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Authors: David Farland

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Blade Kin

BOOK THREE OF THE SERPENT CATCH SERIES

David Farland

BLADE KIN

David Farland

Catching the serpents was only the beginning. Before Tull can lead his people to freedom, he must first free himself from the beast within.

He must break the fiery chains of Adjonai as he leads an uprising against the powerful Slave Lords, but the ultimate battle for Tull and his allies will come against the Creators, machines with minds of crystal waging a program of total genocide against all life on Anee.

***

Smashwords Edition – 2014

WordFire Press

www.wordfirepress.com

ISBN: 978-1-61475-161-8

Copyright © 1991 David Farland

Originally published by DFE, 1991

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except where permitted by law. This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Book Design by RuneWright, LLC

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Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta, Publishers

Published by

WordFire Press, an imprint of

WordFire, Inc.

PO Box 1840

Monument, CO 80132

For more information about this book and others, please visit
www.DavidFarland.net

Electronic Version by Baen Books

www.baen.com

***

Chapter 1: The Replacement Wife

The night before Fava married Tull, she lay in her father’s hogan beside her little sisters and could not sleep. The embers in the fireplace gave a soft orange glow, and overhead the wind stirred the redwoods, a sound almost as constant in Smilodon Bay as the beating of her own heart. A horned owl hooted outside. Fava’s father, Chaa, crept in and sat on the furs beside her.


Oharaza ne-pila shar-e.
I greatly hoped your eyes would not be tired,” Chaa ventured. Even deep under his brows Chaa’s eyes reflected the gleam of the fire, as did his orange hair and delicate lashes. As Spirit Walker for the Pwi, he had a look of ageless wisdom, though he was only in his mid-thirties. He said, “You feel happy to be marrying Tull?”

“Yes,” Fava said. “But, I’m restless too, like the weasel. Something about Tull isn’t right since he returned from Craal.…”

“He speaks too little?” Chaa asked. Fava nodded, and Chaa added, “So you wish me to tell you of his travails among the slavers?”

“He speaks very little about it. You have Spirit Walked his life. You know what happened.”

“Yet if he wishes to keep silent,” Chaa said, “that is his right. When Phylomon and Scandal return from Craal, perhaps they will tell you more. You’ve seen the scars on Tull’s back from the lashes of the whip. You know some of the pain the slavers caused. Can you imagine the scars he bears on his heart? He left two of his best friends behind on that journey, and he lost a wife.”

Fava looked into her father’s eyes and wondered if he could not have saved her brothers, Ayuvah and Little Chaa. As a Spirit Walker, he could leave his body and travel the paths of the future. Chaa could have warned Tull to take some safer path into Craal, perhaps.

Fava’s eyes filled with tears of grief. She tried not to let Chaa see her pain, but it was too powerful. Chaa held her, and in the glowing firelight, tears sparkled in his eyes. “It is all right, to hurt—even to hurt badly,” Chaa said. “If you were too stern to cry, I would worry about you.”

“Father—you sent my brothers to die. You sacrificed them. Perhaps for mother and for everyone else in town, it is enough to know that you had reasons. But I have to know, why?”

“When I sent them, I saw truly,” Chaa said. “I knew what would happen. I sent Tull to Craal to bring back the sea serpents, for only he could have caught them. Without the serpents, dinosaurs would swim over from Hotland. Many would have died.”

“That is only a piece of truth!” Fava said. “You could have gone to Craal. You could have guided Tull, made his journey easy. You did not have to sacrifice Ayuvah and Little Chaa.”

“A strong man does not become strong without bearing heavy burdens,” Chaa answered.

“Then it’s true!” Fava said. “You could have saved them!”

Chaa closed his eyes for a long moment, frowning. “Yes, I could have saved them for a time—a few years. But I would have lost them far sooner than you imagine. I am a Spirit Walker, and because you are little more than a child, you think I am very powerful. ‘Ah, to see the future,’ you say. But I have my limits. In this matter I can only witness. The trails people follow in life help make them what they are. If Tull is to walk the path of the crushed heart, I cannot lighten his load. To do so would weaken him, and in the end he would fail because of me. The world needs him to become what he can become.”

“If you sent Tull to Craal to become strong,” Fava said, “then do you hope that he can perform a task that you cannot?”

In the firelight, Chaa’s eyes gleamed wetly, and he seemed to be staring far away. In those eyes Fava saw—ecstasy? “Yes,” he whispered. “If he can free himself, he will become far greater than me. In a hundred years, no one will remember my name. In a hundred years, everyone will know his!”

Fava pondered these things, wondering what it could all mean.

“Fava,” Chaa whispered, “if Tull can free himself, he can free the world.”

On the day that Fava married Tull, even nature cooperated. Though it was midwinter in Smilodon Bay, the sun rose above the whispering tops of the redwoods and quickly burned the night’s frost from the ground in thin white vapors that rose like pale smoke from the barbecue pits under the golden wedding tent.

The Pwi women from town came to Chaa’s hogan in droves to help bathe and dress Fava, and carry all her possessions out to the field to her wedding circle.

Fava was almost oblivious to the bustle. The women dressed her in cream-colored silk from South Bay, with a beautiful belt woven from the same silk, and her mother decorated Fava’s shoulders with a pale green shawl that held dangling silver bells and teardrops of rose quartz.

Fava’s strong legs were adorned with thin black leather garters, each with a single blue jay’s feather to signify that she was not yet married.

The women of town brushed out Fava’s long red hair, then wound much of it into tiny braids and looped it around her forehead like a crown.

Through it all, Fava just sat basking in the moment, overwhelmed by the sense of fulfillment. The Pwi had words for her feelings:
tana-zheh-amma,
joy above the mountains;
tana-iipali-tchavsen,
joy more refreshing than spring water;
ozha-pwanda-ti,
the meadow’s peace.

All those words described it, and none could describe it alone. It was a feeling so singularly beautiful that she did not know whether to revel in it or to worry that it might someday end.

Suddenly the Pwi women finished dressing Fava. Her mother, Zhopila, stepped back near the fireplace to admire her, and the other Pwi women did the same. The shadowed room smelled of incense, and the Pwi women circled her in their dark cotton tunics.

Fava felt intensely conscious of her own bright silks, as if she were a clear agate on a beach covered by duller stones. She folded her arms over her stomach, suddenly nervous, wishing to hide.


Tcho-varan, Itsa.
Don’t be afraid, Little Mouse,” Zhopila teased in Pwi, and she smiled. “Today when Tull sees you dressed like this, he will wonder in dismay how he could ever have married that human girl he left behind in Craal.”

Zhopila had mentioned the land where her sons had died almost casually, hiding her grief, and Fava knew that speaking this seemingly small compliment had cost her much. Fava treasured the words.

At noon, the music of drums beating in a sedate manner filled the air outside, while reed pipes shrilled like bird calls, while wooden flutes moaned like the wind.

As music called, the women escorted Fava out to sit on a dais of lion hides on a wedding pallet whose runners were carved from two long mastodon tusks.

Along the length of the ivory, an artist had carved images of young men and women dancing. At Fava’s feet were her prized possessions: a jade sculpture of a cave bear, combs made of silver inlaid with azurite, and some soft leather to make clothes for the child she hoped someday to bear.

Across her lap she carried a handsomely carved short spear with a thin curved tip.

All these items seemed to Fava to radiate strong emotions, or
kwea
. When she touched the sculpture of the cave bear, she could sense the love that her brother Ayuvah had felt for her as he carved it. With her spear she had once killed a scimitar cat, and to her Neanderthal mind the spear seemed almost to whisper reassuringly of its deadly potential.

As the young women carried Fava’s pallet from her father’s hogan, she glimpsed the wedding company down in the field by the pavilion.

It seemed everyone in town was there. The humans dressed in pants, tunics, and long woolen coats; while the Pwi wore their traditional winter furs.

As soon as the young women got Fava to the street, they waited while the men came from Tull’s home, carrying him upon an identical ivory pallet.

Fava tried not to stare at Tull, for his eyes shone when she looked at him, eyes the color of golden sunlight beating on flecks of green dying grass. With his broad shoulders and deep-red hair, he looked wild, strong—like some forest creature never meant to be held.

Tull wore a cape of sabertooth lion hides, accented by bright clamshell necklaces and bracelets. He carried his long spear in his right hand, and his left held a shield covered with iguanodon hide, newly painted with the emblem of the sea serpent.

At his feet, Tull had his own prized possessions—scattered iron coins, a gun captured from slavers in Craal, an ancient weather globe made by the Starfarers, and a box of tiny clamps and pliers that let him—even with his clumsy Neanderthal hands—contrive clocks and other delicate things.

At the center of the pile sat Tull’s most prized possession, his little four-year-old brother Wayan, who Tull had adopted as his own son. Wayan held Tull’s sword made of rare Benbow glass, a carbon-and-cesium alloy lain down in a matrix tougher than diamond.

As the Pwi sang, the young men and women sedately carried Tull and Fava to the wedding field where white quartz stones were arranged in a huge figure eight.

The bearers marched around the figure eight twice, then set Fava and her possessions into one circle, while Tull and his things were delivered into the other.

Chaa came to begin the ceremony, and the Spirit Walker looked pleased. He stood in the figure eight, one foot in each circle, and held out his hands as a signal for Tull and Fava to come forward.

The music stopped as they met, and Chaa spoke: “Our people have always feared slavery more than the lion’s tooth. Tull has known chains on his feet,” he nodded down at Tull’s ankles, where high moccasins hid the scars, “and he has felt the pain of living in bondage.”

Chaa’s eyes glanced out accusingly toward the crowd, and locked with someone. Fava did not have to look to know who he stared at: Jenks, Tull’s human father who had kept Tull chained as a child.

“To keep another in bondage is a great evil,” Chaa said, “yet we Pwi seek one kind bondage. It is a good thing to bind yourself to someone you love, someone who matters. Gladly we seek
zhokathrall,
the love that enslaves. Today, Tull and Fava feel this love, and have come to give themselves to one another. We shall witness this miracle.”

Chaa motioned for Tull and Fava. Tull stepped forward and knelt at the edge of his circle on the figure eight. He held his palms out and up, in a beggar’s gesture, and Fava stepped forward, knelt before him with her own palms down, and they clasped one another’s wrists.

Tull spoke the words of the wedding ritual without quavering, so that his voice sounded calm and assured. “I invite all my friends here to witness this day,” he said, looking around the group, “that I come before you seeking shelter from loneliness. I bring all that you see within this circle. But mostly, I bring my heart.”

Fava stared into his eyes, and the crowd held silent. She had to concentrate to remember the words she’d practiced a thousand times in her imagination. “My circle, my house, is empty without you, just as I am empty without you. I offer you shelter, until hand-in-hand we go to live in the House of Dust.”

The words were spoken, and suddenly the joy of the moment impressed itself upon her. Fava’s heart swelled with gratitude and love.

Tull held her eyes with his, and her heart seemed to stop. He leaned forward and kissed her, a long gentle kiss that seemed to last days, and Fava felt peace flowing into her, flooding her, so that as if in a silent place she listened to the beating of her own heart and wished that she could hold him forever.

Fava pulled Tull’s hands, and he rose and stepped into her circle. Around them the Neanderthals cheered and the children beat their drums and blew their whistles and began to dance.

The young men ran to the pavilion and opened the barrels of green beer, unearthed the hogs in their barbecue pits along with a great heap of baked apples in curry.

Tull and Fava took their place by the meat and passed out platters of food to all comers, with Wayan clinging to Tull’s leg. As each person took a wedding plate, they dropped a few coins in a bucket for the bride and groom, or laid a present nearby. Tull and Fava kept busy, thanking those who wished them happiness.

Many women hugged Fava, and the afternoon became a haze—people smiling, congratulating her, moving past.

One old Pwi woman who had also married a widower hugged Fava and whispered, “Don’t worry, there is no shame in being a replacement wife.”

Fava smiled, thanked her, and continued making a plate for the next guest.

When the guests had been served, Tull took Fava’s hand and whispered, “It’s time. Let’s go.”

He hugged little Wayan goodbye, leaving the child in the care of Fava’s parents. For the past few days, Wayan had been living in Fava’s house, and he had been adopted by Fava’s sisters as their “new brother.”

“Do not worry about Wayan,” Zhopila told Tull. “We will all have a good time while you are gone.” Then she whispered conspiratorially to Tull, “If you could plant your seed in my daughter, I would be happy for a grandchild.”

Fava’s mother Zhopila gave her a hug and just cried.

As she prepared to leave, Fava pulled up her dress and untied her black leather garters one by one, leaving the blue jay feathers on them, and passed the garters out to the young unmarried women.

When she finished, she and Tull hurried down to the docks where Tull’s single-masted sailboat, made of Benbow glass, with its silver mast, waited in the placid waters.

The sky was clear and the breeze light as they set sail up the narrow fjord of Smilodon Bay. White gulls and black cormorants wheeled overhead like confetti in a whirlwind.

For years the Pwi of Smilodon Bay had honeymooned a few miles south of town, on a deserted atoll among the Haystack Islands, where they could not be bothered.

Tull sailed toward the island, and as the salt spray misted Fava’s face while the boat leapt over waves, she thought about the wedding and the old woman calling her a “replacement wife.”

Is that how Tull sees me,
Fava wondered,
as a replacement for Wisteria?

Tull had not talked much about his first wife since returning from Craal, except to say that she had died in an accident when the wagon she drove rolled down a hill.

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