dingus. “Careful, little shadow.”

Dingus’s small hands trembled with excitement, but he was careful enough to satisfy even Eagle as he prodded the twig into the kindling. “Oh!” he cried, sitting down hard as it caught. “I did it!”

“You did.” Eagle accepted the twig back, grinning, and blew out the flame.

The growing fire threw dancing light over Dingus’s face, partly hidden in the muffler. He seemed to glow, with power, with joy.

“Come here,” Eagle said, opening one side of his cloak, and when Dingus settled against him he wrapped it around both of them. He felt frail next to Dingus’s solidity.

“I want to hear a story, please,” Dingus said.

“I like your manners. Let me think.” As soon as he asked for time, he had it. “I know just the story. Once upon a time…”

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