One Last Quest, Part Three

Hope you guys are enjoying this! 🙂

~*~

In the cab, the ride to the stationery shop Adeon had mentioned time and again was mercifully short. Lachlan could hardly wait to see the boy again, and if he could, he would have leapt from the carriage the moment it rolled to a stop. As things stood, he all but flung himself into his chair as soon as Cathal had it set safely on the ground.

His valet straightened his coat, then stepped back to take stock. “You’ll do,” Cathal said, and returned around the chair to push him into the shop. Just as they reached the walk, Devnet came out in a flurry of velvet and petticoats, trailed by her friends and her footmen, who each carried two wooden cases. Lachlan remembered her letterhead, a twining thing dotted with the clustering dev flowers of her name. Hydrangea, it was, in the Traders’ tongue. He had received more than one love note on that pretty stationery, before he’d lost his nose.

She checked when she saw him, the tiniest hesitation in her step, the slightest flicker of expression before she put her perfect little chin in the air and pretended she hadn’t seen him. For his part, he pretended not to watch her pass—but he could not feign that he didn’t see her go flying face-first into the street, and couldn’t hide his grin either. She was a tangle of pretty legs and petticoat froth, and she let out the most gratifying shriek, which did absolutely nothing to stop her landing in a road apple there by the hitching post.

Lachlan choked on his laughter. Cathal pushed him past as if nothing had happened, but as he reached forward to open the glass-paned door, the valet muttered, “Serves her right,” and Lachlan smiled ghoulishly.

Inside was a small space scented with paper, expensive glue, and the chemical prickle of ink. Cubbies filled with writing accessories lined the walls, and there were a few tables along either side, displaying pens, desk sets, and sticks of fancy wax. Sunlight streamed in through the bank of slim, many-paned windows behind the counter, where a harried young woman with a plain apron over her brown dress sorted through stacks of bills. Suddenly, Lachlan had no idea how to proceed, and his tongue stuck to the roof of his dry mouth. He shouldn’t be afraid. Hadn’t he faced hydras and gryphons and the White Worm? And here he was, so close to his ultimate destination, with nothing like words and a tremble in his remaining fingers.

He cleared his throat. “Excuse me.”

The counter girl looked up, and he saw her throat work, but a moment later she pasted on a smile. Too bright, too broad. “How may I serve you, Lord?” she said, and Lachlan straightened.

“There’s a boy,” he said stupidly, but after a moment he recovered himself and went on. “He works here in the summers. Adeon.”

“Oh.” Her face fell. “He never came this year, Lord. We could use him, what with the master’s accident and all. If his mother’s written, she must have written to the master at his home, and got lost in the shuffle after he died.”

Lachlan could only stare. His chest hurt, and he envisioned, couldn’t help envisioning, all sorts of dreadful fates for the boy, from the mundane to the fantastic. Hit by a runaway cart. Rent asunder by a manticore. A sudden illness. A horde of the shambling dead.

He sat in horrified silence, frozen solid, as if he were yet in the cave of the White Worm, trapped from feet to thighs and stretching fruitlessly for his sword. Seven fingers vised over the arms of his chair, sharp knuckles threatening to break the skin. He felt the bitter cold.

“Is there any way to find him?” Cathal asked, after God knew how long a silence. Lachlan squeezed his eyes shut and fought to push the cavern away from his thoughts. “He’s important, you see,” Cathal went on. Did he see Lachlan’s jaw working the teeth together? He could feel the hard, slippery casing of ice around his legs, and how it chipped under his dagger blade, chipped but wouldn’t crack. From burning cold to numbness to pain…

He clenched his hands tighter. He wasn’t in the cave. He was in a sunny shop that carried stationery and pens, and something was happening, something he needed to see and hear. He made his hands relax. He made himself breathe.

When he opened his eyes he saw the cave. He began to sweat. It wasn’t real. He shut his lids again. The shop, by God, he was in a shop. Wasn’t the light pressing warm and red against his lids? There had been no sun beneath the earth, only a pinprick where they’d gone down among the bones of adventurers and the icicle spikes.

He began to hear again, besides his own ragged breath and the slow pounding of blood in his ears. Cathal had the counter girl charmed; he could tell it from the tone of her voice, regretful, and of Cathal’s, light and teasing. But she didn’t know where the boy could be found, she told Cathal sadly.

“His direction,” Lachlan broke in. His voice shook under the wash of relief he felt to see the shop around him.

“Lord, I’m sorry, we haven’t got it here,” the girl said. “The master—”

“I’ve got it.” Lachlan glanced up at Cathal. “I have his direction. He tells me everything.” Adeon had begged him to write, but Lachlan would not. Any correspondence he sent or received was sure to be opened; he didn’t trust even the paper-bird letters that zipped from place to place, which were difficult for any but the intended recipients to catch. Difficult, but not impossible. “Let’s go outside. Thank you for your help,” he added to the girl, for courtesy’s sake. He hadn’t flexed that social muscle in years.

Cathal pushed him out of the shop and down the sidewalk. He sat silent, thinking, until Cathal broke in: “Are you going to write him, then?”

“I can’t,” Lachlan said. “I swore to him I never would, and made him swear not to write back… I don’t trust them!” His fingers went tight again over the arms of his chair, tighter than before. The polished wood creaked.

“You’re not the only one.”

For a while they didn’t speak. Lachlan’s wheels rattled on the sidewalk.

“When do we leave?” Cathal asked.

“I can’t ask that of you.” He wished he could. “Only help me get to the train station tomorrow, and I’ll release you from my service. You can find another master, and stay with your family.”

Another speechless age between them, filled with street noise and rattling wheels. “Lord,” Cathal said, “why do you think they gave me to you? I don’t have anybody to speak for me. I only have you. I don’t mind it,” he added hastily. “You need me. When do we leave?”

Lachlan’s eyes swam. He had no words for this.

“We could go tonight,” Cathal said, when he didn’t speak. The valet’s voice bore an avid edge. “I can run up to the Palace and fetch our things, and you can wait at the station. Let’s do it!”

“How old are you?” Lachlan blurted.

“Coming up on my second century. Any year now.”

He blinked. He himself had nearly four centuries, and he felt every minute. “I didn’t know you were so young.” Cathal had already entered the long, practically ageless prime of a tulon’s life, when it was difficult to tell just how old anyone was. He might have been six centuries, but here he had only two.

“It is what it is,” said Cathal, and quite suddenly leapt on the back of Lachlan’s chair. He pushed off with his foot; they went streaking and rattling downhill, with Cathal whooping all the way. Lachlan was nearly thrown from the seat, but his arms were strong, and he managed to stay on. He left his stomach at the top of the slope, but he didn’t fall, and when the initial shock had passed, he felt only thrill. The wind whipped his hair, and his skull-like features stretched into a broad grin, all the way down. People leapt out of their path, shouting and cursing, but what did Lachlan care?

At last they slowed, on the way up the next hill. Before they fell back too far, Cathal hopped off the chair and pushed, all the way to the top. “Oh, glory, that was fun!” he crowed. “I’ve always wanted to try that.”

“Rude child,” said Lachlan amiably. He couldn’t wipe the smile from his face.

“What about it, Lord? Do we fare to Dreamport on a quest? Or do we forever leave the fate of a silver-haired lad in doubt?”

“Very rude. We’ll go.”

“Hey-la-hey!” Cathal shouted, and sent them careering down toward the train.

One Last Quest, Part Two

Continuing from last week!

~*~

At dawn, he rose with Cathal’s help. He brushed his own hair, could still do that much for himself, missing fingers notwithstanding. From the dark wardrobe, they chose his best forest-colored broadcloth coat, the brown brocade waistcoat, a shirt as crisp as autumn morning. Cathal knelt before Lachlan’s chair to pin up the legs of his dead-leaf breeches, neat and precise as always, folding them just so.

After breakfast—the cooks would send him pap and poached eggs, no matter that he requested something, anything, else—Lachlan wheeled himself through the Palace with Cathal at his side. The ice-green corridors were deserted at this time of morning but for Movanar servants scuttling on their business. All the Revanar slumbered in their beds, or the beds of others. As they neared the heart of the building, the corridors ended. Marble staircases with delicate brass balusters spiraled into the open space of King Muirrach’s atrium.

It was a beautiful place. Before Lachlan had left to wander the world, he hadn’t realized how breathtakingly expensive the construction must have been. The railings shone, all the exquisite figures of brass, animals—foxes, bears, elk, hares—climbing the newels and icicles dripping from the handrails. From the landing Lachlan could see the gleaming floor, whiter than a field of snow, inlaid in the center with a great Circle of brass. They must have done some rite here the previous evening. Tall green candles stood half-melted around the Circle; one had fallen on its side, spilling wax on the floor. A hint of rich opiate smell hung in the air, even so far above. He wondered that no one had yet come to clean up.

“Come, Lord,” said Cathal, lifting him from the chair in small, powerful arms. Movanar were so often stronger. As Cathal bore him down the winding staircase, he looked up over his valet’s shoulder, watching the peaked top of his chair disappear above the steps. Cathal left him at the bottom to fetch down the chair, and Lachlan sat rubbing his prickling stumps. Two servants came out of a concealed door at the back and crossed on soft boots to clean the Circle. Their supply cart made next to no sound, not a squeak of wheel or a clank of contents.

They whispered to one another, throwing glances like darts to stick in Lachlan’s flesh. He put on his blankest, most dismissive look, which must have been all the more terrifying delivered by a High One with a triangular, bifurcated pit for a nose. They fell quiet to focus unnecessarily on the task of scraping wax from the stone.

Back into the chair. Lachlan could do that himself, once Cathal brought it down. They repeated the process outside, on the long white flights leading down the mountain into the city.

Four ladies of the Court came rushing down, a cluster of footmen trailing after them. One of them nearly knocked poor Cathal off his feet with the surge of her fur and velvet train. Lachlan remembered her—remembered all of them—from the days before he’d left home. When he was younger, and popular, and oh, so achingly beautiful. They had all wanted him then, and he, fool that he was, had done his level best to accommodate each and every one.

They were all vipers, and Devnet, his long-ago betrothed, the worst of the lot. He’d thought he loved her, but it hadn’t taken half a year out on his own before he’d decided he would never marry such a venomous snake as she. When she saw Lachlan on the fifth landing her lip curled. “What do you here, Lachlan Vistridir?”

“Taking the air,” he said, as lightly as he could. He looked into her pale perfect face, at her thin arched eyebrows and elaborately painted eyes, at her lips stained redder than blood. “Am I interrupting your view, Lady Devnet?”

“In a word, you are.”

“No words could possibly convey my utter apathy, milady.”

“You have apartments for a reason,” she hissed.

“Apartments,” he said. “Not a cell, last I knew. You might visit me sometime.”

Her crimson lip curled over perfect teeth.

“You did so love to visit me.” Soft, soft. “I could still make you—”

Oh!” she cried, and whirled away.

He smirked after her, calling, “Another time, perhaps.”

“You are disgusting!” She threw it over her shoulder at him, all edged with spite, that he dared to remind her he’d seen her unclothed.

“I’m not the one with the purple dolphin tattooed on his arse,” he said to twist the knife.

“Oh my God,” the others whispered to each other. “Oh my God.” They covered their giggling mouths and swapped glances. Devnet stormed down the steps, flying two hot-red flags on her cheeks. Her train washed a frothy wake behind her.

“Is it true, Dev?” asked one of them—Mairead, he thought she was called.

Oh my God,” said Devnet.

“It’s true,” said Leandra as she swished down with the rest. “I see it once a week at the minimum. Don’t fret, darling, it’s really quite a fetching piece, and you…” She trailed off, with increasing distance, into incomprehensible noise. Lachlan laughed to himself as a storm of footmen surged past in a colorful wave, their various livery brilliant in the late-morning light. When Cathal reached him, they grinned slyly at each other, no words. Damn, but he’d been taking his valet for granted all these years! Cathal wouldn’t have grown a sense of humor overnight.

They’d begun an hour after dawn. The sun shifted over the city below, playing shadow across white-marble domes, green slates, and golden thatch. The bolt-train slithered through on its track of magic, a silver, flashing ribbon. Cobbled streets, still at this height like thin brown snakes, crawled between buildings and around the mountain. It was noon before they won those streets: steep and slanting, all curves and corners. Lachlan needed Cathal’s help to navigate; the stones and inclines made it nigh-on impossible to steer, though Lachlan did what he could, braking to keep the chair from careering out of Cathal’s control.

If he’d had any magic, his life would have been easier—but Yehoram had taken that from him, too, destroying his aura with his legs. He tried not to think of levitating himself down the steps and turned his mind to soaking in the atmosphere of Green Glaciers as he hadn’t in long decades. No, his apartments weren’t technically a prison, but he’d always gotten the feeling many would prefer it thus. He hadn’t been out of the gardens in an age, no farther than that clearing by the south wall.

Now, though. His bones rattled with the chair, and his arms cramped from pushing back on the wheels. His hands, callused though they were, began to ache and burn under the strain. He didn’t care. Behind walls for so long, he’d nearly forgotten what the world felt like. He remembered the look of it, but not the feel. The layers of sound. The outside air on his skin. The smells, still tickling at what was left of his nose with mouthwatering smoked-pork richness.

After pap and poached eggs, and all the blandest, even what little Lachlan perceived of the scent was wildly delicious, flooding his mouth with saliva. “Wait,” he said, braking harder. “Do you smell that?”

Cathal obediently stopped. “How could I not?” His voice came right into Lachlan’s good ear, the one the White Worm hadn’t frozen off. “Want to eat?”

Lachlan glanced over his shoulder at him. “Are you honestly asking me?”

Cathal laughed and helped steer the chair to the source of the smell: a little smokehouse set some way back from the street, with a stand in front. There a slightly rounded Movanar woman with cheeks bright as apples sold shredded pork with deep red sauce, stuffed into wheat rolls. Alongside came paper cups of cabbage slaw.

They laid the sandwiches in Lachlan’s lap and found a nearby bench to eat. Lachlan wasn’t given to melodrama, but he thought he might expire on the spot after his first bite. It had been so long. Even his diminished sense of taste couldn’t fail to wake, and the textures were more than enough to make up for the lack. The crust of the roll crisped away to soft inside, slightly soggy from the thick sauce. Meat between his teeth again. The heat of the food itself and the warmth of the spice on his tongue. He had gone to Paradise. The slaw crunched, cool and creamy in his mouth, with a sting of black pepper and horseradish.

Afterward, while Cathal disposed of the trash from their meal, he spread his arms on the back of the bench and tilted his head back. Relaxed. Forgetting, for the blink of an eye, what he had become, what he looked like. Then he let a sigh through the cavity of his nose and remembered. All the noise of the street eddied around him, around a bubble of space engendered by his presence. No one dared come too close; no one dared speak to him. Riven as he was, still no one could mistake him for anything but Revanar, anything but noble. No Movanar wore hair like Lachlan’s, snow white and like a living thing, falling around his hips. At the very least, down here in the city he had the protection of his station. He wondered why he had stayed so long in his apartments.

It hardly mattered. Soon there would be Adeon to chat with, and he could come down here whenever he pleased, really. He wasn’t required to stay in his rooms. He didn’t have to rot away at the back of the Palace. The thought put a smile on his face. He might even visit Adeon again after this, and that thought widened his smile further.

Cathal cleared his throat.

“How long have you been standing there?” Lachlan asked, opening his eyes.

“Oh, long enough,” Cathal said. “You know where this place is, I’m assuming.”

He sounded like he assumed no such thing, but Adeon had told Lachlan a thousand times where to find the little stationery shop, and he felt certain he could. “As a matter of fact, I do.”

To his credit, Cathal managed, mostly, not to look surprised. “And how do we get there?”

“It’s on the Boulevard of Bolealt,” said Lachlan, and when Cathal started to protest, he held up a hand. “I know it’s a bit far.”

“Let me get us a cab. I’ll never get you home again if we go all that way.”

Grimacing, Lachlan agreed. He’d sooner not be pent up in a carriage, but he allowed Cathal to hail one regardless, and once within the maroon-velvet confines he was secretly glad of it. He relaxed into the seat, rubbing at his left stump, the longer one. His leg hadn’t prickled like this in years.

One Last Quest, Part One

This is a story I’ve published on Amazon, but I can offer it to you here, too — so I am. Enjoy part one of One Last Quest.

~*~

Lachlan wasn’t even there when the High King bestowed the title Vistridir. He had a very nice plaque to commemorate the occasion, which was too large to do anything with but hang. It leaned against the wall in his chambers, covered with a sheet. He found the Worm etched into it desperately ugly, and they had gotten the runes of his name wrong, so that it read “Lachran,” which was Red Hare rather than Brown.

He didn’t want to look on it. He didn’t need the reminder of what he had become, for how could he forget? When the plaque came, Lachlan was in bed, wishing he had died, and when at last he left its safe pillowed confines, he wished only to return.

He would not. If anything remained of what had been Lachlan, it was his defiance. No High One could possibly choose to remain as he did, a sore on the face of the world. It wasn’t at all the done thing for him to live, and he had considered, at first, taking his own life, as the nobles of the court would have it. But he would not, though when he looked at himself in the great swath of mirror over his dressing table, despair crawled over his heart like a sorcerer’s spell of creeping undergrowth. He had been beautiful once. Like a High One was meant to be, fine bone structure and delicate ears and perfect skin and luminous eyes. The eyes were the only things left, great pale-green eyes burning like fairy fire from his ruined face.

He ordered the mirror removed, and had never since looked upon himself. He knew what he would see—what others saw—but he tried not to care. They hadn’t given much of a damn for him before, nor he for them. Why should he give one now? The silent shunning burned, but he bore it more easily than most might. The only one of them he truly wanted to speak to was Craddoc, his brother, and they hadn’t spoken in decades anyhow, so it didn’t signify, or hardly did.

Lachlan went on like an inexorable machine, hardly noticing the passage of seasons or years, except that when the weather was fine he would dress impeccably in brocade jacket, pressed linen shirt, breeches with the legs pinned up. He would have his valet wheel him out into the Palace gardens and roll carefully down one of the paths to a glade no one else had seen fit to enjoy for years, there to read in the shade of the trees, surrounded by the low hum of insects and the scent of flowers.

There, over thirty years ago, Lachlan had discovered the secret that made his endless life bright, if only in the summers. It was a very small secret, at least in terms of actual size. Its import, should he choose to tell of it, would be great indeed, but he would not. Lachlan’s secret gave him more to anticipate than phantom pain and evil dreams, and so he would hold his tongue. Why not? Exposure would improve the child’s life not a bit. Quite the opposite, unless he missed his guess, which he knew he did not.

Besides, it pleased him to have Adeon all to himself, though of course he wished his small secret would come more often. Once a week was hardly enough to soak up all the sunshine that radiated from Busy Bee. He must have come by it from his mother, whoever she might be, for Lachlan could not imagine King Muirrach ever imparting a glimpse of light.

Adeon was the King’s son, and Lachlan the only one at the Court of Green Glaciers who knew it, and that suited him down to his stumps. Were any other High One to see the boy, even by chance, the secret would no longer be hidden; his parentage was so obvious, written in the letters of silver hair and finely structured bone, no one who knew the King could fail to see it.

Muirrach had three sons and a daughter. Adeon would be the youngest, and the least necessary. Merciful Mother, how they would use him! In a thousand different ways, with a thousand different cruelties, until the joy went out from behind his eyes, until he was as much the walking dead as the rest of the royal family. No, Lachlan couldn’t bear even the thought of it. He reminded himself that he ought to savor the little time he stole from a young boy’s life, and that he ought not to ask for more. If there was any person left in the world for whom Lachlan would draw his sword once again… broken as he was, he would draw it for Adeon. It was enough.

They met in Lachlan’s tiny glade near the south wall, so that the boy had as little distance to creep through the gardens as possible. There was a delicate-looking bench where Adeon might sit, if he liked. He sat on it hardly at all; his name suited him well. He buzzed about like a bee in truth, never alighting for long, whether in the grass or on the bench. But he listened. It didn’t mean he wasn’t listening. Hadn’t Lachlan been a boy just like that? Despair of his tutors! If he was required to sit still, it took every bit of his focus, and his ears would close.

No, Lachlan would never tell anyone about Adeon. He saw himself in the boy, and he knew that Adeon at Court would fare no better than Lachlan had. He contented himself with once a week in the summertime, when Adeon came to Green Glaciers to work down in the city, in his uncle’s stationery shop. He looked forward to it like he looked forward to nothing else, and now it was nearly Longday, and any week now he would see someone to whom his noseless, frost-burned face meant absolutely nothing. Who liked Lachlan’s company, relished his stories, and always begged for one more tale, just one more, before his valet would come down from the Palace to help him back up the slope of the gardens. He’d have to shoo the boy away, quick, be quick, I’ll see you next week, little one.

Now he eased down to the glade in the sunlight with a book in his lap for show, smiling broadly enough to pull at the numb scars on his cheeks. The winters stretched so long these days, and this spring had been damnably wet. Heavy, ceaseless rain turned the garden paths to slush, and then to gritty mud. Even when the sun peeked out of the overcast, Lachlan couldn’t go out beyond the marble-paved confines closer to the Palace. He would say he hated the chair, but that wasn’t quite true. In fact, he loved the chair, frustrating though it might be; it kept him from having to crawl. He hated the limits his long-ago injuries had imposed.

At last the spring rains receded. At last the paths dried enough for Lachlan to get out, and the God! But he flew! As fast as a man with no legs and no magic could fly, he flew from the Palace, from the corridors done up in white and pale-green marble, from the claustrophobic echoes of voices that never spoke to him, and the slip-sliding eyes of all the Revanar, ignoring him by mutual, tacit accord. At last there would be Adeon.

The power of his arms, the one strength left to him, brought him safely to the glade by the south wall. Perhaps not today, but soon—it would be soon. Lachlan stopped next to the bench and opened his book. He found it difficult to focus on the pages, the tale within silly and vapid. Giant Fleas Amok. Who could credit such a thing? But it passed the time, or it might have, if not for his wild, excited anticipation of someone who saw him and didn’t pretend not to.

He waited all the day long, with the muscles in his right thigh twitching, tapping a toe no longer attached. By the time Cathal came to collect him, he was exhausted and deep in silent depression: no bright lad to shake him loose of it. “Is everything well, Lord?” Cathal asked in his quiet Movanar voice, cocking his pale head to the side. His face, when standing, was level with Lachlan’s.

“Fine,” said Lachlan, and only that. Cathal helped him back up to the Palace then, off to his apartments buried far at the back, a light and airy prison for the cast-off third son of an earl, who had once been loved and feared. Vistridir profited him nothing. A name in exchange for all that Yehoram had taken from him. He loathed it. He loathed all the tall perfect nobles who made believe he did not exist. He even loathed himself, and more than a little.

He returned every day to the quiet glade by the south wall, there to wait for a silver-haired King’s bastard, but Adeon never came. The sun still shone on Lachlan’s skin, but the clouds over his heart gathered blacker and blacker. Three weeks, at least that long, though in truth he lost track after one. Day: out to the garden. Evening: back to his apartments. On and on.

Lachlan’s dreams darkened. There was no peace in his sleep, no defense from the dreams of cold. When he dreamed, he saw crystals of ice creeping across the pool of Rex’s blood, ever nearer to what was left of Rex himself after he’d been clamped between the White Worm’s jaws, rent and torn by carnivorous yellow teeth. Little Kep frozen fast, coated in the same slick clear ice that had trapped Lachlan’s legs, and only the tip of his spectacular black-fringed tail stuck out, limp. Mariella, crushed by the dying beast as it slumped to the cavern floor bleeding and burned. Inches from Lachlan’s pinned legs.

It all whirled together in a pillar of snow. He woke weeping, shivering with remembered cold. His friends—how he had gone on without them, he didn’t know. Most likely they’d all be dead by now; it must have been half a century, maybe more, but even an extra year of them… oh God, how he missed them. Rex’s jokes, Kep’s serious face, and all the promises gone unfulfilled in Mariella’s eyes. Gone, with the movements of their hands at dice or cards, their smiles, their voices, their dancing. Frozen.

Lachlan would sooner have his friends than any number of functioning legs. He woke weeping in the small hours, clutching his blankets in clammy fists while nonexistent muscles cramped and lost toes prickled with chill. He slept so badly that Cathal began sending him nervous looks, wondering when he might explode. It had happened before, but this time, Lachlan slumped farther and farther. He couldn’t muster the strength.

One evening in late summer, Cathal scraped together all the courage in his small servant’s body—Lachlan could see him puffing himself up for it, his slight chest expanding—and asked him, out of the clear blue sky, “Is it the boy, Lord?”

Lachlan hesitated, a trifle too long. He read it in Cathal’s lean, foxy face. His valet’s pale-blue eyes went sharp, but he tried anyhow, woodenly. “There’s no boy.”

“Lord, I mean no disrespect, and begging your pardon and all, but just how blind do you think I am? Or is it stupid you find me? Begging your pardon, mind.”

“I don’t find you stupid at all,” Lachlan snapped, feeling a little flare of emotion in a heart he’d thought barren. “If I did, rest assured you would swiftly be seeking another lord to serve.”

“Then, begging your pardon,” Cathal said, sitting down on the lacy-looking bench and laying ankle over knee, “I’ll say that I know it wasn’t me you hid him from, and further that I’m glad you did. They have whatever they like far too often for my taste.”

“A solid assessment.” If Lachlan’s voice came out sour, well, he’d thought it himself more times than he could count. He’d been out in the world and seen things, seen how ridiculous, how flagrantly decadent the High Ones really were.

“Well, Lord, shall we find him?”

“That seems… ill-advised.”

“Hmm.” Cathal nodded slowly. “Let me ask you another way, Lord. Will you sleep easy not knowing what’s happened to him?”

Lachlan thought until the day flowers were nearly shut. His valet sat patient in the westering sun until he said, “Never.”

“Tomorrow, then.” Cathal rose. It didn’t escape Lachlan’s notice that the servant failed to call him Lord, but in truth he would sooner not have heard it to begin with. They went back up to the Palace together, and over the wild green sea the sky exploded with oranges and reds and a streak or two of purple cloud. Lachlan took it as a good omen, and if he didn’t sleep well that night, it was better than he had grown accustomed to lately.

Snippet Sunday #17

Today, another piece of Princes and Kings (a working title), introducing White Raven. He’s so damn interesting. You don’t see why right away, or in this piece, but he’s very interesting as far as I’m concerned — has a redemption arc. Anyway, go on and meet him, and later you can decide whether you like him or not…

~*~

White Raven jogged up the stone steps from the servants’ quarters, letting his hair down and anticipating a pleasant liaison with Slender Palm of Coral Spires. Lehua was bronze-skinned and dark-haired; she smelled of flowers Raven didn’t know, and her brown eyes and low voice were warm. The memory of his white hands on her dark thighs enticed, particularly with the tattoo that snaked down her leg. He’d first seen it when she wore a dress that was slit up the side to the weapons yard—and she’d seen him.

He was definitely looking forward to it. She fucked like she fought, loose-hipped and free. Too bad they were running out of time. Soon she would be back in Coral Spires, far away from everything, and he would be at Tangletree, and they might not meet again in either lifetime.

A figure flashed past him, well to his left. The exposed whiteness of stomach and the streaming hair might have been anyone, as well might the sobbing, but the way it—he—ran, like an untrained child no matter how much time Raven spent with him, marked him as Rhuez.

With a sinking stomach, Raven pinned up his hair again and strode after. In truth he minded less than he ought. He liked Rhuez, for all the boy was hopeless with the sword. It was only the loss of a night with Slender Palm he minded, and she’d probably tolerate an explanation. She’d seen Rhuez at his lessons.

His legs, longer than the Eiten Liedan’s, kept him close enough for sight, but not too close. He carefully turned his eyes from the huntsman’s cabin, where all the lights burned; he didn’t want to ruin his night vision. A fortunate decision, for Rhuez rounded the front of the Palace—Raven had to hustle after—and made straight for the oak lane that led away into the Valley. Rhuez squeezed into the lane and was lost.

That Night

There were fairies, before that night.

They zipped over every pond in the summertime, like sparkling, rainbow stars, and left glittery dust on everything they touched. Unicorns stood sentinel in the glens, waiting unwearied for their true, untouched loves. The land’s brass-bold knights went questing, and found lovely maidens to rescue and monsters aplenty for the slaying: trolls and giants, manticores and griffins, cockatrices, and the sly, whispering ghosts of drowned girls. A dryad tended every oak, and dragons guarded the secret places in the earth. Of adventure there was no lack, if one only looked for it.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, it’s probably clear that the monsters weren’t the half of it. They were just one of the more obvious signs magic had gone out of Rothganar. The applications of magic in Rothganar went well beyond the typical combat/adventuring spellcasters such as the ones discussed in my series of posts about them. Magic was an important part of everyday life, especially in the cities, which sanitation and industry made simpler and, as a matter of fact, possible.

In smaller towns, there was often at least a circuit healer serving, and magical vaccinations were common, as well as treatment for injuries and disease. Refrigeration was available in richer homes even far out into the countryside, and nearly every dwelling was magically heated. As a matter of fact, Rothganar was generally modernized wherever the traveler went, bearing all the hallmarks of an industrial society with clean water, clean air, and indoor plumbing available for most residents.

All of that ended in a single night. Vandis’s generation, and the one before it, have borne most of the brunt of reconstructing some sort of life from the ashes of the world. I’ve been calling the magic time Before and the time afterward — well, After. Capitalized, like that. Now you know (if you didn’t before now) what I mean by it. A pat distinction for what must’ve seemed like the end of the world at the time, but there you are.