Read Cast In Courtlight Online

Authors: Michelle Sagara

Tags: #Adventure, #Mystery, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Young Adult, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Adult, #Dragons, #Epic, #Magic, #Urban Fantasy

Cast In Courtlight (40 page)

BOOK: Cast In Courtlight
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Andellen backed away, and Severn did the same. They reached her side. She let the last syllable fall from her lips.

“You have power,” a voice she recognized said softly. “And the wisdom of an unnamed babe.”

And turning, she saw Lord Evarrim of the Arcanum, and another man, whose face was obscured by the hood of a long cloak. Evarrim was dressed in red, even here, but she saw that the circlet at his brow was now missing a ruby. His eyes were blue, dark blue, but they didn’t miss much. He saw what she’d noticed.

And turned to the man by his side.

The man lifted his hands and drew the hood from his face, and she met the blue gaze of the Lord of the High Court. “You are safe here,” he said rigidly, “now.” But his words and his tone of voice were tight.

She looked at the containing circle.

“Yes,” he said curtly. “It will hold.” His gaze fell to the figure upon the bridge. There was no love in it, but there was recognition – and not the type a man gave his son, even if that son was estranged.

“Go back,” he said softly.

The man on the bridge smiled. “I cannot yet go forward,” he said. “But I have your son’s name.”

“Yes. You have. But he has it, as well. And you do not have
mine
.”

“I do not, but soon I will not need it.”

“I will not pass the gift to my son.”

“Then you will kill him… there is no other way.”

“There is one,” the Lord of the High Court replied wearily. “Go back.” And he gestured, and the bridge
moved
, dislodging the mist.

Lord Evarrim looked at Kaylin with something that bridged the distance between contempt and respect. “It is time to leave this place,” he told her.

She hated to be agreeable, but considered the options even less appealing, and nodded. They retreated from the cavern.

This time, there was no door to bar their way. The Lord of the High Court led, and where he led, the path was clean and flat. The natural arch in which the door had nested was there, unchanged; there just wasn’t anything within it.

He left the chambers, and she followed. He traversed the tunnels, stopping at each rune, as if to read it, or to take strength from it. At length, he led them back to the stairs. All of this passed in silence. Kaylin was aware that she was walking beside Evarrim, but she felt no threat from him; he was barely walking. Oh, he didn’t stumble or falter. He didn’t so much as lean on the wall for support. But the edge of his expression was dulled. He had eyes for two things. The Lord of the High Court and the floor.

The climb up the stairs was less threatening than the climb into the unknown had been. The growls were still at their back – but worse than that, the wailing of the damned. She could hear them clearly now. She wondered if she would ever be free of their voices in these Halls.

They came, at last, to the top of the stairs, and Lord Evarrim passed the Lord of the High Court, who had turned in the arch. He looked at Kaylin. “You,” he said, “will accompany me.”

She nodded.

“Your guards will go to the Lord of the West March. They will not leave his side until I summon them.”

She nodded again.

He looked at Severn, and hesitated. “Your
kyuthe
, however, I will allow.”

She started to say that Severn wasn’t
kyuthe
, and paused. What was the point? She nodded again. He turned and swept out of the arch, almost carrying them in his invisible wake.

He did not go to the High Court Circle. Kaylin didn’t expect him to. She didn’t expect him to go anywhere, exactly, and was surprised when he led them into what seemed an ordinary hall. Well, for the High Halls. It was bordered top and bottom with Barrani writing, and it had mirrors and small alcoves in which things grew, but there were no weapons, no sign of older, unsanded stone; these were Halls built by the Barrani, and not by the Old Ones.

Doors flew open as he approached them, even though they had wards, which in theory needed to exact their ounce of pain. She followed quickly. The one or two Barrani she thought she glimpsed out of the corner of her eye vanished, like faint stars, when she turned her full attention on them; the whole of the building might have been deserted.

The Lord of the High Court led them to one small door at the end of a hall; this he opened the normal way.

It led into a room that was very like Kaylin’s guest room at first view, except without a bed. There was no throne here; there was no desk, no shelves; it was almost empty, and the one thing in it that drew the eye was – yes – colored glass.

But this glass was different. Like a mosaic, it depicted the host of the lost Barrani: garbed now in black, shorn of weapon and armor and dignity. She stared at it in horror, and a slowly building realization. Her hand stretched out, almost of its own accord, and she touched one of the faces depicted in the glass.

“It is a… reminder,” the Lord of the High Court said heavily. “To one who rules these Halls.”

Without turning from the window, she said, “That was his test, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“To stand there. To see them. To speak with them.”

“Yes.”

“To leave them.”

This third question went unanswered.

“That was the test he failed.”

And from the corner of the room, unseen until the moment she lifted voice, the Consort replied, “Yes.”

Kaylin, unmoved by the Lord of the High Court, did not fail to look to the Consort, to the woman who sat in her pale robes with her midnight eyes. “I told you,” she said softly, “not to interfere.”

Kaylin met her gaze. “You went,” she said. It wasn’t a question. “He failed. You knew. And you went to him.”

The Lord of the High Court began to speak, but his Consort lifted a hand. It was not an imperious gesture, and it was not – quite – a plea. Yet he fell silent, his hands behind his back. He looked… old. Inasmuch as someone with eternal youth could.

“That is not the way the tower works,” she began.

“But it is,” Kaylin said sharply. “For you. For the Consort. It is. You can walk it freely. You
have to be able
to walk it freely. You said as much. I wasn’t paying enough attention.”

“You walked it yourself just now,” the Consort replied, her voice calm and remote.

“No. I didn’t. I walked the path that was there. I walked the path that exists. Anyone could walk that path. The path of the tower test is different. Where he went, no one could follow – no one but you.”

“You have a Hawk’s eye,” the Consort replied, her voice shading into grim.

“You know all their names.”

“I have some knowledge of their names,” the Consort conceded. “But I do not hold them.”

“You hold at least one.”

Silence extended, growing an edge. Severn was no longer looking at the window. And he had not returned his weapon to its resting place across his hips, although she could see that the chain had indeed been severed.

“Yes,” the Lord of the High Court said. “She holds at least one, and she has held it these centuries. She has held it against the darkness.”

“She’s losing.”

“She has already lost,” was the grim reply. “Long before she touched again what she had given.”

And the Consort, her voice cool and regal, continued. “You have seen the truth of the High Halls. And you understand it. You will not claim that it is illusion or test. You know what waits those who have failed.”

Kaylin nodded.

“I could not let my son join them.”

“And so,” the Lord of the High Court said, “she, too, failed.”

“And you couldn’t kill him,” Kaylin said quietly. “Not without exposing the crime.”

“Oh, I could have,” was the castelord’s grim reply. “Not upon his return. Not then. But later.”

“You didn’t.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because,” the Consort replied, a small crack in her perfect composure opening slightly, “he belongs to the darkness. It is only by living that he is kept from it.”

“He tried to kill himself.”

“No. He understands what he faces. He tried to divest himself of his name, to become undying.”

“And now?”

“My second son went to face the test of the tower, and what he found there was our answer. It is a bitter answer,” she added. “But my power over the words is fading. I can reach the source,” she added, “but only at great cost, and the return is difficult.”

“But if he has no name, his name
is
there – ”

“Yes. My oldest, understanding, tried to do his duty. But it would not have worked.”

“You can’t give him the leoswuld.”

“No. But I think that was the intent,” the Consort said bitterly. “I was young, and foolish. I believe that my son was to be the vessel, that I was
allowed
to leave with him, allowed to believe that I had the control necessary.”

“But now he’s not.”

The Lord of the High Court exchanged a glance with his Consort. “No,” he said at last. “The Lord of the West March will kill him, and the Lord of the Green will go, at last, to the reward of those who fail.”

“He won’t kill his brother.”

“He has his duty, and he understands it fully now. He will kill his brother, or he will doom us.”

“He can refuse the leoswuld.”

“And that will doom us as well,” the Lord of the High Court said. “You understand much. Too much. He can refuse what I offer. But if he refuses, there will be no new Consort, and his mother cannot continue. It is understood that there will be war among our kin in the outlying lands, even as our hold upon the High Halls diminishes. It is not understood how quickly that hold will diminish, nor is the price clearly written.

“We will perish as a people.”

“It seems,” Kaylin said with bitter pity, “that you already are.” And she looked again to the window. “Has the Lord of the West March seen what lies at the heart of the High Halls?”

“He has.”

“Then he won’t do it.”

“He will.”

But she knew the truth. She had his name, after all, and it spoke to her in the silence, lending strength to certainty. She said to the Consort, “What name did you choose for your oldest son?”

“A bitter name,” was the reply. “But I was young. And I had hope for the future that I no longer have.”

“What shape did it have?”

There was a silence so sharp it could have cut. “What do you mean?”

“What did it
feel
like when you touched it?”

“Like my son.”

“Like what you wanted for your son?”

“At the time, they were the same.”

Kaylin nodded. Trying to think like a Barrani mother. Failing utterly. “I will speak with the Lord of the West March,” she said at length, “as his
kyuthe
.”

Chapter Nineteen

“Kaylin,” Severn said quietly when they were quit of the room with its terrible mosaic and the burden of its legacy.

She nodded. “Don’t say it.”

“You take a greater risk than perhaps you understand – ”

“I’ve worked beside Barrani for all of my adult life,” she told him bitterly. “I understand well enough. I know
too much
. He might as well have pronounced a death sentence then and there. But he won’t, I might be of use.” She paused, and then turned to Severn. “Think of what he’s lived with every day of his life since he… passed his test. Think of what he knows every time someone attempts it. Do you think I don’t understand how little his gratitude might mean in the end? And knowing it, I’ll still do everything I can to
be
of use.”

“I’d guessed that,” Severn replied with just the hint of a smile.

“Do you know why?”

He shrugged.

“Because – ” And she stopped.
Because I don’t want the Lord of the West March to suffer what you suffered. I don’t want that
. And she saw him clearly as he shoveled dirt away from – and toward – a grave. “Because I’m me.”

“Then you – ”

“I have to speak with the Lord of the West March.” She looked around her, at the halls they now walked. “Because I’m sure the Lord of the High Court will know if I don’t.”

They walked for some time in the silence of footfall and distant chimes, the hours sounding. The notes were hollow and mournful to Kaylin’s ear. They marked the passing of more than time. Her left arm ached. “I couldn’t be the Lord of this Court,” she said softly. “If I had been offered the same test as the Lord of the Green, I would have failed utterly.” She already had. “I can’t judge him. I can’t judge his mother. His father passed the same test,” she added. “So he can.”

She turned then, and caught Severn’s arm in both of her hands. “And
you
can,” she said quietly. “You can judge the Lord of the West March.” Severn shook his head. “It’s not the same test,” he told her almost gently. “If I had been given the choice of killing
you
, or letting the city burn – that would have been the same. And I would have failed. Let it go, Kaylin. Let it go, Elianne.” He paused, and then said, “If you had paid attention in class – and I’m going to assume you never took philosophy – you would have heard an old adage. It’s an important one, if you work in the Halls of Law… something to live by.”

“What?”

“We’re judged by our successes,” he said, brushing the hair from her eyes. “We all expect that. But we are
also
judged by our failures, noble or ignoble. Success and failure are two edges of the same blade, two sides of the same coin. To fear the one is to forever deny the possibility of the other.” And he kissed her forehead.

She closed her eyes.

“I’m willing to fail here,” he told her. “And you must be willing to fail, as well. There’s no single road to success.”

“Thank you.” She pulled away slowly and straightened her shoulders. “I remember a different adage.”

“Oh?”

“A successful man – or woman – has friends beyond number. A failure? Almost none.” She caught his hand and held it.

His smile was lopsided. “In our case, that will probably be because there won’t be many people left.” He began to walk again, holding her hand.

The Lord of the West March was, oddly enough, waiting for them before they reached the wing of the High Halls he claimed for his personal use. He met them in an atrium, coming from around a dense thicket of oddly shaped leaves; they were green with purple hearts, and as long as Kaylin’s arm. His eyes were blue.

BOOK: Cast In Courtlight
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