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 (45 page)

BOOK: Cast In Courtlight
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But the light from the stone spread out, into the cave entrance, and a path could be seen, tracing its way into the darkness of a stone mouth. Kaylin, taking more of the Consort’s weight on her shoulders – which, given the difference in their heights, was awkward – took the lead quietly. She looked to the Consort for guidance, but it was an empty look, offered now for the comfort not of the mother but of the daughter.

They made their way down the path, their steps echoing against rough walls. Tunnel walls. “This is old,” Kaylin whispered.

“As old as the chasm,” the Consort replied. But not so cold as that, and not without light.

They walked together. The Consort’s eyes closed again, and Kaylin felt a sharp stab of panic. But the weight across her shoulders didn’t change. The walking didn’t, either; the path was still glowing, and she followed it without thought.

“Won’t we be missed?” she asked at one point.

“Missed?”

“By the High Court.”

The Lady laughed. It was an uneasy laugh, but not without genuine amusement. “They won’t expect to see us yet,” she told Kaylin. “There are two parts to
leoswuld
. And they’ve other things to worry about for once.”

“I thought you had to do this – ”

“Alone. And I do,” The Lady replied. “But in the end, the Consort leads until I face my test.”

“What test?”

But The Lady shook her head. “No one can say.”

The path led forward, and then down. Kaylin followed it until the moment it began its descent, and stopped, nearly stumbling. Down was a long way, to her eyes. And at the bottom of down was the
rest
of the light. It was as vast, in its way, as the chasm had been. But where there had been shadow and darkness that moved like a slender river, twisting its way between stone gaps, there was… light. It moved, rippling, like a lake. And in it, at this distance, Kaylin could see moving shapes, small, black lines that twisted around one another, forming patterns and breaking them almost before she could discern their shapes.

“This one doesn’t speak, does it?” she asked.The Consort opened her eyes and gave Kaylin an odd look.

“Speak?”

“Like the darkness did.”

“It speaks,” was the whispered answer. “Did you not hear its voice?”

“Um, not really.”

“Did you not come to the lake?”

“Uh, no.”

She had the attention of The Lady, as well. They were both staring
at
her, as if she were a particularly fascinating and intelligent growth that was alien in every conceivable way. Fair enough.”

What
did
you see?” the Consort asked.

“A table.”

“A table?”

“A big table, if that helps.”

The two Barrani exchanged a glance. “Why?” the Consort asked.”

I don’t know. Maybe because… it’s words, and I tend to write at tables.”

“Not desks?”

“Not so much.” She thought of explaining her school experience. Decided it wouldn’t make sense to them. “Most of the real writing I’ve done is usually at a big table. With maps on it.”

“Oh.”

The two Barrani woman gazed out into the lake. And then the older woman took her daughter’s hand. “Are you ready?” she asked softly.

Her daughter nodded without hesitation.

“Wait – ” Kaylin began, when it became clear what they were going to do. “You can’t – ”

The Consort looked at Kaylin. “I am
weary
, Kaylin. I am dying. I know what you did for my son,” she added softly, “but it would be no kindness to me.” She gazed out bitterly across that moving sea and added, “I have been the Consort for many years. I have brought our young to the source, and I have awakened them. I have chosen their names, and every
time
I have done this, I have tried to choose names that will hold against the testing.

“But I have failed so many of my people. You have seen the cost of that in the darkness below. Those whom I gave life are all my children, and I hear them. I know what they suffer. I will always know it,” she added. “You bring hope to my sons and my daughter. You have sustained me on my journey here.

“But I have earned the right to return my name to the source.”

“But – ”

“Perhaps, in time, I will be born again, from these waters,” she added. “But may it be a long time in coming, if it ever does.”

Kaylin looked at The Lady, and found no help there. She wanted to shout
she’s your mother!
But she had no voice for it. Because she could
barely
live with the knowledge of Steffi and Jade; had she had to endure their suffering and pain for eternity, she would have gone mad. Death would have been a blessing. And it was a blessing she couldn’t withhold.

“A midwife,” the Consort told Kaylin, using the Elantran word as her daughter once again put a sustaining arm around her shoulders, “must be a title of great honor among your kind.”

She should have said something about how often that honor had caused her pay to be docked, but it would have been wrong. She saw the two through mist; her eyes were watering. She willed herself not to cry because she’d come all this way to bear witness, and damn it, she was going to.

And then, The Lady and the Consort, the daughter and the mother, stepped over the edge of the path, falling straight and stiff into the luminous, moving source. There should have been a splash; there should have been a sound.

But there wasn’t. There was a single ripple, a movement of lines and curves and dots, before the source closed over them both.

Kyuthe.

The voice was familiar. She frowned and turned; there was no one else there.

I
am in the High Circle
, the Lord of the West March told her, his voice almost gentle.
We await you, now. You must return to us
.

But The Lady

She, too, must return on her own. You faced your test. You were allowed to face it
. Allow
her the same choice, and the same risk of failure
.

Kaylin nodded. Watched for a few minutes longer, and then, turning, she made her way back along the path. Without the Consort as a burden, the path was short and easily navigated, and she came out into the same forest she’d left. She followed the footpaths through the wild trees, and these led to the Consort’s fountain. The path continued beyond it.

And at its end – or beginning – the Lord of the West March was waiting. His eyes were bright and green.

“I’m sorry,” she began as she reached him. “Your mother – ”

But he lifted a hand to her lips and shook his head, looking down on her as if, for a moment, she were a child, and only a child. “Come,
kyuthe
,” he said quietly. “You have a place of honor by the side of the Lord of the High Court.”

He offered her his arm, and she stared at it for a minute. Then she remembered her manners, or rather, the manners she was supposed to have learned. She took his arm, walking barefoot beside him, dwarfed in height.

“How could you speak to me?” she asked as they walked.

“You are my
kyuthe
,” he told her quietly.

“But – ”

“You have been at the Heart of my forest,” he said softly. “And some part of you remains there, still. I will never remove it,” he added. “It is a reminder. And a gift. And when you are long dead, it will still be both.” He reached up and brushed her cheek, his fingers tracing Nightshade’s mark. It did not burn, as it had when Lord Evarrim had tried to touch it in the merchants’ guild.

“Tell the outcaste,” he said quietly, “that if this was some part of his game, it has still served us.” He paused, “And tell him, also, that you will remain a Lord of the High Court until your death.”

“But what if I – ”

“You have a name,” he told her quietly, “but it is not the name that grants you that right. Lord Nightshade held his, and still does. You owe us no fealty and no obedience while you walk with the wings of the Hawks. You owe us no subservience while you walk within the High Halls.” He let his hand fall away from her cheek. “It is possible that my brother could remove the mark you bear.”

She was silent. “And if he can’t?”

“He will fail… that is all.”

“I thought it would kill me.”

“If any other man made the attempt, or if he made it in any other place, it would. But here, there is a chance.”

He held her gaze, his eyes still green. Very green. “But if you do not choose to take that risk, if you choose to bear that mark, you will still be welcome at Court.”

She nodded. And they entered the High Circle.

He led her to the throne, and to the man upon it – and she saw that the man was the Lord of the Green. He nodded gravely to her, although he did not rise. “Lord Kaylin,” he said. “Attend me.”

She came to stand by his side, in the shadow of his brother. Saw that the other Lords were now gathered, even Evarrim. Teela was in the distance, but Kaylin recognized her anyway; the Barrani Hawk nodded.

“Lord Severn,” the Lord of the Green – no, the Lord of the High Court – said, “attend me.”

And Severn, still bloody, bowed deeply and joined Kaylin and the Lord of the West March.

“Now,” the Lord of the High Court said quietly, before Kaylin could ask – and she was going to – “we wait.”

“Wait?”

“For the Consort,” he replied. His eyes were green; there was no blue in them.

Kaylin nodded. She wanted to bite her nails. She wanted to talk to Severn. She wanted to fill the silence because when it came right down to it, the silence was getting on her nerves. She had never been good at waiting.

Time passed. The light didn’t change, but Kaylin’s legs were stiff from running and her feet were sore. She wondered if they were still bleeding. She looked at Severn, and thought he probably did just fine as a dress officer; he was as straight and tall as the rest of the Barrani.

Lirienne.

Kaylin.

When will we have waited for long enough?

When she arrives.

But what if she

When she arrives, kyuthe
. There was a warning in the words.

They waited. She couldn’t see the moon, but it was there, above this false sunlight, this eternal day. She wondered what the streets were like; the Festival had been opened, the festivities – if you could call most of the activities that drunkards engaged in festive – were well under way. She wondered how many drunk-and-disorderly charges were being filed. Wondered how many brawls had broken out, and how the Swords had handled it. Wondered, as well, if the desperation for money had resulted in murders. It usually did. That was Hawk work.

This was harder. She waited.

And then she heard it; the movement of something like bark against bark, the turning of a key in a lock – which, given that there wasn’t a lock, should have been a clue – and she turned just a second before anyone else did.

The Lady – ah, damn it, the
Consort
, came out of the side of the great tree, just as Kaylin had done. She should have been wet, but she wasn’t; she should have looked tired, but she didn’t. Her clothing wasn’t dirty, and it wasn’t torn, and it certainly wasn’t smeared by blood. Her hair wasn’t tangled or matted. she wore white, and a small circlet gleamed platinum across her forehead – just over the wound that Kaylin had seen earlier.

The Lord of the Green – the High Court, idiot – turned, and rose, and met his sister. They joined hands, the Consort smiling in a way that Kaylin had never seen the mother do. Her eyes were a dark shade of green, some blue at their depths.

“Lord,” she said, nodding.

“Consort,” he replied. And he led her to the other side of the throne. He did not resume his seat, however. Instead, he lifted his voice. “The gifts have been given,” he said in a voice that was not a shout but that carried anyway. “And the Consort has returned.”

The Lord of the West March fell to one knee and bowed his head. Severn did the same. Kaylin started to follow suit, but the Lord of the High Court caught her hand and lifted her, an echo of their earlier flight. She was made to stand, but given everything, she wasn’t that much taller than the men who were kneeling. Which was, oh, everyone else in the clearing except for the Consort.

“There will be music,” he told her quietly. “And song. Each song is part of the legacy of the High Halls. I fear you would stand a week if you listened to them all, and I excuse you if this is not your desire.”

She swallowed. “Severn, too?”

“Lord Severn, as well, for I believe he has finished his… observations.” As he said this, his gaze passed over Teela’s bowed head. “And I believe that he will find nothing out of order, as the Officers of the Law are wont to say. It is odd that he had cause to arrive at all, for I have had no word of Lethe. He carried the flower as evidence, or he would not have been allowed to remain in the High Court. But such is the High Festival, and many things cannot be explained, even by those who have experienced them.”

She understood the warning he offered. And she understood that he would kill her if she spoke. It should have angered her or frightened her. But it brought her a strange sense of comfort instead – because the man who could hold these Halls had to be made of stone and steel.

And he was, now, but she knew that it wasn’t
all
he was. His mother had wanted something different for him than she herself had had. In the brother who loved him and the sister who would be the mother of their race for some time, she had provided him with that.

He lowered his head slightly. “If you desire it, I will take from you the mark you bear.”

Kaylin reached up to touch her cheek, and realized, as she did, that she was cupping it almost defensively. She hadn’t wanted it. She had hated what it meant, or what she thought it meant. she might not have left the source at all were it not for the voice of Nightshade and his distant words.

She smiled wanly. “Ignorance,” she told him softly, “is not an excuse. Even mine. Especially mine.”

“Then what will you have?” he asked her quietly.

She met his gaze, took a deep breath, and said, “A day of clemency.”

BOOK: Cast In Courtlight
6.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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