|Wizards and Tyrants
Author: Ameraka PM
One day, soldiers came to the village, took fourteen-year-old Khayn as a slave, and drafted his father to fight his own people. Then, at the most inopportune moment, Khayn found out he had powerful magic.Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Chapters: 23 - Words: 63,774 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 12-01-12 - Published: 08-12-10 - Status: Complete - id: 2837587
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: This is the last full chapter I have written. I've been stuck here for awhile because- I don't know, maybe because it's hard to get the momentum going again after they've reached safety and are waiting around in the forest.
He gasped awake, as if something had been strangling him in his sleep. He didn't remember his dreams, only a pervasive, pulsing darkness surrounding him, crushing him.
It was dim, in the twilight of early morning. Geb and Malak were gone, their covers spread across the floor.
Khayn got up stiffly, the wound in his shoulder so sore he almost cried out. He still wore the tattered, blood-stained shirt that the bullet had gone through, the one Trefahd had given him. He suddenly wanted nothing better than to throw it away and burn it to ashes. He tore it off, and shivered in the early morning cold.
A voice came at the door.
"Hello?" It was unfamiliar, and feminine.
"Who is it?" said Khayn, huddling into the blanket.
"I am Lajanenij, Gebmazhek and Malakayshek's personal attendant. I have water, food, and clean clothes for you." The voice had a lilting Sheshan accent, more pronounced than Geb's or Malak's.
"Come in," he said.
She came in, a tall, lissome girl in a long green dress, a black pot balanced on her head. She manevered the items, setting them down without upending the food, ruffling the folded clothes, or spilling the water. Kneeling down beside him, she took the sponge out of the pot, and slipped the blanket from his shoulders.
He pulled the blanket back, covering himself. Her eyes widened in surprise. "I am just going to wash you."
Heat rose to his face. "No, that won't be necessary. I mean, I'll do it myself."
"But Gebmazhek specifically requested that I take care of your needs."
Khayn felt foolish. But to him, this was totally unnecessary. He didn't need anything, he could bathe himself, dress himself, feed himself. Maybe this was how nobles did it, but it wasn't what he was used to. And for a strange woman to touch him like this, though he knew perfectly well it was all part of her professional tasks, felt too intimate.
"I'm sorry. I know it's just your job. But could you leave these for me?"
"Leave you alone?"
She sighed. "Very well. I will tell Gebmazhek it was your wish." And she left, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
He took the sponge, and dipped it in the warm water, sponging it over his chest. When he came to his back, he almost wished he had someone to help him, since it hurt to stretch that far. But he made do, and set the pot aside to put on the shirt.
It was a beautiful shirt, made of a material Khayn had not seen before, lightweight, a sea-like aqua color, like captured waves. Next he tugged on the tight doeskin breeches, then-What was this? They had given him restet-leather boots! Only nobles had them. He touched them, as if they were still live restet and would bite off his hand. Would they even fit him? He tugged them over his feet. They fitted snugly, but were flexible, not tough like you'd expect.
Finally he set about to eat. The food was Forester fare, like he'd had at his grandfathers'-venison cutlets, a light, airy bread, a paste made of mushrooms and herbs to dip the bread in, and lox-fruit, its sweet juice running down his chin when he ate it so he had to wipe it off with the cloth napkin.
He set the plate aside, refreshed. The girl with the tongue-twisting name would probably come back in to clean it up. Right now, he wanted to see Saifa. And find out what Geb was up to. He wasn't too keen on seeing Malak again, though.
Outside, the air was clean and cool. The camp was just beginning to awaken. Above him, trees rose like towering pillars touching the faraway sky, their trunks gleaming silver in the early morning light, sunrays cutting through the soft mist. Against the clear sky floated two oblong objects-skyships. A faha-bird soared up into the tree near Khayn, laughing, and landed in a budding branch, flicking its long black tail.
Khayn walked to the healing tent, which proved to be harder to find than he'd thought. The camp looked different in the daytime, and he pushed past soldiers hurrying on their duties.
At last he found it at the center, near the tent of the President. He wondered, fleetingly, what the President was doing, and what he was planning as the next step to retake the Seven Cities.
Khayn stepped into the healing tent. It was full of activity, healers walking to and fro, carrying blankets, pots, bandages. There were more wounded than there had been the night before, and he walked through several rows of them before he got to Saifa.
Only, Saifa was not alone. At first Khayn thought it was Geb; sitting on the empty bed across from Saifa, his back to Khayn, long black curls cascaded down his back.
Then he turned, showing his profile. It was Malak.
Malak rose, turning to face Khayn. About seventeen, had striking good looks, with golden-brown eyes that burned like coals in his dark face. Unlike last night, he was fully dressed, complete with silver sun-shaped earrings that dangled over his shoulders, and a silver band around his neck, engraved with an eye inside a sun. He wore a long robe of a pearlescent white. Red and silver designs were embroidered along the collar, cuffs, and hem, and a braided silver belt encircled his waist.
"Good morning," said Malak, giving a stiff little bow.
"Good morning," said Khayn.
"Master Geb brought me here to see how the young woman was doing. She was awake; she is sleeping now."
Khayn stepped forward; Saifa lay on her back under the sheet, eyes closed. She was so still he rushed forward to see if she was all right.
Her chest rose and fell slowly. And she did look better than she had last night.
"How is she?" said Khayn.
"Healer Thayata said she was out of danger."
"Did Saifa say anything?"
"She asked where you were."
Khayn now wished he'd woken earlier, and forgone the bath and breakfast. He sat down on the bed, and Malak sat down beside him, his earrings jingling softly.
"Where did Geb go?" asked Khayn.
"Master Geb has gone to see Shavash. He will be back shortly."
Khayn wondered why he'd left Malak here, but didn't ask. They sat there for a moment, Khayn feeling more and more uncomfortable. He focused on Saifa, trying to pretend Malak wasn't there.
The soft light of the white canvas diffused across her face, making her look like a goddess at rest, her hair spread out like a halo on the pillow. Her lips were perfectly shaped, and looked soft enough to kiss…
He shut off that thought in shock. He didn't think of Saifa that way! She was a friend. A great friend. A beautiful one…
"She is rather pretty, for a half-breed," said Malak.
Khayn jumped to his feet, ready to hit that smile off of Malak's face. Heat pounded through him. He stood there, holding back his anger.
Malak looked at him serenely, a smirk on his mouth. What an arrogant-! Who did he think he was! Khayn stepped forward. Malak stood, head high, as if daring him to hit him.
A soft sound behind him. A rustle of covers. Khayn turned, forgetting Malak. Saifa was awake!
"Khayn?" she said weakly. "What's going on?"
He knelt beside her bed. "Nothing. I'm glad you're awake!"
Her brow furrowed. "I didn't see you before…"
"I know, I'm sorry."
She reached out for him, her hand shaking; he took it; it was warm and soft, though he felt the callouses from when she'd been a slave.
"Hi," said Saifa, looking at Malak.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better. I needed that little bit more sleep. Maybe I could-" she stirred, trying to sit up. After a second, she lay back down. "Maybe not.
"Right here," came Geb's voice. He strode toward them down the aisle, President Shavash with him. And Healer Thayata.
Geb was resplendent in white, in the same kind of robe that Malak wore, but with more embroidery and a sun engraved on silver collar around his neck. "Good morning, Khayn," said Geb. "You're looking very well today, especially in your new clothes.
"Saifa! How are you feeling?"
She smiled. "Better, but not good enough to get up yet."
"Well enough for this, I hope," said Shavash. In his pristine blue uniform, he knelt beside her and pressed something in her hand. "That is for your bravery, Letsaifal Malif of Draynen."
Her eyes widened. "You know my whole name! I almost forgot it myself."
"Well, I'm very good at names." He rose, and slipped something into Khayn's hand, cold smooth metal. Khayn opened his fist: on his palm lay the silver medal for bravery of Ardaynenn, with the lir bird and the star of Taytha engraved on it. He closed his fingers back around it, and offered it, numbly, to Shavash. "I can't take this, sir."
He thought back to the past couple days, but nothing he had done had qualified as heroic; his only goal had been to escape with his life. He'd helped Geb and Saifa, but they'd also helped him.
"Geb told me all that you did," said the president, refusing to take back the medal. "All of you. He was very modest concerning his part, but I filled in the blanks, with my wife's help." He turned to Thayata.
"After all that wizard must've done to you," she said to Geb, "you're nothing less than a walking miracle."
"Why, thank you. I do try."
Thayata shook her head, a hint of a smile at the edge of her mouth.
"Now that you've been debriefed, Geb," said Shavash, "it's time for you to rest. As soon as the Forest magic gets to you, your magic will run out even sooner than it would otherwise. I'm beginning to see through your façade already."
"But I can't just lie around, I need to get back to work-"
"You won't be any use to anyone if you keep going like this," said Thayata. She put her arm behind his back, gently guiding him toward the empty bed. "It'll be over sooner if you'll just give in and let me take care of you."
Geb sat down on the bed beside Saifa. "It's really not so bad. I feel fine. Malak will tell you."
"The healer is right, Master. You aren't yourself." Malak stood with his hands behind his back.
Geb bowed his head. Then he looked up at Khayn, and Khayn was shocked at the change. Dark circles were under his eyes, his golden eyes almost as dull as they had been in the dungeon. A jagged scar showed along his hairline.
"There. I've stopped enhancing my appearance. Are you happy now?" He let Thayata lay him back against the bed."Well Saifa, it looks like we're going to be neighbors-the only good thing about this business."
They soon left, the President to his war room, Malak to his tent. Khayn wasn't sure if he was supposed to stay in Geb and Malak's tent every night; in any case, he didn't want to go back there. Instead, he wandered around the camp, his mind in a haze, fingering the edges of the silver medal in his pants pocket.
He found himself on the edge of the camp. Only a few tents were scattered among the trees. No one was in sight. The trees rose in silent majesty above him. A lir-bird sang off in the distance, its song like the voice of a river running over smooth stones, a magic river, echoing out of the beginning of time.
Khayn followed the song deeper and deeper into the Forest, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive bird. Before he knew it, he was out of sight of the camp, and ahead of him rose tall houses, gray with hints of rainbow, like spiderwebs strung in mist.
About three stories, some higher, they were built around the bases of the trees. There were no visible windows, just translucent structures made of woven filaments. The houses spread out far into the Forest.
Without realizing it until it was too late, he stepped through a ward-web, and immediately Foresters in green and brown surrounded him, their rifles raised, one rifle pressing its cold mouth against his forehead.
Like his grandfather had taught him to do if Foresters ever threatened him, he raised his hands and dropped to his knees, saying the ancient words: "Lang-hal firnor."-Friend of the Forest.
The one closest to him touched his forehead, and then stepped back. "He tells the truth. He is from the Allies' camp. He has Forester blood. And-" Her eyes narrowed, as she looked down at him. "He has much magic of his own."
Their demeanor changed, and they invited him for lunch. As was often their custom, the whole town ate together on the grass in the central clearing in front of a long low table.
The Forester who had 'captured' him, Shiraf Hanlay, sat across from him, two small children on either side of her, her husband sitting on Khayn's left, her grandmother on Khayn's right. The food was very good: soup with a strong hearty herb called thar, light nireth bread, and mushroom-steak. For dessert was a honey-wafer and hot lalfah tea.
During dinner, Shiraf asked him questions about how the war was going. He didn't know much about it, and told her some of what had happened to him, the Foresters around him getting quiet, listening with rapt attention, making him nervous so he stumbled over his sentences. Some wordweaver he was!
"I'm sorry for all that has happened to you," said Shiraf. "But you are now safe. You said there was a Forester captured too? Alakh Havahlir?"
"Do you know him?"
"No. He's not from Ameth. Perhaps he is from the east." She looked across the table at her husband, Raxlan, over her tea.
"What is happening in the east?"
Shiraf looked down, as if it was something embarrassing. Finally she said, "The east-we have cut off dealings with them. Past the River Milen, we are shutting our doors and minds to them until they realize what is right again."
"Does that include Kamin?"
"Yes. The ban includes Kamin."
"That's where my grandfather lives. He would never do anything against the Forest."
"Perhaps he would not," said Raxlan. "But others have been contaminated."
Khayn had heard nothing about this, though he knew Foresters usually kept internal business to themselves.
"They haven't been cutting living trees?" said Khayn.
The Foresters around him gasped as if he'd said a profane word. They shook their heads.
"Nothing like that," said Shiraf. "I'm sure this will be cleared up soon. But they have taken in tree-slayers. Rajel."
"There are still Rajel in the Forest?"
Khayn knew some Rajel had taken refuge in the Forest after the war. Before, he would have been horrified to know such monsters were still living in the Forest, but after he had met Woora, he wasn't so sure. Rajel were people, not monsters; no matter how they had acted during the war, they deserved at least a chance to prove themselves. Besides, what few there were left could do little harm.
"Some have even intermarried with the people of Kamin. So we have done what we have not done since the days of Tharhat Khail the Treeslayer when some of us traded silverwood to him. We have shunned part of our body, silenced some of our voices, though we long to hear them again. We must bear the pain longer than they, so that they return to us and do not spoil the Forest."
Khayn wanted to ask whether the western Foresters could possibly be the ones in the wrong, and whether they should reconsider what those in the east had to say, but they would probably say that he was biased because his grandfather was from Kamin. So he kept silent. Though something inside him grated, as if he should have spoken up despite his misgivings.
After lunch, Shiraf and Raxlan took him into the upper floor of one of the houses. Shiraf's grandmother and grandfather lived on the lower floor, while Shiraf's father lived on the middle floor with two younger, single men.
While the little girl and boy, Dantilral and Hafrai, played on the floor with some wooden toys, Khayn sat with Shiraf and Raxlan near the wall. Though there wasn't a window, he could see through the wall onto the town, the other houses glistening in the filtered sunlight. They talked for a little, then Raxlan gave Khayn a necklace with wood carvings of animals, gleaming silver. Khayn gasped as he took it; Foresters rarely just gave silverwood away. Almost reverently, he tucked it in the leather bag Raxlan gave him, thinking how delighted Shalayn would be to have it.
Shiraf then took Khayn's hands in her palms. "Your magic is giving you distress. In the Forest, it haunts your dreams, threatening to pull you down into its horrible wonder. It's true, you can't succeed alone. But I can help, if only for a little. I will alleviate your pain until you find a helper, a guide who can show you the right path to using your magic.
"Close your eyes."
He closed his eyes. Like a static shock, something travelled up his arm, into his head, and light exploded along his mind. It didn't hurt, though he expected it to. It was cold, yet burning at the same time. And in the background, many voices cried out, singing, singing, many notes of one great song. One voice sang closer to him than the others, a loud pure note, piercing, full of longing and joy. He listened to the song until a hand pulled him up and out and he was standing in the room of his hosts, Shiraf smiling in front of him, tears on her face.
"You should sleep better now," she said. "But it is time to go. Your people will be wanting you back."
They said goodbye, Dantilral and Hafrai waving at him, wooden toys in their hands. Khayn walked down the spiral steps and out into the Forest, then back toward camp, the strange song still thrumming through him.
When he got back, he went to see the horses, who were grazing with many other horses in a large, fenced-in area. Masir trotted over to him, nickering. "Sorry, boy, I don't have a treat for you. I'll see if I can find you one later."
He then went back to the camp to the tent to see Geb and Saifa.
Geb was asleep. Saifa sat up when she saw him. "Hi Khayn!"
"Are you okay?" He sat down beside her on the floor.
"I'll be good as new in no time. Thayata says I could get up and walk around tomorrow, if I'm careful."
"I'll help you." After all she'd done for him, it was the least he could do.
"Thank you. I'd hate to have to wander around the camp alone. Thayata's been wonderful, but she has no time with being a healer and being pregnant on top of it. Geb-well, he's in worse shape than I am, that Dexahff did so much inside him we can't see- and, well, Malak's offered to show me around, but I really don't know him much." She looked back and forth. "To tell the truth, he kind of…makes me uncomfortable."
She laughed. "It's not like he's a bad person or anything. He's just so- so intense. He's like the opposite of you. Well, no person is quite like you." She smiled wryly. "He's not like Geb either. You'd kind of expect Geb to have a son- or apprentice- that was more, I don't know, personable. Malak looks at you like he's gonna burn you with those eyes of his. I wonder what he's like when he can read minds. The Forest is strange, isn't it? How it dampens people's powers and gives you new ones. "
Khayn nodded, glad to be off the subject of Malak. "It is strange. I know a little bit about it, since my grandfather lives here, but it's always pretty mysterious. Not like they don't want you to know about it, but like you can't know unless you live here."
"Where does your grandfather live? Is it anywhere close?"
Khayn shook his head. "He lives in Kamin, past the river Milen. I -just now, I mean, before I came back, I went into the Forest. They invited me for lunch, and-they said that they cut off relations with Kamin. They don't…commune-in-mind with them."
"They only do that if it's really drastic."
"That's right. It's kind of like banishment, and it's painful for everyone, not just the ones cut off. I asked if it was because they had cut living trees, but I should have known no Forester in their right mind would do that. It's because the people in the east have taken in Rajel."
"Yes. I wouldn't have questioned their decision before, but after I met Woora…. I know what the Rajel did during the war, but now-maybe we should give them a chance." He looked at Saifa as if not sure if he was right to think this way.
"I think that maybe you're right. But it's the Foresters' decision."
"I wonder which side Alakh's wife is on. The people of Ameth didn't know Alakh at all, so maybe he does live in Kamin."
Khayn sat back against Geb's bed. He wondered about Alakh, if he was okay, and about Father- would he be in time to save him?
At that moment, footsteps came up behind him, at a brisk soldier's pace.
Khayn turned; a soldier stood there, ramrod straight, buttons glistening.
"President Shavasharazel requests your presence."
There was nothing for it but to say goodbye to Saifa and head to the President's tent, all the while Khayn wondering what the president could want with him.