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Authors: Karleen Bradford

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BOOK: Whisperings of Magic
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“But he is immortal,” Dahl said.

“Immortal, yes,” Catryn answered slowly, “But he is not exempt from suffering. He is weak, Dahl. He
cannot leave the cave of the Elders. To do so would be the end of him.”

“He cannot die!”

“Perhaps not, but of what value would life be to him if he could not be conscious of it? If he became so weak that he fell into a sleep that would be in reality no more than a living death?” Catryn shuddered. The gift of immortality—was it truly a gift? Or could it, perhaps, be a curse? Dahl would never understand it. She could not truly understand it herself yet.

She spoke again. “You will see him when we reach the cave of the Elders.”

“Good,” Dahl answered.

“Being there will renew us,” she said. “We will be able to plan our path forward. He and the Elders will give us strength for what lies ahead.”

“As they did before,” Dahl answered.

“Yes,” Catryn replied.

There was another moment of silence between them, then Dahl spoke—so softly Catryn could hardly hear him.

“It seems like more than a lifetime ago that I first went through the portal to the cave of the Elders. It was the Protector who led me then. He was so strong. I thought he was invincible. I thought nothing could harm him. Now we venture forth again, without him …”

“But I am here in his stead,” Catryn said. She straightened up and drew slightly away from him. “Do you not believe I can guide you as well as he?”

“Of course,” Dahl answered quickly. But the scar on his cheek, a reminder of his battle with the dragon of Taun, flushed blood red. His eyes turned dark. For a moment the Usurper looked out at Catryn from deep within.

Instinctively, she drew back.

Dahl had conquered his foe not by defeating him in battle, but by accepting him. Accepting that his enemy was no less than a part of his own self, split off from him at birth by the powers that sought only evil and destruction. A necessary acceptance, if Dahl were to be whole, but an acceptance that would force him to face and fight against his own dark side for the rest of his life.

Catryn, too, knew well her own dark side. She had powers that the forces of evil would be eager to use the instant she gave them an opening. She dropped the folds of her shift and drew her cloak yet more closely around her. The fire was blazing brightly now, but there was a coldness within her that its warmth could not touch.

“What? Have you not even started breakfast yet? Sometimes you humans mystify me. Are you not hungry?”

Sele the Plump bustled up. It was munching with enthusiasm on a handful of grain. A loud yawn from the shelter behind him announced Bruhn’s awakening as well. The first rays of the morning sun fell dappled and twisting through the trees. Bruhn’s
shadow preceded him as he unfolded himself and made his way toward the warmth of the fire.

They ate quickly, anxious to be on their way. Breakfast was a thick porridge that Bruhn stirred up in a pot over the fire. The Sele, of course, regarded it with suspicion and would have none of it.

This morning also, Catryn could sense nothing amiss in the forest. Nevertheless, she kept a wary eye on the trees surrounding them as they made their way through them. The path now rose steeply and they were forced to go single file. Sele the Plump led, for they were fast approaching its country. Toward evening the land became more level. Vast fields of tall grasses spread out before them. The Sele reined in its horse and turned back to face the others.

“Would you be so kind as to wait here?” it asked. “There is a stream over there that will provide you with fresh water, and a small clearing where you could make camp for the night. I would go on and report to my people if you don’t mind.”

“By all means,” Dahl answered, just as Catryn was about to give the permission. She frowned slightly. She had come to think of Sele the Plump as her companion. But it had been Dahl’s guide before, she
reminded herself. It had been Dahl’s friend before it had been hers. Dahl had as much right as she to command it.

Nevertheless, when Sele the Plump looked to Catryn for confirmation, she allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction, then nodded.

“We ask their permission to cross your land,” she said.

“I’m certain it will be granted,” the Sele replied. “We would offer you hospitality, as we did before, but I truly think you would be more comfortable here.”

“Indeed, we will,” Catryn answered. “We would not disturb you any more than necessary.”

The Sele had taken Catryn and Dahl in after Dahl’s battle with the dragon and the Protector’s apparent death in his hawk form. Being much smaller than humans, however, they would have to erect new shelters for them as they had done before, and Catryn did not want to put them to this trouble.

“By the way,” Sele the Plump added as it was turning to leave, “if you must make a fire, may I ask you to be extremely careful? We do not make fires here, not needing the warmth ourselves,” here it patted its furry stomach approvingly, “but I know that you humans do like them for cooking and heat.” In spite of itself there was a tinge of disapproval in its words. Apparently realizing this, it hastened to add, “We have no objections, of course, but if you would just ring it with stones, perhaps? Make it close to the
water? Clear out an area around it free from grass?”

“We will,” Dahl said.

“Absolutely,” Catryn promised.

“Very well, then. I will leave my horse here and return tomorrow.” It turned and made its way into the grasslands. Immediately, it was lost to sight, the only sign of its passage a waving of the tall grasses as it passed through them.

After the Sele had left, they dismounted and began to make their camp.

“Tell me about the Sele,” Bruhn asked as he piled twigs and grasses up to make a fire, being very careful to ring it with stones as requested. “I would know more about them.”

“As Sele the Plump told you, they keep to themselves,” Dahl replied. “Not many people in Taun have seen a Sele. Except …” he stopped. He seemed to be having difficulty in continuing.

Catryn took over. “They are a unique race,” she said. “They have no males, no females, no children. They consider themselves to be all one family and they are all identical. Except for Sele the Plump,” she added, her mouth quirking. “That Sele is somewhat rounder than the rest. It is also one of the newest. Sele the Parent was the first and it is their leader. They do not really know where they came from, however, nor do I. The Elders have told them it is not time yet for them to know their origins or their destiny, but only that they have a purpose here in Taun. So they wait until that purpose becomes clear. They are friends to
our kind and help us when they can. Normally, they do not die, but if one does the Elders call for another to go to them. There they cause that one to become two, and the dead Sele is replaced in the family. They consider it an honor to be so chosen.”

“But how does a Sele die, then, if this is not usual?”

Dahl continued then, his voice suddenly harsh. “In the time of the Usurper he and his followers hunted the Sele for sport. That is why I allow no such blood sport in our kingdom now.”

Bruhn stopped his work and stared at Dahl. “Did they think the Sele mere animals?” he asked.

“They knew well they were not,” Dahl answered curtly. “They did not care.”

Bruhn shook his head. “Much I knew of the Usurper’s evil,” he said, “and much I suffered because of it. My own parents died of grief when I was taken and enslaved to him, but I did not know about the hunting. It is a wonder the Sele trust us at all,” he added.

“They knew my father, knew what this world was like before the evil encroached upon it,” Dahl said. “They know we fight against that. They themselves will not fight, but they will help us in their own way.”

That night Dahl and Catryn sat together by the fire long after Bruhn had retired to his shelter. Dahl was unusually silent Finally, he spoke.

“We have changed, you and I, Catryn,” he said.

“We have,” she agreed.

“We are no longer the children we were,” he said.

“No. We are not,” Catryn answered. She tensed. She knew well what he would say next. Had been expecting this, but had not yet resolved what her response would be.

“When this is over,” Dahl said, “I would that we could be together. I love you well, Catryn, you must know that.”

“And I love you, Dahl,” Catryn answered. “I have loved you for as long as I can remember. But now is not the time to speak of such things.” She could feel herself flushing and was glad of the darkness that hid it. Her hands were trembling. She clasped them tightly together to hide them. To keep control. If Dahl realized how shaken she was …

“I do know that.” Dahl stood up. “But when we return to Daunus…”

“When we return,” Catryn agreed. To her relief, her voice was steady, even calm. But when Dahl bade her good night she could not answer. He bent to brush her cheek with his hand. For a moment it seemed as if he would kiss her, but he did not.

“Good night,” he repeated instead, almost a whisper, then left her.

She sat alone by the fire for a long time after he had gone to his shelter. She knew beyond a doubt that Dahl lay sleepless in the darkness beyond the firelight. Was she making a mistake? Should she go to him? Could they not allow themselves the comfort they could each give to the other? She wanted to. She wanted to so much. She felt hollow with wanting his touch. With wanting the kiss he had not given her.

At that moment the feeling of being watched suddenly flooded over her again. But closer this time. Very close. She looked behind her, startled. Bruhn’s shelter lay in amongst the trees, but in the instant she turned, the pale light of the two moons above gave her a glimpse of a face staring out at her. It was quickly withdrawn, but not quickly enough.

Anger rose within her, swift and cold. She whipped a tendril of thought out toward Bruhn with no pretense of subtleness. Let him know of what she was capable! But she was met with such a wall of anger that she drew back in shock, aghast at the depth of the resentment there.

CHAPTER 5

Sele the Plump returned early the next morning. Catryn had determined not to speak to Dahl about what had happened the night before. There was nothing, really, to tell. She could not prove to Dahl that Bruhn had been spying on them, and she was afraid Dahl would not believe the depth of Bruhn’s resentment. He would think her exaggerating or worse—mistaken. For now, she would have to wait. But she, too, had been warned. In the future she would keep a close watch on Bruhn.

“Not ready yet?” Sele the Plump asked when it saw them eating.

“Do we have the Seles’ permission to pass?” Catryn asked.

“Their permission, their blessing and their assurance of aid in any way we can. I’ll just saddle up my horse and get organized. You won’t be long, will you?”

“No,” Dahl answered, leaping to his feet. “We are ready now. Are you are coming the whole way with us?”

“Of course. Did you not think I would?” the Sele answered.

“I was not certain. We most assuredly go to do battle, you know,” Dahl replied.

“There are ways and ways of doing battle, my friend,” the Sele replied calmly. It trotted off to where the horses grazed nearby.

BOOK: Whisperings of Magic
5.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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