So far this week we’ve met the Company, The Red Knight, The Abbess and the novice Amicia . . . now it’s the Wild’s turn. It’s the great force which used to control the land, the creatures which roamed free until man came and changed the landscape. Today we have a glimpse into the relationship between men and the Wild – the uses, abuses, acts of revenge and acts of fear that seem small in themselves but which, as Miles Cameron shows us, can be the spark to ignite something much, much bigger.
Readers be aware: this extract contains an historically accurate bear-baiting scene which may not be for everyone.
Lorica – A Golden Bear
The bear was huge. All of the people in the market said so.
The bear sat in its chains, legs fully extended like an exhausted dancer, head down. It had leg manacles, one on each leg, and the chains had been wrought cunningly so that the manacles were connected by running links that limited the beast’s movement.
Both of its hind paws were matted with blood – the manacles were also lined in small spikes.
‘See the bear! See the bear!’
The bear keeper was a big man, fat as a lord, with legs like tree trunks and arms like hams. His two boys were small and fast and looked as if they might have a second profession in crime.
‘A golden bear of the Wild! Today only!’ he bellowed, and his boys roamed through the market, shouting ‘Come and see the bear! The golden bear!’
The market was full, as market can only be at the first breath of spring when every farmer and petty-merchant has been cooped up in a croft or a town house all winter. Every goodwife had new-made baskets to sell.
Careful farmers had sound winter apples and carefully hoarded grain on offer. There were new linens – shirts and caps. A knife grinder did a brisk trade, and a dozen other tradesmen and women shouted their wares – fresh oysters from the coast, lambs for sale, tanned leather.
There were close on five hundred people in the market, and more coming in every hour.
A taproom boy from the inn rolled two small casks up, one at a time, placed a pair of boards across them and started serving cider and ale. He set up under the old oak that marked the centre of the market field, a stone’s throw from the bear master.
Men began to drink.
A wagoner brought his little daughter to see the bear. It was female, with two cubs. They were beautiful, with their gold-tipped blond fur, but their mother smelled of rot and dung. Her eyes were wild, and when his daughter touched one of the cubs the fearsome thing opened its jaws, and his daughter started at the wicked profusion of teeth. The growing crowd froze and then people shrank back.
The bear raised a paw, stretching the chains—
She stood her ground. ‘Poor bear!’ she said to her father.
The bear’s paw was well short of touching the girl. And the pain of moving against the spiked manacles overcame the bear’s anger. It fell back on all fours, and then sat again, looking almost human in its despair.
‘Shh!’ he said. ‘Hush, child. It’s a creature of the Wild. A servant of the enemy.’ Truth to tell, his voice lacked conviction.
‘The cubs are wonderful.’ The daughter got down on her haunches. They had ropes on them, but no more.
A priest – a very worldly priest in expensive blue wool, wearing a magnificent and heavy dagger – leaned down. He put his fist before one of the cubs’ muzzles and the little bear bit him. He didn’t snatch his hand back. He turned to the girl. ‘The Wild is often beautiful, daughter. But that beauty is Satan’s snare for the unwary. Look at him. Look at him!’
The little cub was straining at his rope to bite the priest again. As he rose smoothly to his feet and kicked the cub, he turned to the bear master.
‘It is very like heresy, keeping a creature of the Wild for money,’ he said.
‘For which I have a licence from the Bishop of Lorica!’ sputtered the bear master.
‘The bishop of Lorica would sell a licence to Satan to keep a brothel,’ said the priest with a hand on the dagger in his belt.
The wagoner took hold of his daughter but she wriggled free. ‘Pater, the bear is in pain,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ he said. He was a thoughtful man. But his eyes were on the priest.
And the priest’s eyes were on him.
‘Is it right for us to hurt any creature?’ his daughter asked. ‘Didn’t God make the Wild, just as he made us?’
The priest smiled and it was as terrible as the bear’s teeth. ‘Your daughter has some very interesting notions,’ he said. ‘I wonder where she gets them?’
‘I don’t want any trouble,’ the wagoner said. ‘She’s just a child.’
The priest stepped closer, but just then the bear master, eager to get a show, began to shout. He had quite a crowd – at least a hundred people, and there were more wandering up every minute. There were half a dozen of the earl’s soldiers as well, their jupons open in the early heat, flirting with the farmers’ daughters. They pushed in eagerly, hoping to see blood.
The wagoner pulled his daughter back, and let the soldiers pass between him and the priest.
The bear master kicked the bear and pulled on the chain. One of his boys began to play a quick, staccato tune on a tin whistle.
The crowd began to chant, ‘Dance! Dance! Dance, bear, dance!’
The bear just sat. When the bear master’s tugging on the chains caused her pain, she raised her head and roared her defiance.
The crowd shuffled back, muttering in disappointment, except for the priest.
One of the soldiers shook his head. ‘This is crap,’ he said. ‘Let’s put some dogs on it.’
The idea was instantly popular with his mates, but not at all with the bear master. ‘That’s my bear,’ he insisted.
‘Let me see your pass for the fair,’ said the sergeant. ‘Give it here.’
The man looked at the ground, silenced, for all his size. ‘Which I ain’t got one.’
‘Then I can take your bear, mate. I can take your bear and your boys.’
The sergeant smiled. ‘I ain’t a cruel man,’ he said, his tone indicating that this statement was untrue. ‘We’ll put some dogs on your bear, fair as fair.
You’ll collect the silver. We’ll have some betting.’
‘This is a gold bear,’ said the bear master. He was going pale under his red, wine-fed nose. ‘A gold bear!’
‘You mean you spent some silver on putting a bit of gilt on her fur,’ said another soldier. ‘Pretty for the crowd.’
The bear master shrugged. ‘Bring your dogs,’ he said.
It turned out that many of the men in the crowd had dogs they fancied against a bear.
The wagoner slipped back another step, but the priest grabbed his arm.
‘You stay right here,’ he said. ‘And your little witch of a daughter.’
The man’s grip was like steel, and the light in his eyes was fanatical.
The wagoner allowed himself, reluctantly, to be pulled back into the circle around the bear.
Dogs were being brought. There were mastiffs – great dogs the size of small ponies – and big hounds, and some mongrels that had replaced size with sheer ferocity. Some of the dogs sat quietly while others growled relentlessly at the bear.
The bear raised its head and growled too – once. All the dogs backed away a step.
Men began to place bets.
The bear master and his boys worked the crowd. If he was hesitant to see his bear in a fight, he wasn’t hesitant about accepting the sheer quantity of silver suddenly crossing his palm. Even the smallest farmer would wager on a bear baiting. And when the bear was a creature of the Wild—
Well it was almost a religious duty to bet against it.
The odds agains the bear went up and up.
So did the number of dogs, and they were becoming unmanageable as the pack grew. Thirty angry dogs can hate each other as thoroughly as they hate a bear.
The priest stepped out of the ring. ‘Look at this creature of Evil!’ he said. ‘The very embodiment of the enemy. Look at its fangs and teeth, designed by the Unmaker to kill men. And look at these dogs men have bred – animals reduced to lawful obedience by patient generations of men.
No one dog can bring down this monster alone, but does anyone doubt that many of them can? And is this lesson lost on any man here? The bear – look at it – is mighty. But man is more puissant by far.’
The bear didn’t raise its head.
The priest kicked it.
It stared at the ground.
‘It won’t even fight!’ said one of the guards.
‘I want my money back!’ shouted a wheelwright.
The priest smiled his terrible smile. He grabbed the rope around one of the little cubs, hauled the creature into the air by the scruff of the neck, and tossed it in among the dogs.
The bear leaped to its feet.
The priest laughed. ‘Now it will fight,’ it said.
The bear strained against its manacles as the mastiffs ripped the screaming cub to shreds. It sounded like a human child, terrified and afraid, and then it was gone – savaged and eaten by a dozen mongrels. Eaten alive.
The wagoner had his hands over his daughter’s eyes.
The priest whirled on him, eyes afire. ‘Show her!’ he shrieked. ‘Show her what happens when evil is defeated!’ He took a step towards the wagoner—
And the bear moved. She moved faster than a man would have thought possible.
She had his head in one paw and his dagger in the other before his body, pumping blood across the crowd, hit the dirt. Then she whirled – suddenly nothing but teeth and claws – and sank the heavy steel dagger into the ground through the links of her chain.
The links popped.
A woman screamed.
She killed as many of them as she could catch, until her claws were glutted with blood, and her limbs ached. They screamed, and hampered each other, and her paws struck them hard like rams in a siege, and every man and woman she touched, she killed.
If she could have she would have killed every human in the world. Her cub was dead. Her cub was dead.
She killed and killed, but they ran in all directions.
When she couldn’t catch any more, she went back and tore at their
corpses – found a few still alive and made sure they died in fear.
Her cub was dead.
She had no time to mourn. Before they could bring their powerful bows and their deadly, steel-clad soldiers, she picked up her remaining cub, ignored the pain and the fatigue and all the fear and panic she felt to be so deep in the tame horror of human lands, and fled. Behind her, in the town, alarm bells rang.
Lorica – Ser Mark Wishart
Only one knight came, and his squire. They rode up to the gates at a gallop, summoned from their Commandery, to find the gates closed, the towers manned, and men with crossbows on the walls.
‘A creature of the Wild!’ shouted the panicked men on the wall before they refused to open the gates for him – even though they’d summoned him. Even though he was the Prior of the Order of Saint Thomas. A paladin, no less.
The knight rode slowly around the town until he came to the market field.
He dismounted. His squire watched the fields as if a horde of boglins might appear at any moment.
The knight opened his visor, and walked slowly across the field. There were a few corpses at the edge, by the dry ditch that marked the legal edge of the field. The bodies lay thicker as he grew closer to the Market Oak. Thicker and thicker. He could hear the flies. Smell the opened bowels, warm in the sun.
It smelled like a battlefield.
He knelt for a moment, and prayed. He was, after all, a priest, as well as a knight. Then he rose slowly and walked back to his squire, spurs catching awkwardly on the clothes of the dead.
‘What – what was it?’ asked his squire. The boy was green.
‘I don’t know,’ said the knight. He took off his helmet and handed it to his squire.
Then he walked back into the field of death.
He made a quick count. Breathed as shallowly as he could.
The dogs were mostly in one place. He drew his sword, four feet of mirror-polished steel, and used it as a pry-bar to roll the corpse of a man with legs like tree trunks and arms like hams off the pile of dogs.
He knelt and took off a gauntlet, and picked up what looked like a scrap of wool.
Let out a breath.
He held out his sword, and called on God for aid, and gathered the divine golden power, and then made a small working.
‘Fools,’ he said aloud.
His working showed him where the priest had died, too. He found the man’s head, but left it where it lay. Found his dagger, and placed a phantasm on it.
‘You arrogant idiot,’ he said to the head.
He pulled the wagoner’s body off the mangled corpse of his daughter.
Turned aside and threw up, and then knelt and prayed. And wept.
And finally, stumbled to his feet and walked back to where his squire waited, the worry plain on his face.
‘It was a golden bear,’ he said.
‘Good Christ!’ said the squire. ‘Here? Three hundred leagues from the wall?’
‘Don’t blaspheme, lad. They brought it here captive. They baited it with dogs. It had cubs, and they threw one to the dogs.’ He shrugged.
His squire crossed himself.
‘I need you to ride to Harndon and report to the king,’ the knight said.
‘I’ll track the bear.’
The squire nodded. ‘I can be in the city by nightfall, my lord.’
‘I know. Go now. It’s one bear, and men brought it here. I’ll stem these fools’ panic – although I ought to leave them to wallow in it. Tell the king that the Bishop of Jarsay is short a vicar. His headless corpse is over there.
Knowing the man, I have to assume this was his fault, and the kindest thing I can say is that he got what he deserved.’
His squire paled. ‘Surely, my lord, now it is you who blaspheme.’
Ser Mark spat. He could still taste his own vomit. He took a flask of wine from the leather bag behind his saddle and drank off a third of it.
‘How long have you been my squire?’ he asked.
The young man smiled. ‘Two years, my lord.’
‘How often have we faced the Wild together?’ he asked.
The young man raised his eyebrows. ‘A dozen times.’
‘How many times has the Wild attacked men out of pure evil?’ the knight asked. ‘If a man prods a hornet’s nest with a pitchfork and gets stung, does that make the hornets evil?
His squire sighed. ‘It’s not what they teach in the schools,’ he said.
The knight took another pull at his flask of wine. The shaking in his hands was stopping. ‘It’s a mother, and she still has a cub. There’s the track. I’ll follow her.’
‘A golden bear?’ the squire asked. ‘Alone?’
‘I didn’t say I’d fight her in the lists, lad. I’ll follow her. You tell the king.’
The man leaped into his saddle with an acrobatic skill which was one of the many things that made his squire look at him with hero-worship. ‘I’ll send a phantasm to the Commandery if I’ve time and power. Now go.’
‘Yes, my lord.’ The squire turned his horse and was off, straight to a gallop as he’d been taught by the Order.
Ser Mark leaned down from his tall horse and looked at the tracks, and then laid a hand on his war horse’s neck. ‘No need to hurry, Bess,’ he said.
He followed the track easily. The golden bear had made for the nearest woods, as any creature of the Wild would. He didn’t bother to follow the spoor exactly, but merely trotted along, checking the ground from time to time. He was too warm in full harness, but the alarm had caught him in the tiltyard, fully armed.
The wine sang in his veins. He wanted to drain the rest of it.
The dead child—
The scraps of the dead cub—
His own knight – when he was learning his catechism and serving his
caravans as a squire – had always said War kills the innocent first.
Where the stubble of last year’s wheat ran up into a tangle of weeds, he saw the hole the bear had made in the hedge. He pulled up.
He didn’t have a lance, and a lance was the best way to face a bear.
He drew his war sword, but he didn’t push Bess though the gap in the hedge.
He rode along the lane, entered the field carefully through the gate, and rode back along the hedge at a canter.
But no bear.
He felt a little foolish to have drawn his sword, but he didn’t feel any inclination to put it away. The fresh tracks were less than an hour old, and the bear’s paw print was the size of a pewter plate from the Commandery’s kitchens.
Suddenly, there was crashing in the woods to his left.
He tightened the reins, and turned his horse. She was beautifully trained, pivoting on her front feet to keep her head pointed at the threat.
Then he backed her, step by step.
He saw a flash of movement, turned his head and saw a jay leap into the air, flicked his eyes back—
‘Blessed Virgin, stand with me,’ he said aloud. Then he rose an inch in his war saddle and just touched his spurs to Bess’ sides, and she walked forward.
He turned her head and started to ride around the wood. It couldn’t be that big.
Rustle. Rustle. Crack. Crash.
It was right there.
He gave the horse more spur, and they accelerated to a canter. The great horse made the earth shake.
Near Lorica – A Golden Bear
She was being hunted. She could smell the horse, hear its shod hooves moving on the spring earth, and she could feel its pride and its faith in the killer on its back.
After months of degradation and slavery, torture and humiliation she would happily have turned and fought the steel-clad war man. Glory for her if she defeated him, and a better death than she had imagined in a long time. But her cub mewed at her. The cub – it was all for the cub. She had been captured because they could not run and she would not leave them, and she had endured for them.
She only had one left.
She was the smaller of the two, and the gold of her fur was brighter, and she was on the edge of exhaustion, suffering from dehydration and panic.
She had lost the power of speech and could only mew like a dumb animal.
Her mother feared she might have lost it for life.
But she had to try. The very blood in her veins cried out that she had to try to save her young.
She picked the cub up in her teeth the way a cat carried a kitten, and ran again, ignoring the pain in her paws.
Lorica – Ser Mark Wishart
The knight cantered around the western edge of the woods and saw the river stretching away in a broad curve. He saw the shambing golden creature in the late sunlight, gleaming like a heraldic beast on a city shield. The bear was running flat out. And so very beautiful, Wild. Feral.
‘Oh, Bess,’ he said. For a moment he considered just letting the bear go. But that was not what he had vowed.
His charger’s ears pricked forward. He raised his sword, Bess rumbled into a gallop and he slammed his visor closed.
Bess was faster than the bear. Not much faster, but the great female was hampered by her cub and he could see that her rear paws were mangled and bloody.
He began to run her down as the ground started to slope down towards the broad river. It was wide here, near the sea, and it smelled of brine at the turn of the tide. He set himself in his saddle and raised his sword—
Suddenly, the bear released her cub to tumble deep into some low bushes, and turned like a great cat pouncing – going from prey to predator in the beat of a human heart.
She rose on her haunches as he struck at her – and she was faster than any creature he’d ever faced. She swung with all her weight in one great claw-raking blow, striking at his horse, even as his blow cut through the meat of her right forepaw and into her chest – cut deep.
Bess was already dead beneath him.
He went backwards over his high crupper, as he’d been taught to. He hit hard, rolled, and came to his feet. He’d lost his sword – and lost sight of the bear. He found the dagger at his waist and drew it even as he whirled.
She hit him. The blow caught him in the side, and threw him off his feet, but his breastplate held the blow and the claws didn’t rake him. By luck he rolled over his sword, and got to his feet with it in his fist. Something in his right leg was badly injured – maybe broken.
The bear was bleeding.
The cub mewed.
The mother looked at the cub. Looked at him. Then she ran, picked the cub up in her mouth and ran for the river. He watched until she was gone – she jumped into the icy water and swam rapidly away.
He stood with his shoulders slumped, until his breathing began to steady.
Then he walked to his dead horse, found his unbroken flask, and drank all the rest of the contents.
He said a prayer for a horse he had loved.
And he waited to be found.
West of Lissen Carak – Thorn
A two hundred leagues north-west, Thorn sat under a great holm-oak that had endured a millennium. The tree rose, both high and round, and its progeny filled the gap between the hills closing down from the north and the ever deeper Cohocton River to the south.
Thorn sat cross-legged on the ground. He no longer resembled the man he had once been; he was almost as tall as a barn, when he stood up to his full height, and his skin, where it showed through layers of moss and leather, seemed to be of smooth grey stone. A staff – the product of a single, straight ash tree riven by lightning in its twentieth year – lay across his lap. His gnarled fingers, as long as the tines of a hay fork, made eldritch sigils of pale green fire as he reached out into the Wild for his coven of spies.
He found the youngest and most aggressive of the Qwethnethogs; the strong people of the deep Wild that men called daemons. Tunxis. Young, angry, and easy to manipulate.
He exerted his will, and Tunxis came. He was careful about the manner of his summons; Tunxis had more powerful relatives who would resent Thorn using the younger daemon for his own ends.
Tunxis emerged from the oaks to the east at a run, his long, heavily muscled legs beautiful at the fullness of his stride, his body leaning far forward, balanced by the heavy armoured tail that characterized his kind. His chest looked deceptively human, if an unlikely shade of blue-green, and his arms and shoulders were also very man-like. His face had an angelic beauty – large, deep eyes slanted slightly, open and innocent, with a ridge of bone between them that rose into the elegant helmet crest that dif- ferentiated the male and female among them. His beak was polished to a mirror-brightness and inlaid with lapis lazuli and gold to mark his social rank, and he wore a sword that few mere human men could even lift.
He was angry – but Tunxis was at the age when young males are always angry.
‘Why do you summon me?’ he shrieked.
Thorn nodded. ‘Because I need you,’ he answered.
Tunxis clacked his beak in contempt. ‘Perhaps I do not need you. Or your games.’
‘It was my games that allowed you to kill the witch.’ Thorn didn’t smile.
He had lost the ability to, but he smiled inwardly, because Tunxis was so young.
The beak clacked again. ‘She was nothing.’ Clacked again, in deep satisfaction. ‘You wanted her dead. And she was too young. You offered me a banquet and gave me a scrap. A nothing.’
Thorn handled his staff. ‘She is certainly nothing now.’ His friend had asked for the death. Layers of treason. Layers of favours asked, and owed.
The Wild. His attention threatened to slip away from the daemon. It had probably been a mistake to let Tunxis kill in the valley.
‘My cousin says there are armed men riding in the valley. In our valley.’
Tunxis slurred the words, as all his people did when moved by great emotion.
Thorn leaned forward, suddenly very interested. ‘Mogan saw them?’ he asked.
‘Smelled them. Watched them. Counted their horses.’ Tunxis moved his eyebrows the way daemons did. It was like a smile, but it caused the beak to close – something like the satisfaction of a good meal.
Thorn had had many years in which to study the daemons. They were his closest allies, his not-trusted lieutenants. ‘How many?’ Thorn asked patiently.
‘Many,’ Tunxis said, already bored. ‘I will find them and kill them.’
‘You will not.’ Thorn leaned forward and slowly, carefully, rose to his feet, his heavy head brushing against the middling branches of the ancient oak.
‘Where has she found soldiers?’ he asked out loud. One of the hazards of living alone in the Wild was that you voiced things aloud. He was growing used to talking to himself aloud. It didn’t trouble him as it had at first.
‘They came from the east,’ Tunxis said. ‘I will hunt them and kill them.’
Thorn sighed. ‘No. You will find them and watch them. You will watch them from afar. We will learn their strengths and weaknesses. Chances are they will pass away south over the bridge, or join the lady as a garrison. It is no concern of ours.’
‘No concern of yours, Turncoat. Our land. Our valley. Our hills. Our fortress. Our power. Because you are weak—’ Tunxis’ beak made three distinct clacks.
Thorn rolled his hand over, long thin fingers flashing, and the daemon fell flat on the ground as if all his sinews had been cut.
Thorn’s voice became the hiss of a serpent.
‘I am weak? The soldiers are many? They came from the east? You are a fool and a child, Tunxis. I could rip your soul from your body and eat it, and you couldn’t lift a claw to stop me. Even now you cannot move, cannot summon power. You are like a hatchling in the rushing water as the salmon comes to take him. Yes? And you tell me “many” like a lord throwing crumbs to peasants. Many?’ he leaned down over the prone daemon and thrust his heavy staff into the creature’s stomach. ‘How many exactly, you little fool?’
‘I don’t know,’ Tunxis managed.
‘From the east, the south-east? From Harndon and the king? From over the mountains? Do you know?’ he hissed.
‘No,’ Tunxis said, cringing.
‘Tunxis, I like to be polite. To act like—’ He sought for a concept that could link him to the alien intelligence. ‘To act like we are allies. Who share common goals.’
‘You treat us like servants! We serve no master!’ spat the daemon. ‘We are not like your men, who lie and lie and say these pretty things. We are Qwethnethogs!’
Thorn pushed his staff deeper into the young daemon’s gut. ‘Sometimes I tire of the Wild and the endless struggle. I am trying to help you and your people reclaim your valley. Your goal is my goal. So I am not going to eat you. However tempting that might be just now.’ He withdrew the staff.
‘My cousin says I should never trust you. That whatever body you wear, you are just another man.’ Tunxis sat up, rolled to his feet with a pure and fluid grace.
‘Whatever I am, without me you have no chance against the forces of the Rock. You will never reclaim your place.’
‘Men are weak,’ Tunxis spat.
‘Men have defeated your kind again and again. They burn the woods.
They cut the trees. They build farms and bridges and they raise armies and your kind lose.’ He realised that he was trying to negotiate with a child. ‘Tunxis,’ he said, laying hold of the young creature’s essence. ‘Do my bidding. Go, and watch the men, and come back and tell me.’
But Tunxis had a power of his own, and Thorn watched much of his compulsion roll off the creature. And when he let go his hold, the daemon turned and sprinted for the trees.
And only then did Thorn recall that he’d summoned the boy for another reason entirely, and that made him feel tired and old. But he exerted himself again, summoning one of the Abnethog this time, that men called wyverns.
The Abnethog were more biddable. Less fractious. Just as aggressive. But lacking a direct ability to manipulate the power, they tended to avoid open conflict with the magi.
Sidhi landed neatly in the clearing in front of the holm oak, although the aerial gymnastics required taxed his skills.
‘I come,’ he said.
Thorn nodded. ‘I thank you. I need you to look in the lower valley to the east,’ he said. ‘There are men there, now. Armed men. Possibly very dangerous.’
‘What man is dangerous to me?’ asked the wyvern. Indeed, Sidhi stood eye to eye with Thorn, and when he unfolded his wings their span was extraordinary. Even Thorn felt a twinge of real fear when the Abnethog were angry.
Thorn nodded. ‘They have bows. And other weapons that could hurt you badly.’
Sidhi made a noise in his throat. ‘Then why should I do this thing?’ he asked.
‘I made the eyes of your brood clear when they clouded over in the winter. I gave you the rock-that-warms for your mate’s nest.’ Thorn made a motion intended to convey that he would continue to heal sick wyverns.
Sidhi unfolded his wings. ‘I was going to hunt,’ he said. ‘I am hungry.
And being summoned by you is like being called a dog.’ The wings spread farther and farther. ‘But it may be that I will choose to hunt to the east, and it may be that I will see your enemies.’
‘Your enemies as well,’ Thorn said wearily. Why are they all so childish?
The wyvern threw back its head, and screamed, and the wings beat – a moment of chaos, and it was in the air, the trees all around it shedding leaves in the storm of air. A night of hard rain wouldn’t have ripped so many leaves from the trees.
And then Thorn reached out with his power – gently, hesitantly, a little like a man rising from bed on a dark night to find his way down unfamiliar stairs. He reached out to the east – farther, and a little farther, until he found what he always found.
Her. The lady on the Rock.
He probed the walls like a man running his tongue over a bad tooth.
She was there, enshrined in her power. And with her was something else entirely. He couldn’t read it – the fortress carried its own power, its own ancient sigils which worked against him.
He sighed. It was raining. He sat in the rain, and tried to enjoy the rise of spring around him.
Tunxis killed the nun, and now the lady has more soldiers. He had set something in motion, and he wasn’t sure why.
And he wondered if he had made a mistake.