( Continued from the prologue I posted earlier. Wondering how confusing it might be to readers that haven’t read the first book, Winterborn)
Eihall ignored the brush of whiskers against his shoulder, still firmly in the grip of the dream. Within he could almost look through his sister’s eyes, watch the plains as they shifted and rolled into a different sight. Hear her laughter, as she looked down into Kinnean’s eyes.
The light licks on his cheek woke him abruptly and he half sat up, dislodging the chimera’s paws from atop his chest. Still shaken he rubbed his face before giving Tiernag a long pet, scratching the fur just under the juncture of wings. He winced as he slid out of bed and into his breeches, glancing about. There wasn’t much there to indicate the rooms had been lived in for a few weeks; there was a change of clothes and a handful of parchments, some travel necessities and Aristophe’s letter. Eihall picked up the latter as he slipped on a thin tunic, which obscured most of the recent scars; he glanced over the wording again, making certain the Questor had not left anything important out of the agreement. Aristophe had a tendency to misinform, now and then.
He held out a strip of jerky to Tiernag, grateful for his company. He hadn’t been conscious when the chimera arrived, but Vasil had told him that it had made its way into his rooms and waited at his bedside; he would not be moved, and Vasil and his men had thought it best to let him be. It had been nearly two months before Eihall was fully conscious and coherent, but his first memory was much like every morning’s since: a furry face pressed up close as dark eyes looked him over, Tiernag’s tongue lapping over scarred skin. By the third day he’d willed himself out of the bed, slowly regained his strength in preparation for what he still had to do.
Vasil would look well after Vassillgaard while he was away; he had done much during Eihall’s convalescence to see to the reconstruction of the damaged fortress and the land beyond. With spring now opening up the passes anew his clan began to heal and rebuild; he hoped they understood why he wasn’t there to aid with that rejoicing.
Somewhere out there his twin waited to kill him.
Eihall had to find her first and make certain neither her nor her goddess could harm another. While Mirin may believe her dead, Eihall could feel Yelena in the storm clouds, the whisper of wind against his skin. They had shared the goddess’ waters, and such a bond could not be severed quite so quickly.
No one was to blame but him . He’d seen Ythelen’s madness claim his sister, carve up pieces of her soul with every passing year. He should’ve looked into her eyes and known the goddess alone looked back, long having devoured her mortal spirit. He should have known when he sent Kinnean off that he was condemning him to die at her hands.
He should have known. He should have stopped it. He didn’t.
A lost eye was inconsequential; he could adapt. Kinnean, however, was his phantom limb; he could still feel him at his side, only to turn and find him missing. The wind carried his voice, his chiding wisdom. When his eyes closed at night it was only his friend’s face he saw, only his smile - so rarely won- that warmed him.
The pools had dried with the goddess gone, one last betrayal at her hand. They were a clan left godless and alone, a child orphaned and broken. He’d been unconscious those long weeks while his wounds closed over and healed, while his mind pieced together the fractured memories of those last battles. It was but a reprieve, this peace. His duty was not complete, not while she lived and Hunted through the clans.
Eihall put down the letter and slid on his eye patch, the leather still new and rough. Vasil had assured him it would soften some in time, and as it had been a parting gift as he’d set our for Nyara Eihall hadn’t had the heart to refuse it. A promise and a binding; Eihall’s place was at his clan’s side, once this last thread was cut.
He had failed to track her down, but he knew she wasn’t far. Yelena’s presence permeated Nyara like a shroud; she was here, hiding somewhere past the traces of old magic and older artifacts. Broken mechanisms that had long stopped moving on their own shielded her from him, and he had no true sight to see past them and find her. Still, Aristophe had agreed to help in the search; she had made enemies of the Council and the Questor and both held grudges long and well.
Eihall stepped out onto the hallway as Tiernag trotted closely behind, tail wagging. The chimera had loved coming to the city, much to Eihall’s surprise. It disappeared now and then to explore the alleyways and courtyards close to the guild’s tower, but invariably returned to Eihall’s side; more often than not it brought him little improvised gifts ( the odd rodent and strange vermin) that had to be disposed of discreetly. He doubted that Salo and the other healers in the tower would have appreciated the gesture.
He stretched his hand to scratch the rough fur where it met scales, a smile ghosting over his lips at the chimera’s obvious delight. He straightened and leaned out one of the many windows that lined the outer halls of the tower, watching as the silent city slept. Nowhere else in what was left of the sidhe empire did humans and sidhe co-exist so openly as here, and he had marveled at that when first visiting the city as a child. Walking up to Aristophe’s office in the Questors tower had allowed him glimpses of the old architecture and craft of the clans; there had been precious little of that left at Vassillgaard or the neighboring plains by the time he had grown up. It was in that study that he had really learned the stories of the clan wars, memorized the feats and grudges of his people. It was there he’d learned about the loves and losses of his grandfather’s generation, about the great-uncles he would never know. It was also there he had met Salo and Quinne first, the only youths in a tower of ancients.
His eyes trailed below now to where the city stirred; it wasn’t the libraries and towers that first came to life, but the merchant districts. He could see them distantly, the ant-like shadows as they opened up their stalls, began to turn on lights within their homes to start the day. He wondered if Tereg and Mirin would be among those lights, as he had not seen them since arriving. Perhaps it was there that Tiernag disappeared each day. He closed his eyes to feel the early morning breeze, test out the day.
No ill winds. Yet.
“Up so early!” Salo had been tending to the garden just outside the courtyard when Eihall made his way past him. Sunrise was only starting to creep out over the domes and terraces of Nyara, pale light illuminating the dew on the herbs. Eihall paused and inclined his head, ever thankful to the healer.
“Tem Salo. I have business in town.” He began, as Tiernag trotted up behind him.
“Ah. You and Tiernag both, Eihall?” the shorter man smiled, violet eyes obscured by dark bangs. “You do remember that Nyara is different from Vassillgaard. Few here are awake before the dawn.” He pointed out.
“You are.” He smiled, brushing off a dewdrop carefully. “And I go to see Aristophe.”
Salo’s face clouded over at the name. Although he held great respect for the man he’d always been half afraid of the old Questor. Quinne had been too, even since they were children in the tower halls. He couldn’t say that Aristophe had at all mellowed with age.
“I’d ask why, but I suspect I prefer not to know. Anita would get it out of me, you see.” He plucked a few leaves carefully. “Though even he may prefer daybreak for meeting, Eihall. Perhaps you could break fast with us first?” he asked hopefully.
Eihall brushed away dark hair, scowling slightly.
“Salo, the offer is appreciated and much welcome but I’m still not… fit company.” And he was certain Anita still blamed him for not coming in time to Dragonkeep. That conversation he was not ready for, not yet.
“Hm. Well, it stands for when you are. Here.” He pressed the leaves into Eihall’s hand. “I know the eye still troubles you, and sleep eludes. These can help- just have a care to not chew more than one each day.” He smiled, closing Eihall’s fingers round the herbs.
“She’s done with blame, Eihall. She’s trying to move past.” He watched as the horselord pocketed the herbs and nodded, the chimera pulling lightly on his breeches.
“But I’m not.” Eihall said simply, looking at the other. “Too many promises to keep.” He allowed a brief smile for his friend and clasped his forearm briefly as the healer returned the gesture. “I suspect my business will keep me in Nyara a bit longer, if you’ll have me.”
Salo grinned, eyes bright. “The tower always welcomes you openly, you know that. Besides it is always open to those in need of healing, and your wounds are but closing over still. We grew too distant when you went back to your plains, Eihall. I look forward to your visit lingering a bit.”
Eihall smiled. “You were but a pup when I went back. I’m glad that Quinne could look after you a little longer then…” he trailed off. “I know I owe much to your kindness and your talent, Salo.” He hoped they would yet have time to reminisce, but he dared not linger and draw Yelena close. “At any rate…” he pulled away, looking toward the light slowly coated the rooftops. “Aristophe is likely waiting.”
Salo shivered, following that look. “You best be off then, lest he be in a mood.” He murmured, glancing out over where the waters of the moat darkened and coalesced.
Eihall turned at the uncharacteristic tone, only to be butted imperiously by Tiernag.
“Ruled by my betters then.” He inclined his head and made his way towards the city square.