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 (42 page)

BOOK: Cast In Courtlight
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She shook her head. She looked at the windows. “Was I out long?”

“Long enough,” he replied. “I wasn’t with you when you… saw the Lord of the Green.”

“Uh, no. I think I’d remember that.”

He batted the side of her head. “Can you find him again?”

She nodded. “I think.”

“Can you find him at a run?”

“I don’t know. If you mean, can I find him while I’m being chased by Barrani who are a hell of a lot faster, then probably not.”

“They’ll be a bit distracted.”

She frowned. And woke up. “I don’t want anyone to risk their lives – ”

“From what’s been said, there’s no way around that,” Severn replied calmly. “All we can do is choose when and how, and if we wait, we won’t even get that choice.” He paused, and then added, “I trust you.”

Which was another burden.

He watched her face for a moment. “You’re not certain,” he said. It was almost a question.

“No.” She held out a clenched fist. “I’m not. He could be right. He probably is. I’ve helped to birth a lot of babies – but I’ve always done that the normal way, and most of those babies weren’t a hundred times older than I am.”

He hesitated. “And the risk?”

“What risk?” She swallowed.

“Kaylin, you could have died the first time.”

She threw Andellen a dagger-sharp glare. Andellen failed to notice. “So you can choose the when and how but I can’t?”

“No. You can. I just wanted to know.”

“When, then?”

“In an hour. Maybe an hour and a half.” He paused and added, “I can’t see the moon, but apparently, this close, Andellen can.”

She swallowed air. Food was beyond her ability to cope with. “All right.”

She paused. “When I first came here with Teela, we were almost killed by a door.”

Severn nodded.

“Who laid that trap?”

Andellen shrugged. “Anteela has her enemies at Court. It is part of why she left.”

“Good.”

“Why?”

“Because it was powerful, it was magical, and we can’t afford more enemies.”

They waited.

The chimes started first. They were distant and high, clear as free birds’ song. They were also sustained; once they started, they didn’t stop. A single note was joined by another, and then another, and then another. All were harmonious.

Andellen rose. “It is time, Kaylin. Lord Severn.”

Severn rose, as well. “On my signal,” he told her quietly.

She nodded. She took her shoes off. Outrunning Barrani was impossible.

On the other hand, outrunning an
ant
, in these shoes, was impossible. She left them in the corner. She wore the ring given her by the Lord of the West March; she wore the medallion given her by Lord Sanabalis. She wore the dress of the Barrani, but her hair was unbound. She pulled it back from her face in a knot, and then cursed at the absence of sticks. “I really hate it here,” she told no one in particular.

“It looks better down,” Severn said.

She glared.

The doors opened. Guards stood there. She counted four. They wore different armor, and they did not bear obvious weapons. They wore headbands with different runes written in their center.

“It is time,” one of them said gravely.

They left the room. But Severn indicated, by the slight motion of one hand, that she was to go first. She obeyed, trying to find calm, as if it were a place or an object she could hold.

She almost found it, too.

But over the beauty of the chimes, she heard the familiar sound of baying.

She turned to look at Severn. He had stiffened. All of the Barrani had.

“Ferals,” she said grimly.

“We can hope,” Severn replied.

It was a pretty piss-poor day when you hoped to see ferals.

The guards were holding the hilts of their swords; they did not draw them.

She wondered if they were Lords in their own right. Decided they must be when they politely indicated that Samaran and Andellen were to remain behind, in the room.

“They follow the outcaste,” one guard said when Kaylin began to argue. “They are no longer part of the High Court.”

“I bear his damn mark, and
I’m
going.”

“Yes,” he replied. If a word could be a slap in the face, this was it. But he clearly had his orders.

Severn’s breathing changed, but only slightly. It was enough to tell Kaylin that he’d expected Andellen to be beside him for at least the journey between these rooms and the High Court Circle.

He walked when the guards moved; he was thinking.

She walked beside him, hoping he was better at thinking than she was. The sound of howling unnerved her because she
knew
what would follow if it was, at last, unleashed.

They passed through two halls contained by the crisp formation of Barrani guards – two in the front and two in the back. She knew where the halls would eventually lead, and knew, further, that once there, she would be allowed no escape. Well, not of any kind she actually wanted.

But when the guards stopped, she bumped into them. It was awkward, more than awkward. They pretended not to notice, but the disdain in the pretense was loud. It was not, however, long.

Standing before them, in a pale white dress, was a Barrani woman. She was tall and slender, as all Barrani were, and she was paler than the bright moon. Her eyes were green, but dark and hard; she seemed like ice personified.

They bowed to her.

Severn followed their lead; Kaylin just stared. Her jaw was still attached to the rest of her face, but not by much. The woman was beautiful. Beautiful and haunted.

“Lady,” one of the guards said as he rose. “You are without escort?”

“I need little in the High Halls,” was her reply. “And apparently, two mortals require more.”

“The Lord of the West March ordered – ”

She lifted a hand. “The chimes have started,” she said gravely. “Do not speak of my brother’s orders, or we will stand until the song ends.”

Her brother. Kaylin was looking at the third child of the Lord of the High

Court. She should have known; her hair was as pale, and as long, as her mother’s.”I will speak,” she added quietly, “with my brother’s
kyuthe
.”

They were still for a moment.”And if you will not yourselves be late to the High Circle, you will not gainsay me. She
is
a Lord here. And she was granted the freedom of the High Halls.”

Kaylin had never heard the word
freedom
used in that fashion before. And profoundly hoped never to hear it again.

“Lady,” the guard began again. She stepped toward him and he fell silent. “I will not harm her,” the cold Barrani woman said. “She is
kyuthe
to my kin.
Go
.”

They exchanged a brief glance, and even the barrier of race couldn’t obscure its meaning. The Dragon in front of you was more of a threat than the Dragon at a distance. They went; they took Severn with them. Kaylin was almost glad to see them go. Because Severn hadn’t been forced to start a fight in the High Halls.

“I am called The Lady,” the Barrani woman said quietly when they had retreated.

“Not of anything?”

“Of the Barrani,” she replied. Her eyes were green now, and she hesitated before smiling. It transformed the whole of her face. She looked, at that moment, like the Lord of the West March. “The Consort sent me,” she added. “And I fear we must go in haste. If my absence is noted, my brother will follow, and he will
not
be pleased.”

Kaylin nodded, and they hurried – there was no other word for it – down the hall. The Barrani was taller than Kaylin, and her stride was longer. Kaylin had to abandon all dignity just to keep up. Loss of dignity, she could handle. But she wanted to talk, and that was more difficult.

She heard growling in the distance, and almost froze; The Lady of the Barrani grabbed her hand and yanked her off her feet. “Yes,” she said. “It is almost upon us.”

They made their way, at last, to a familiar door.

The Lady lifted a palm and all but put it
through
the planks. Apparently, she had the same fondness for door-wards that Kaylin did – and a lot more muscle to back it up.

The door did not buckle or snap, and it didn’t fly off its hinges, but it did swing open with a great deal more speed than it had the first time. Kaylin stepped into the torchlit gloom of a familiar room.

The door closed behind them. The chimes were lost. The growling, unfortunately, was not, and without the sweet music to drown it out, it sounded obscenely close.

“Why?” Kaylin asked as the woman made her way across the rune-etched floor.

The woman turned to look at her. Turned away. But she answered. “I love my brothers,” she said quietly. “Both of them. And they will both be destroyed. I have waited,” she added bitterly, “and I have worked. But I am not Consort, and the tower is not open to me.”

“I’m not, either.”

“No. But I know what you did, Kaylin. The Consort told me. And she told me as well of her hope. It is a fool’s hope,” she added bitterly. “And we have proven ourselves, to the last, fools.”But I am not the Lord of the West March. I am not what he will be, or what he has been. I am to be mother to my people, and I will
not
see them die without even the faint hope you offer.”

“Did he tell you – ”

“No.”

“Then how – ”

“Do not ask. It is best that way. My father fears your knowledge.”

“Will I kill the Lord of the Green?”

“He is almost dead,” was the stark answer. Shorn of cold and ice, it held only pain. “I will take the risk.”

She touched the lip of the seal, and Kaylin stepped forward to join her, watching as the runes lit up. She had seen this before, and had seen, as well, the waters – the thick, turgid waters – peel back like layers of something almost solid. This time, she looked at the liquid.

“What
is
this?” she asked. The Lady did not answer. And rising from the heart of this circle, bounded on all sides by words too old to be read, rose the Lord of the Green for a second time.

Chapter Twenty

Kaylin turned almost instinctively and gave The Lady – she really hated the Barrani love of titles – a very unladylike shove. It wasn’t expected – by either of them – and The Lady staggered back a couple of steps. She didn’t lose her footing. She did, however, lose her place on the periphery of the circle.

Kaylin hoped that she didn’t hit back.

She met the gaze of the Lord of the Green; it was black. If there was color in it, as there had only barely been in dream, she couldn’t see it. She blamed the torchlight out of desperation. But the torches that lined the circle in eight even intervals were bright enough.

He was pale, and he was not lovely in the same way either of his younger siblings were. He couldn’t be, here. He did not attempt to step toward her. She almost took a step toward him, but thought the better of it before her bare foot connected with what could charitably be called slime.

“My brother is not with you,” he said. His voice sounded normal to the ear. It sounded – and almost tasted – of ash to the part of Kaylin that listened in other ways. The healer, she thought.

“I dreamed about you,” she told him.

And he did something strange and terrifying: He smiled. There was genuine humor in the expression. And it shouldn’t have been there. “In my youth,” he told her, “many mortals did.”

She had the sense, then, that he was trying to ease her. Or distract her. Either would be a kindness, and the Barrani weren’t famed for their generosity. Or rather, they were, but not by its presence.

And yet, this one – this one had been marred, marked, and damned by his. She knew that now. She had seen what he had faced, and in his failure, she saw her own. Proud failure. What it said about him – to Kaylin – was not what it said to the Lord of the High Court. It spoke to her in ways that almost nothing in any other Barrani legends had ever done.

She said, clearly, and in Barrani, “I chose to come here.”

He looked at her from the center of the circle. “My mother,” he told her softly, in
Elantran
, “was never very strong. She was a girl, and a foolish girl. You would have liked her, in her youth.”

“I like her now.”

“It is a fault,” he replied. “In a Lord of the High Court. She wanted for her children what she herself had not seen among her brothers. And she chose. And now we are here, all of us. It would have been better had she been like my father.”

Death in his voice. And the flicker of life, clinging to the edges. She recognized them both now.

“I can’t judge her.”

“No. You are too human. You cannot even judge me.” He lifted a hand. To her.

She swallowed. She heard the sister move, and felt a presence by her side – but a step back.

Lifting her left arm as if it weighed as much as she did, she reached out, shaking, and touched the hand the Lord of the Green had extended.

And in the darkness, she felt both ice and fire, and she heard the voice of the darkness
speak
. She couldn’t understand the words, and was glad.

The Lady by her side said nothing.

The Lord of the Green closed his hand over hers; he raised the other hand, and caught Kaylin’s left wrist. Where he touched her skin, it burned; where he touched the marks upon the skin, they flared, blue and bright.

But this time she didn’t see the whole of her life pass before her. She wasn’t forced to relive it. She wasn’t tossed into those currents. She felt, instead, the great, great weight of a word, a living thing, a rounded curve that was almost flat in the palm. Not her name.

And she remembered it, remembered lifting it, as if she were straining against the stream and the current of Barrani life.

She looked at his eyes. They were black, and open wide. And she looked into them, seeing shadows, seeing the chasm, hearing the whispering voices of the damned. Their accusations. Their pleas.

Lost, all. But not
this
man. Not yet.

He took the word from her. She felt it leave, felt his hands pass above and through it, seeking purchase. It was larger in all ways than he was, and as her marks glowed blue, they illuminated what she had chosen to touch. She hadn’t seen it. Couldn’t see it. Not then.

BOOK: Cast In Courtlight
13.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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