By Christopher Leeson
FROM DYAN'S JOURNAL
The old struggle continues; I see no end to it. All that has changed is the manner of the fight. Over the last few months, I've had to learn to use different weapons, and I'm still learning.
There was a time when I lived in a different kind of world, when the Fyana would start upon a raid with no more than a kit of bread and a skin of wine. After the first night, we very well might be dependent on the generously of supporters along the way for even our most basic provender. Sometimes we had no recourse but to tighten our belts and chew a plug of bitterroot to slay the gnaw of our appetites, trusting that our excitement would give sufficient strength to our limbs at the crucial hour.
We experienced misery and fear in great quantity, but the most fearful in the land were not the Fyana but its supporters. The loyal, generous people who opened their hearts and homes to us did so at an awful risk. Too often we would learn that a yeoman's family had been massacred by a militia patrol for having given us aid.
Occasionally, the peril would come down on their heads even while the warrior was lodged with them. More than one Fyana swordsman had laid down his life on the very threshold of his host. And when the victorious militia tramped over his dying body, the family sheltering behind him would be put to the sword...
The Speaker in the Shadows
Ceann's rush knocked me backwards, across the bed, clawing like a cat. "I'll blind you, bitch!" she shrieked.
The rebel girl knew how to fight, but not so well as a trained knight. I sent a hard punch through a careless opening and Ceann folded up, coughing and gagging. I rolled her off me and pinned her shoulders to the mattress.
"Ceann, don't be a fool! I'm not Ava! She's dead! I'm Rodin!"
"You're insane!" she cried.
"For the gods' sake, be quiet! Your master --!"
She quieted; not even hatred of Ava could make Ceann forget her dread of the bald man. I used the respite to clamp my hand over her mouth. "Listen to me," I said. Quickly I explained the strange fate of Rodin Oc'Raighne.
"You're insane!" she repeated as I took my palm away.
"We can't be fighting each other if I'm going to rescue you."
"Rescue me? You only want to get me whipped for trying to escape!"
I frowned in frustration. Slavery had brought out something unreasonable in the girl that I loved.
I tried to remain calm, hoping it would calm Ceann also. “I want to rescue you because I have Rodin's spirit. This shape was Cawdour's idea, not mine, but at least I'm no longer paralyzed.”
I stood up and reached into the pocket of my cloak. The cap I drew out, black and baggy, must have been centuries out of fashion.
“This is the Cap of Shadows. Magic,” I said. "You put on my clothes and I'll hide myself by wearing this cap. Gannon is down to the serving room. He'll escort you outside. We have a hired coach waiting.”
“Hide in a cap?"
I explained in a couple sentences.
“What else are you going to wear?”
I frowned. Spare clothing was something I hadn't brought along. “I'll put on a blanket,” I told her.
By now she seemed halfway convinced. "Thank you..." The girl still couldn't speak my name.
I challenged her. "Do you believe me?”
“It's impossible to believe,” she said, but her eyes told me that she wasn't so sure of that.
“The unbelievable has been happening to me every day,” I told her. “I'm part of the world of magic now.”
She had no reply. I started undressing, tossing each piece on the bed as I removed it. In just a of couple minutes I had stripped down to my loincloth. At that point, Ceann roused herself and began to hurriedly dress in my cast-offs. When she was in full disguise I grew hopeful that the ruse could work.
As for myself, because I didn't want to walk barefoot on the cobblestones of the streets, I slipped on the girl's sandals. Then, disdainfully, I also put on her tunic, so that I could stop feeling so naked. I intended to follow closely behind Ceann and Gannon, and then join them in the carriage.
The girl, I now noticed, was staring at me wide-eyed.
"The gods are mocking me!" she said.
"What do you mean?"
"When I'm not imagining seeing Ava hanging on a noose, I've wanted to see her as a slave to be punished.”
"Ava's dead," I reminded her.
"I've been beaten, locked in an animal cage, starved, tied up and raped...!"
I took her into my arms. She resisted but briefly. Lifting her chin, I coaxed her with a smile, and then pressed my mouth against hers. . . .
Ceann pushed away.
"Rodin! This is madness!"
"You look like -- like the woman I hate most in the world!"
"Rodin -- if you're really Rodin -- I love you -- but this is too strange. We need time to make sense of it!"
Bitterly disappointed, I held on to my composure with effort.
"We'll talk later," I muttered. "Adjust your cowl, then go down to Gannon; he'll be seated next to the right-hand wall. Don't speak, not even to him. He'll know what to do. I'll be at your side."
"Dressed like that?"
"I've told you, no one will see me."
"Don't forget the blanket!"
I draped the woolen bedclothes over my shoulders. “All right, let's go,” I said, putting on the Cap of Shadows. I began to concentrate, reciting the memorized chant.
“Nothing's happening,” Ceann said.
“It works. I've practiced with it,” I told her. I certainly had; invoking the spell had worn me out and I'd slept for ten hours, getting my strength back. “Don't waste time. Go outside with Gannon and wait around the corner of the pottery shop next door. The carriage is just beyond that.”
Ceann nodded and, taking a deep breath, opened the door and slipped into the hall.
I repeated the chant. This time a warmth began building deep inside my body. The warmth became a tingle, as if my flesh were falling asleep. This was what I had been expecting. Before the process could achieve it's end, alas, the door pushed open and I stood face-to-face with the taverner!
"All right, bitch," the bald man began. "If that madwoman's done with you --"
His bushy brows arched.
"What the --?!"
I had lost the tingle, so much had the man startled me.
"Who are -- wait, I know you!"
He gave a short, cruel laugh. "By Essys, so you came here to help that wench escape. You're as pretty as she is. We'll run her down, and then I'll keep the both of you!"
The proprietor went from the room and locked me in. I sprang to the latch and pulled with all my strength. Useless. The man was yelling down to the barroom floor, "Stop that woman in the hood, and the man with her! Escaped slave!"
Without magic, I didn't have a chance to get away. In a moment, the taverner would be back.
I readjusted the blanket around me and snuffed out the lamp. Then I renewed the conjuration, trying to recall its every syllable and nuance. The warmth and the tingle now returned!
The door flew open.
"Well now, where did that new slave go?" the bald man mocked huskily. "I just bet she's hiding behind the bed."
Actually, I lurked a couple steps to his left, but he couldn't see me under the glamor of the Cap.
"Arl!" the taverner shouted back into the hall. "Have you got them yet?!"
"They dashed out through the kitchen, but the hue and cry is on their heels!" came a return yell.
The kitchen? That would take them away from the carriage. The street door must have been blocked.
"Come on up, boy!” the big man said. “We've got a new girl in here. I want you to take her down to the house of bars for lock-up. Tomorrow we'll get a judgment of penal slavery against her."
I sprang at the taverner and drove my fist into his throat.
"Arghh!" he cried, staggering back against the jamb. I next rammed my knee into his groin, as payback for what he must have done to Ceann . As the taverner crumbled to the floor, he made strangled moans.
Many boots were drumming on the stairs. Invisible though I may be, I couldn't get through such a mob without being grabbed. So I darted from the room and ran along the balustrade. At a point over a bare patch of floor below, I climbed it, hung from its base, and then dropped. As I struck the floor with a roll, the blanket fell away from me. A customer saw it suddenly reappear next to him and picked it up with an amazed expression.
Springing to my feet, I jerked it out of his grasp. When I put the thing back on, it disappeared again. Then I made for the exit, dodging the milling throng, men of the town wanting to know what had caused so much excitement.
No one was watching the main door, so I opened and closed it quickly. After the warmth of the interior, the cold wind off the bay swept my bare legs like the breath of a frost giant, and it carried a sprinkle of mist. But the gale was only one of my problems. I knew that I could not maintain the spell for very long, and so raced for the rendezvous point.
Gannon and Ceann were nowhere to be seen around the pottery shop and I realized that their pursuers must have driven them off in another direction. I made for the hired carriage, guessing that that Gannon would have led Ceann back there if he possibly could. But no, when I arrived driver was alone. Did I dare give my friends more time? The sound of an approaching mob forced my hand. "Drive, driver!" I shouted and leaped into the seat behind him. "Let's get out of here!"
The man looked over his shoulder.
"Who's there? Who spoke?"
He couldn't see me! I didn't want him to know I had magic, and so waited for him to look away. When he did so, I removed the Cap of Shadows.
"It's me, driver! Now, go!"
The man nearly jumped from his seat. "Where did you come from?" he mumbled.
"From the tavern. I'm your customer! Move!"
"This carriage is engaged, my lady!"
"Engaged by me, you idiot! I was the -- the woman with the man! Now stop arguing!"
He shook his head. "She wasn't dressed like you --" He now noticed my bare leg. "What are you wearing under that blanket?" he asked suspiciously.
"It's none of your business!”
He reached for the blanket.
The wrap was snatched away.
"You're an escaped slave!"
"No! I'm --!"
"That mob back there! They're looking for you!"
"No, you don't understand --"
"Get out! I don't want any trouble!"
"I'm not a slave!"
"Tell it to a magistrate!”
The carriage man swung down, seized me by the hair and manhandled me out of his vehicle. Then he dropped the blanket. "Go back to your master, wench!" he yelled.
I could only stand helplessly as he return to his seat, stung his team with the whip, and made the vehicle lurch away.
With a shiver, I re-wrapped myself. The sandals I wore weren't made for outdoor running, and scarcely even for walking over such a stoney grade. At least I still had the Cap of Shadows, but my power to use it must soon be spent. Just then I heard a yell:
I dashed around the next corner and jumped into the first doorway. I surprised myself by making the mystic energy return so quickly, filling me like a gluttonous draught of warm brandy. At that moment, a dozen men tramped by. Bless the Goddess, they had ignored me and continued on out of sight. I abandoned my shelter when they were out of sight and made with aching feet in the opposite direction. What I had feared most now started to happen. I began to grow dizzy, the first sign that my magical blood was being overtaxed.
Staggering to a halt, I caught my breath. It was then that I discovered that my body and blanket had returned to visibility. I looked like a runaway slave and, just as gravely, I had lost my directional bearing! I was all goosebumps and in dire need of shelter. But unless I could reach the Four Lions, I didn't know anyone who would me take me in. Dressed as a free woman, I might have appealed to some respectable-looking subject of the crown for succor, but as I was any worthy man would detain me for a runaway and turn me over to the night watch.
Frantic, shivering, I pressed on, past blank avenues and dead-end alleyways, desperately scanning the intersections for street names. I knew much of Moyarien, but not this district. In such slovenly parts of the city, street markers were scarce, some possibly having been torn down to put into someone's heating fire, but I eventually found a faintly-illuminated post.
"Blathaon" it said. The name seemed familiar somehow, but I couldn't remember where I had heard it. I turned the corner and followed the lane at a fast walk.
Tired, burning with cold, I soon slowed to a stumble. I would have given a scrip of gold for the warm woolens of either sex just then, but all the doors along Blathaon were bolted against night-prowlers and the clotheslines that I saw were empty.
All at once, a man yelled from a darkened doorway: "You, slave! What are you doing out here?"
I bounded away from the shouter. He didn't pursue, but instead sounded the hue and cry, “Escaped slave! Escaped slave!” I had not gotten far before the scuffle of feet sounded from the darkness behind me. I cursed the meddler, and I cursed Blathaon. It was a long street and its houses were set flush against one another; I couldn't get off it to find a better hiding place. Forced to race dead-ahead, I reached the dense shadows of a lone alleyway and ducked into its maw. I had hoped that it would lead to a maze of other byways amid which I could lose myself, but, alas, it traveled just a short distance and ended at a high stone wall.
Who would have put a wall in such an insane place! I turned at bay, knowing I didn't have the wherewithal to fight through my pursuers. Indeed, after having been drained of energy by the cap, I was feeling faint. With nowhere else to turn, I made for the single door in the cliff of brick behind me. Though I shook its latch with all my remaining power, I doubted that I could have broken through it even with my former male strength.
I sank down to my knees, lest I swoon; the bricks under me felt like ice. It would be hours before the cap could work again, days, for all I knew, since I'd only tried it once. If the men turned down this alley, as they were likely to --
Voices. They were coming! I had often thought that I might perish at the hands of the chancellor's soldiers after a good fight, but to be taken in a dark alley by a mob of half-drunken carousers, too exhausted to raise a hand in my own defense! Gods, where was the justice of it?
More in desperation than hope, I put on the cap and renewed the chant, but this time I felt nothing. I had never been a religious man, but I now discovered myself choking out a prayer -- not to the war god, whom I had usually called upon to see me through danger, but to a god who was very new to me:
"Lady Llyana," I gasped, "I'm Dyan, your servant. Whatever my fate, I beg you to watch over my family. Do not permit my friends to abandon them, even if I'm not there! I have nothing to offer you, Lady, and I have not served you with wisdom. I have been a worthless servant, but I beseech you to at least pity the innocent and be for them the strength that I cannot lend to them --"
In my pitiable state, I was ready to accept the judgment either of accident or Fate -- whatever it was that had brought me to this catastrophe. If I lived, I vowed that the whoremasters would never keep me for long. Nor would they break me as they had broken Ceann. Somehow I would escape or die trying. Somehow --
Despite all that had happened, I still wanted to live. I had so much left to do.
I lurched away as a hand touched my arm.
"Dyan," said a man, "fear naught."
"Who --?" I blurted, straining to see the speaker in the shadows. "How do you know me?" I asked through chattering jaws. The voice had sounded like none of the Fyana.
He reached for my arm. "We have little time, child. Come."
He didn't sound like a slave-catcher. But --
I let him draw me to my benumbed feet; his strength felt tremendous, but what I could see under the starlight didn't make him appear large. "Put on the cap, Dyan," he urged.
"My power is used up!" I moaned.
"Mine is not, and I am with you, daughter."
I did as he asked, but my mind seemed as unworkable as my hands. I stammered, unable to remember the words.
Then the oncoming footsteps paused.
“Where is she? There's no place for her to hide, Arl," said one of my pursuers. “Let's go back."
"Don't give up," insisted he whom I supposed was Arl. "Father said that the man who first lays hands on her can have at her until morning!"
"She's free, isn't she?"
"She won't be free for long. I'll be all nice and legal, too."
They couldn't see us, thought we were standing in plane sight. I realized that the power had returned, though I had not spoken the chant. I didn't understand it.
"She must have run on past the alley," one man grumbled.
"Tup it!" muttered another of the gang. "This is wasting good drinking time. I didn't even bring my jacket; it's as cold as Morc's arse out here!"
"Catch the girl," coaxed Arl. "She'll keep you warm."
"Is that all Voor is paying? Your old man's a misery devil!"
Complaining and arguing, the searchers turned back. Even so, the mysterious man kept a close hold upon me until the retiring footfalls had faded.
I turned sharply. "Who are you? What are you?" And then I remembered. “We shall meet again at Blathaon.” He had to be the gray-eyed man from the Temple of Llyana, the one that Elekta had said was only a dream. But this person felt distinctly solid!"
"Call me your luck," he suggested. "Or call me 'Llassar.' We have little time, child. Let me lead you to someone who can assist you."
“Are you a god?”
“Mankind understands little enough about gods,” he said.
I then realized that I did not register the cold while he was touching me. In fact, I felt entirely refreshed. But why had a god saved me; so few prayers of Mankind are ever answered? If I now had gods on my side, could I take any fool-hearty risk that should occur to me, like the heroes of legend? And if that was not to be true in the future, why was this man -- this entity -- here with me now? If he had foreseen my getting lost on Blatheon, what else did he know of my road ahead? What more could he tell? But all I let myself say was: "Just get me out of here!"
The man or, as I suspected, the spirit, urged me about to face the locked door. He then took the latch and opened it effortlessly.
"Did you have the key?" I asked.
"Stay close," he advised, ushering me into total darkness. As he guided me along, it seemed less like we were crossing into a large, empty building, but that we were instead navigating a void, a universe of nothingness.
"If you can see the future, Llassar, why didn't you warn me?”
"Warn you of what?"
"That I was going to do something stupid?"
"Nothing you did was stupid, Dyan. You only lack understanding. You still believe, as the common throng believes, that certain acts must lead to desired ends, through no more than the exercise of human ingenuity.”
“What do you mean? If I drop a stone, shouldn't I expect it to fall?”
“It shall fall, if that is its fate.”
“Can I always call on you?”
“You will not have to, daughter. Tonight you stand within the hour of danger, you are pressing the hinge of fate. Before you is a divergence of paths. I have come to help you choose the right one. When you pass through the door, many other doors shall offer themselves to you. It is you who must choose amongst them.”
I did not suppose that he was speaking of the alley door. "What will my life be?" I asked.
"We have arrived there," he said.
Llassar opened a new portal, one that I couldn't see beforehand. On the other side was a gray-lit chamber full of looming stacks. As far as I could tell, we stood inside a common warehouse, though I was mentally prepared to step into the abode of the gods themselves. The light was filtering in through small windows.
"It's dawn!" I exclaimed. "But it shouldn't even be midnight yet."
“That is not important. Know that there is a man hiding here -- a man who can help you. It is up to you to persuade him."
"If he's a friend of yours, why can't you persuade him?"
"I cannot. My role is fulfilled; if I do more, the act may present to you a wrong path, one that you must not take."
"You are not common man,” I said. “I think you could do anything that you set your mind to." When he didn't reply, I glanced at the stacks of cargo around us. If there really was a mystery man hiding somewhere, why was he hiding? Where was he hiding?
"Listen," said the guide at my shoulder, "I may not be able to assist you again for a long while. Until that time, you must be careful, follow your heart, for when the goddess speaks truth to you, you shall hear her wisdom through the ears of Spirit."
I as about to express my doubts about that, but when I glanced back, I couldn't see the man. "Llassar? Where are you? There's so much I have to know!"
He was gone, and with his going, the energy and warmth that he had imparted to my flesh ebbed away. I began to shiver and my feet started hurting again. Llassar had claimed that I had a great destiny, but I might willingly have traded it for a warm coat. "Is anyone here?" I called out to the mounded merchandise, but not too loudly, lest I be heard by passersby.
Echoes again. What did the spirit expect, that I should search the building from top to bottom while freezing to death? What if the person whom I was seeking wasn't friendly? I wasn't prepared for either fight or flight.
The light was still minimal, but I searched as best I could for a weapon. I spotted a broken crate and I pried loose a narrow board with nails barbing from one end.
"A friend told me somebody is hiding here," I shouted again, a little more confidently. "He thought I should talk with you!"
"What friend, and why would he send a girl?" a reverberating voice answered. That sound, issuing from the blackness, was as chilling as the morning draft.
I thought that the voice had come from above, from lofts stacked with casks, crates, and amphorae.
"I don't know why I was sent," I dissembled. "Maybe to avoid suspicion."
"Stand in the light; I want to get a look at you."
I stepped out into the central aisle, where the dove-gray light bathed me.
"I don't know why I was sent," I dissembled. "Maybe to avoid suspicion."
"Drop your wrap; I want to take a good look at you."
I did so; the loss of its warmth made my teeth chatter.
"You're a slave!"
"I'm not!" I declared indignantly. "I'm in disguise!"
"As tavern girl?"
"I could have made a better choice," I admitted. "Do you have any clothes to spare?"
"I don't have any women's clothes."
"Anything then! I'm freezing!"
"Climb up that ladder to your left. And don't try any tricks! I'm a well-armed and dangerous warrior!"
That threat put me on guard, of course, but what could I do but trust to my luck? Or would Llassar have called it destiny?
I ascended the stepped ladder warily, the wooden weapon tensely held under my arm. Reaching the loft, I made out a maze of stacks that could have hidden twenty men.
The lurker seemed intent upon making me wait. "Come out!" I called, "or are you afraid of a mere girl?"
My taunt had its intended effect. A man slowly emerged from the shadows to my right. He looked less than thirty, tall and of average build, perhaps a little on the skinny side. He sported a broad-brimmed, plumed hat and wore a stylish woolen coat. His cuffs were lacy and, despite the simple black and white coloration of his garments, he looked dandified. That seemed to belie any claim to his being a warrior, but then again, I wasn't dressed to my role either.
The stranger just stood there, looking uneasy. "Who sent you?" he finally asked. "My uncle?"
"Is your uncle a gray-eyed man about your own age?"
"No, he's not!" he answered roughly. Stepping forward, the stylish lurker added, "You'd better explain yourself!
TO BE CONTINUED...