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ABOUT THIS BOOK
The Chained Adept — Books 1 thru 4
1: The Chained Adept
A STRONG WIZARD WITH UNANSWERED QUESTIONS AND A CHAIN AROUND HER NECK
Penrys’s past is unknown, but she’s got a better grip on her future: find out where she came from, discover what happened to her, and figure out how the unremovable chain around her neck makes her different from other wizards.
What any of this has to do with the renewal of an ugly war between neighboring countries, half a world away, is just something she’ll have to sort out, along with the rumors of wizards where they don’t belong.
Assuming, of course, that no one removes her as a threat before she can find her footing.
All she wants is a firm foundation for the rest of her life, with a side helping of retribution, and if she has to fix things along the way, well, so be it.
2: Mistress of Animals
AN ERRANT CHILD WITH DISASTROUS POWERS AND NO ONE TO STAND IN HER WAY
Penrys, the wizard with a chain and an unknown past, is drafted to find out what has happened to an entire clan of the nomadic Zannib. Nothing but their empty tents remain, abandoned on the autumn steppe with their herds.
This wasn’t a detour she’d planned on making, but there’s little choice. Winter is coming, and hundreds are missing.
The locals don’t trust her, but that’s nothing new. The question is, can she trust herself, when she discovers what her life might have been? Assuming, of course, that the price of so many dead was worth paying for it.
3: Broken Devices
CHAINS WITHOUT WIZARDS AND A RISING COUNT OF THE DEAD
The largest city in the world has just discovered its missing wizards. It seems the Kigali empire has ignited a panic that threatens internal ruin and the only chained wizard it knows that’s still alive is Penrys.
The living wizards and the dead are not her people, not unless she makes them so. All they have in common is a heavy chain and a dead past—the lives that were stolen from them are beyond recall.
What remains are unanswered questions about who made them this way. And why. And what Penrys plans to do to find out.
4: On a Crooked Track
SETTING A TRAP TO CATCH THE MAKERS OF CHAINED WIZARDS
A clue has sent Penrys back to Ellech, the country where she first appeared four short years ago with her mind wiped, her body stripped, and her neck chained. It’s time to enlist the help of the Collegium of Wizards which sheltered her then.
Things don’t work out that way, and she finds herself retracing a dead scholar’s crooked track and setting herself up as a target to confirm her growing suspicions. But what happens to bait when the prey shows its teeth?
In this conclusion to the series, tracking old crimes brings new dangers, and a chance for redemption.
The Chained Adept, Books 1-4 1: The Chained Adept 2: Mistress of Animals 3: Broken Devices 4: On a Crooked Track
2635 Baughman Cemetery Road
Tyrone, Pennsylvania 16686
Author contact: KarenMyers@KarenMyersAuthor.com
Cover and Illustrations: Jake Bullockhttp://ohbullocks.com
The Kigali, Zannib, Rasesni, and Ellech languages: Damátir Andohttp://damatir-ando.tripod.com/conlangs.html
© 2018 by Karen Myers
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published 2018. First Edition.
ALSO BY KAREN MYERS
The Hounds of AnnwnTo Carry the HornThe Ways of WinterKing of the MayBound into the BloodStory CollectionsTales of AnnwnShort StoriesThe CallUnder the BoughNight HuntCariadThe Empty Hills
The Chained AdeptThe Chained AdeptMistress of AnimalsBroken DevicesOn a Crooked Track
Science Fiction Short StoriesSecond SightMonsters, and MoreThe Visitor, and More
SHORT TABLE OF CONTENTS
FULL TABLE OF CONTENTS
1: THE CHAINED ADEPT
1: GUIDE TO NAMES AND PRONUNCIATIONS
2: MISTRESS OF ANIMALS
2: GUIDE TO NAMES AND PRONUNCIATIONS
3: BROKEN DEVICES
3: GUIDE TO NAMES AND PRONUNCIATIONS
4: ON A CROOKED TRACK
4: GUIDE TO NAMES AND PRONUNCIATIONS
IF YOU LIKE THESE STORIES…
ALSO BY KAREN MYERS
EXCERPT OF NEXT BOOK
The Chained Adept The Chained Adept: 1
2635 Baughman Cemetery Road
Tyrone, Pennsylvania 16686
Author contact: KarenMyers@KarenMyersAuthor.com
Cover and Illustrations: Jake Bullockhttp://ohbullocks.com
The Kigali, Zannib, Rasesni, and Ellech languages: Damátir Andohttp://damatir-ando.tripod.com/conlangs.html
© 2016 by Karen Myers
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published 2016. First Edition.
EPUB ISBN-13: 978-1-62962-030-5
Penrys was crouched on one knee, slamming the rysefeol’s recalcitrant wooden joint with the back of her hand by way of a delicate adjustment, when the sudden transition hit.
“Oh, thennur holi,” she said, under her breath, but the oath that started in her well-lit workroom finished in swaying light and strong shadow. Already off balance, she tumbled on her backside. The soft surface took the sting out of it, and her hands, spread wide to break the fall, told her of carpet and, below that, uneven ground. A gust of wind blew smoke in from outside and the walls fluttered.
A tent, she realized, and a very large one.
She saw the people, then, and froze, stifling a sneeze, but they didn’t seem to have noticed her. No, that’s not it. They aren’t moving at all.
Perhaps no one’s moving but someone’s talking. She tilted her head and pinpointed the voice—it came from something like a mirror suspended from a metal stand in front of the nearest tent wall. She was too close alongside the same wall herself to see anything but the edge of the frame.
The flickering light from the glass-enclosed lanterns on the tables and chests in the tent cast moving shadows on the faces of the people. It gave the illusion of life, distracting her for a moment, and then the words from the voice in the mirror penetrated.
“…a field test like this is always useful for a new weapon. I look forward to greeting you in person, when you arrive for a permanent visit.”
She wrinkled her nose at the lazy baritone drawl. That can’t be good. What’s happened to them?
Glancing over her shoulder, she spotted a red lacquered chest along the tent wall and scooted back a couple of feet to set her back against it, taking care to stay out of the line of sight of the mirror. She crossed her legs and made herself comfortable on the rug, licking her dry lips as she tried to focus.
She steadied her breathing, then, and reached out with her mind to the people in the tent with her. She could only see a few of them from her position on the ground, but her mind told her there were seven. All the minds projected fury and fear, but one shone more clearly, aware of her, and able to respond silently when she focused on him.
*Who are you? No, never mind. Can you help us?*
That gave her pause.
What have we got here? Something from the mirror, smothering them all like a thick fog. But not me—probably doesn’t know I’m here. At least, not yet.
She braced herself, and then raised a mind-shield around the one who’d asked for help. Immediately she felt the force shift and bear down upon her, but she diverted it around them both and let it flow away.
*Much better. What about the others?*
She judged the force that beat at her. *Maybe one or two more.*
*The Commander, then.*
Penrys couldn’t drop her concentration long enough to look for him. *Show me.*
He gave her the flavor of the other man’s personality and indicated a direction. That matched up with one particular mind, and she extended her shield to him.
The lights dimmed for her as she took on the load. She closed her eyes to remove the distraction and listened to the muttered conversation in the tent.
“Not now, Commander-chi. Temporary defense. Pick one more man.”
Silence for a moment.
“Make it Kep, then.”
*This one, please.* Her first contact pictured another personality and direction for her, and she extended the shield one more time, hoping it would hold.
She gritted her teeth and focused on the task. At least the load was steady—she could bear the pressure for a little while, if it didn’t change. Why so few? I should be able to support more of them. But it doesn’t feel like that would work just now.
“I’m not sure what you hoped to accomplish, Menbyede, but I think you may have misjudged our strength. Kep-chi, see to the men and prepare for attack.” She recognized the voice of the second man.
“At once, sir.”
The air shifted as someone left the tent.
The voice in the mirror was quiet, but the force increased against her shield, probing and shifting. She strengthened the shield further, clenching it solid, until the sounds outside dropped away.
A finger tapped Penrys’s shoulder and the familiar mental voice that marked a wizard followed. *You can stop now.*
Cautiously, she loosened the shield enough to look, and found the pressure gone. Her whole body ached as she released the shield completely, and she slumped to loosen her muscles, her dark shoulder-length hair falling into her face as she rotated her head and felt the neck joints crack.
“You didn’t hear me speak to you,” the man said, his deep, resonant voice low and private against the bustle behind him in the tent. He crouched next to her on the balls of his feet.
Sandalwood? She sniffed again and lifted her head. The honeyed voice belonged to a smooth-shaven Zan traveler, his hair concealed under a small maroon turban. His dusky robes of an overall small-figured fabric had been shortened for ease of movement, and his loose breeches were bloused over decorated but well-worn leather boots. He regarded her soberly, and then his dark eyes widened. He reached out and pushed back her hair on one side to confirm his glimpse, exposing her ear—her shaggy, mobile, fox-like ear.
She jerked her head back and staggered upright. Glaring down at him, she shook her hair loose again to cover her ears.
He rose more gracefully and made her a sketchy half-bow. “Your pardon, bikrajti. I was just… surprised.”
Penrys looked beyond him and realized the tent was large and multi-part, four square bays surrounding a central square, the ties at the corner seams marking its origin as five separate structures. It was dark in the corners but full of activity. Uniforms. So, I was right—this is a military camp. But where? Her companion seemed to be the only Zan—none of the rest, bare-headed or not, showed the loose curly hair she would have expected. To a man they had short, straight, black hair, and several cultivated wispy beards. A glance out of one doorway confirmed that it was still nighttime.
A courier had arrived and was reporting to Commander Chang, easily identified by both his voice and his location—anchoring a wide camp chair, fronted by a large, portable table, little of which was bare of papers, and commanding a view of the tent entrance, where an armed man stood ready on either side. A quick glance confirmed that the mirror was gone from the stand by the tent wall.
The dark Zannib wizard followed her gaze. “Locked away it is, where it can do no more harm.” He paused. “We think it can do no more harm.”
“I’m called Zandaril,” he said. “We must talk, soon as he’s free.” He cocked his head over at Chang.
He drew her over to the Commander’s table and they waited for the courier to complete his report. The smoky cressets outside the tent flap still held the night at bay, but the clamor of a roused camp belied the darkness. Voices called back and forth, and hoofbeats pounded by. As Chang leaned forward in his chair for emphasis, it creaked and his black leather jerkin reflected the candle light dully.
Once Chang had dismissed the courier, he turned his full attention to Penrys. His lined face was impassive, the eyes narrow.
“Who are you? What just happened? And how, exactly, did you happen to turn up, in such a… timely way?”
It was clear from his face and the tone of his voice that he didn’t believe in coincidence.
“It’s complicated, sir.” She cleared her throat. “There was an accident…”
At the sound of her northern Ellech accent, Chang’s eyes met Zandaril’s. The Commander and the rest of the men in the tent, with the exception of Zandaril, had the look of the eastern Kigali folk, their eyes tightened against the ancestral wind and their beards sparse.
She forged ahead. “M’name’s Penrys, and I was in Tavnastok a little while ago. But not now, I think.”
“No.” Zandaril blinked. “Indeed not. It’s far from the Collegium you are, way up in the valley of the Mother of Rivers.” At her blank look, he added, “Near the western border of Kigali.”
Penrys closed her eyes briefly and shook her head. Thousands of miles if it’s a step, as much south as west. What have I done? How will I get back, with nothing but the clothes I stand in? How can I tell them at the Collegium where I am?
She studied the two faces before her, one stern, one curious. Well, that may not be my most urgent problem. They think I had something to do with this attack.
She straightened up. First order of business—stay alive and out of prison.
Penrys waited in Zandaril’s company while the Commander made certain that the threatened attack was not about to materialize, based on the reports of his returning scouts as they continued to come in.
She glanced at her oh-so-polite custodian. It’s not like I can go anywhere, from the middle of an armed camp. That they know of, anyway. Guess they don’t see it that way. In spite of herself, she yawned and belatedly covered her mouth.
At Zandaril’s raised eyebrow, she protested, “I’ve come west a great distance, so my night just got a lot longer.”
She left it at that, not wanting to admit that the shielding had also had its cost. And just why did I have to stop at holding three under my mind-shield? Where did that limit come from?
“Who was in the mirror?” she asked him, quietly.
“Menbyede of the Rasesni.”
“I’ve read about them—they’re your neighbors to the west, aren’t they? Who’s this Menbyede fellow?”
He narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously, without comment
“No, I don’t know,” she said, answering the unasked question. “Hey, I can name several colleagues from the Collegium who will vouch for me and where I was last night. Um, this night.”
“And what should we do with you while we wait for messages to go and return, all the long way?” Zandaril said. “Or perhaps you have a better means of communication?”
His eyes slid to the spot where the mirror had been.
She swallowed and decided to resume her silence. As if to contradict her resolve, the smell of the hot, bitter bunnas sitting untouched on Chang’s crowded camp table made her stomach growl, audibly. She was always hungry after a prolonged effort, but it was food she wanted, not that foul stuff.
That’s not actually a bad idea, though—using a mirror to cross distances. How did they attach sound to the vision? How do they focus it? How far can it go? And how do they send an attack through it, like the one I shielded?
She settled down to ponder ways and means, her fingers itching for something to write on.
With the camp on high alert until daybreak, but no enemy detected, Chang finally returned his attention to her. Two of his officers stood behind him and waited. She could feel the suspicion radiating off of them.
“I would like an explanation,” he said. It was little short of a command.
May as well tell them part of the truth, anyway. Not that they’re likely to believe it.
“I was at my workshop, at the Collegium. Working on my…” She paused. “You see, I made this bendu, a device, kind of a detector, a ryskymmer, like a bound-circle, only the reverse…”
They looked at her blankly. These are Kigaliwen, and they don’t have the terms.
She started over. “Look, if you take a defined space, like a big box, you can cancel out the magic inside the space.” She framed the concept out with her hands.
She glanced at Zandaril. He was nodding as if he’d heard of the theory.
“Most people stop there,” she said, “but I thought if you could set it up right, you could use it to find active magic somewhere else.”
Zandaril stopped nodding, but she pushed on anyway. “And if it’s big enough…” She spread her arms wide to illustrate. “You could maybe go where that magic is.” If you were fool enough to stand on the inside of it.
There was silence for a moment, broken only by the spitting of the cressets outside.
“What, seven thousand miles?” Zandaril raised both eyebrows this time.
“Well, I had it set up to look for the biggest activity it could detect. I didn’t think it would go further than the Collegium. After all, there’s plenty there for it to find. And besides, I wasn’t trying to use it—the full-scale version wasn’t working yet.”
Didn’t think about what I was doing. Idiot.
Zandaril said, “So the Rasesni tried out their new weapon, and…”
“It sucked me in. I was on the inside, tinkering with the framework’s joints, but then I, um, hit it and, wham, here I was.” She could feel her cheeks heating. “Guess it worked.”
Zandaril and Chang exchanged opaque looks.
Chang began again. “You sound like a Northener, but you don’t have the look.”
“No. No, I don’t.” She cleared her throat. “About three years ago, they tell me, there was a disturbance out in the forests of Sky Fang in the Asuthgrata region, enough to bring Vylkar, the local wizard, out to track it down.”
“You?” Zandaril suggested.
“Well, I’m what they found.” She raised a hand and fingered the heavy chain resting high around her neck like a collar.
Waking up at the base of a rough-barked tree, surrounded by torches and strange, armed men. Waiting for them to speak and then tapping them for the language.
“And where had you come from? How did you get there?”
“Wish I knew. That’s all there is, nothing further back.”
“But you knew the language?” Zandaril asked.
She compressed her lips. “I know all the languages. I get them from the speakers.”
She looked at them pointedly. “Yours, too, you may have noticed.”
Chang glanced over at Zandaril for confirmation, and Zandaril shrugged.
“I’ve never heard of that,” the Zan remarked.
“Yes, that’s what Vylkar said. It’s true, nonetheless.”
He let it pass, though his skepticism was plain on his face.
“So, you ended up at the Collegium.”
“They figured it was the best place to… examine me. They gave me a name and a bunch of tests.” She half-smiled. “Then they argued a lot.”
“You’re what, then? An apprentice? A nal-jarghal?” Zandaril asked.
She snorted. “No, they couldn’t really make me fit properly anywhere in their system. Old Aergon declared they should revive the ancient title of hakkengenni, um, ‘Adept.’ All I wanted was a place to work, and to persuade them there was no harm turning me loose in the library. Help ’em with the catalogue.”
“And they did? They just took you in and exposed everything to you? The Collegium, with its reputation for stringent qualifications?” Zandaril snorted.
“And what’s the first thing you did, eh?” Penrys said, and cocked her head at the corner where she’d arrived. “Tried to find out what I was and what I could do, didn’t you? You’re no different then the rest of your wizardly colleagues.”
She heard her voice rise. “Made m’self available for experiments, I did. That was the exchange. Made some devices, too, not that they’re any too eager to use ’em. Why? You want to come up with some tests yourself?”
“Enough,” Chang said, and she subsided.
“Sorry.” Don’t be a fool. Don’t alienate them—they may be your only means of getting back. She took a deep breath, and sneezed from the smoke of the cressets drifting inside.
“Whatever the Rasesni had in mind seems to have been called off. I’m going to stand down the camp.” Chang waved over one of the guards at the entrance.
“Take our… guest over to Jip-chi and have her assigned quarters for what’s left of the night.” He glanced at her. “Under guard, if you please.”
Zandaril stroked his beardless cheek as he settled back in the folding camp chair and watched Chang’s face. The quiet discussions elsewhere in the tent gave them a bit of privacy. “What did you think of her story?”
“She has to be a Rasesni plant,” Chang said. “Nothing else makes any sense. Accent or not, she’s certainly no Northener, not with that dark hair. Not skinny enough, either. Or tall.”
“She is what, then? Who are her people? Not the bandy-legged Rasesni.” Zandaril let that hang there for a moment.
Chang nodded, reluctantly. “No. Not a pure-blood anyway. Probably some sort of border family, mixed-blood. Or something else.”
“I know what I saw.” Zandaril shook his head. “I don’t know any border families with pricked animal ears, Commander-chi. Do you? Not even in the old granny tales.”
Chang glared at him. “You have a point?”
“You should believe her story for now, as long as it doesn’t disturb your mission.”
“And what’s to keep her from vanishing the same way she materialized?”
Zandaril had been facing that corner of the tent when he was locked in place by the Rasesni attack. He’d seen her arrival, tumbling on her rear with her arms flailing. That was the clumsiest entrance I’ve ever seen. Hard to associate that with a secret enemy.
He poured himself a mug of the still-hot bunnas, lifted it to his nose, and inhaled before taking a sip. “If she needs a large device to travel, as she claims, we can prevent it. If she lied about it, and needs nothing, how could we stop her?”
“Chains,” Chang said, with a frown.
Ah, yes, I want a closer look at that necklace she keeps fingering. I didn’t recognize the style.
He put the mug down on the ground beside his chair.
“I’ll take charge of her,” he said.
“What, in Hing Ganau’s wagon? And won’t that start rumors.”
“Oh, come now, a young girl she is not, Commander-chi.”
“As if that mattered.” Chang narrowed his eyes. “She’s young enough, and I didn’t hear mention of a husband. Still, the idea has some merit—who better than you to defend us if she’s not what she says?”
He thought for a moment. “All right. If she can ride, we’ll mount her, else she can bounce along in your traveling warehouse with the rest of the odds and ends. Think you can catch her if she makes a run for it?”
Zandaril raised one robed arm and let the sleeve flutter gracefully while his hand waggled in the air. “Outride me she will not.”
“Then she’ll be in your charge tomorrow. You’ve just made yourself responsible for her.”
Well, I asked for it, did I not?
“Stow your gear in the puichok. Hing Ganau will show you where.” Zandaril turned from the horse who was hitched to the side of the wagon and waved vaguely in the direction of a soldier in the process of loading up.
He returned to his task of checking the tack of his black mare. She was fit and energetic, though somewhat round and sturdy. Penrys did not recognize the pattern of the simple saddle. Except for the short stirrups there seemed to be nothing to it but shaped leather pads, decorated with punchings like his boots, and colorful wool fabric beneath, over a sheepskin.
Dropping her shoulder, Penrys shrugged off the worn pack Jip had issued her last night and set it down with a metallic thump. ‘A soldier’s gear,’ he’d called it. It seemed half empty, and the clanking of the eating kit had been an annoyance the whole way as she’d followed her guard to Zandaril’s place in the breaking camp. There hadn’t been time to go through it yet, though she’d been grateful for the blanket fastened to it, in the middle of the night. She was even more grateful for breakfast, salted dough on a stick with smoky bacon wrapped around it, shared by her escort at the cook-fire of a group of troopers.
She’d still been licking her fingers when she’d spotted Zandaril, supervising the loading of his wagon at the rear of the camp. Four mules had already been harnessed up to its shaft, the nearest one an elderly gray that was almost white, and the rest ordinary bays. The wagon looked like all the others she’d seen so far—tall iron-tired twelve-spoked wheels in back, with smaller ones in front, and a body about five feet wide and ten feet long. The wooden walls rose about four feet, surmounted by a high arching framework covered in canvas that was partially folded aside—only the long pole affixed to the side of the wagon-seat that flew a colorful pennant distinguished it from the rest of the nearby vehicles. She thought the device on it might be some sort of many-spoked wheel, when she tried to make it out as it flapped in the gusty wind.
The smell of tar wrinkled her nose—it looked as though the seams of the wagon’s boards had been tarred and caulked.
Her guard had handed her possessions over to the wizard and released her, and she tipped her head to him in farewell. Well-mannered he was, and he provided breakfast. Could have been worse.
She glanced at the older, uniformed man who was busy with the last of the gear, spry despite the splint and wrappings around his right leg. She surveyed the narrow wagon seat and asked Zandaril, “Will we all three be sharing that?”
“That depends. Can you ride?”
She smiled broadly. “Indeed. That would be much better.” She paused and looked down at her feet, shod for indoor activities. “Although boots would make it more comfortable.” At least I’m wearing my work clothing, not something more unwieldy.
“Maybe I can fix that,” Zandaril replied. “You’ll need some sort of coat or cloak, too. Any clothes in there?” He pointed at the pack on the ground.
“Not that I could see.”
He nodded, and called out to the man who was tying down the bundles in the wagon bed. “Hing-chi, errands I’ll have for you to the Quartermaster at our next stop. Meanwhile, please have someone fetch something suitable for our guest to ride before the Horsemaster gets too busy.”
Hing Ganau started a bow but converted it into a clumsy wave and limped off to corral an errand boy.
Penrys raised an eyebrow at the performance and Zandaril coughed politely. “I have here no official rank, but it seems to be hard for him to break the habit.” He paused. “Only three weeks ago I was assigned to him, when I joined the expedition at the Meeting of Waters. Posted he was to drive a wagon until he could ride again. Doesn’t like it much, and who can blame him? A kwajigomju is used to getting things done with his men, and frustrated at being alone.”
He looked down at the little bundle the guard had handed him—the pouch and knife that had hung at her belt. “Here, bikrajti. You’ll want these.”
That’s gracious of him. Also says something about how much he fears me, which is not at all. Is that a good thing?
“Thanks,” she said, and left it at that.
She attached both items to her belt and felt complete again, if somewhat under-dressed for the weather. As she recalled from the maps, Kigali was about as far south of the equator as Tavnastok was north, and autumn was starting in the south. She smelled a faint crisp chill in the air, under the blue cloudless sky, but there was nothing she could see along the horizon in any direction over the low, rolling grasslands, to account for it. If this was truly a valley, it was wider than she could see, and the actual Junkawa, the Mother of Rivers as they’d called it, could be anywhere out of her view.
We’ll be delayed waiting for the horse. Let’s see what I’ve got.
She knelt on the ground, on the damp grasses which had been trampled by the camp traffic and were still giving up their pungent juices. “Spoon, fork, metal cup and plate, well-scoured and well-used.” She ticked off the inventory and glanced up at Zandaril. “Might as well have been a set of bells for all the noise it makes.”
“I think the practice is to wrap each of those in articles of clothing. Muffles the noise, keeps it from shifting,” Zandaril contributed, gravely.
“Sounds right. Well, a nice big packet of salt, a bag of…” She opened it and sniffed. “Ugh. Bunnas,” she said, wrinkling her nose.
“Glad I would be to remove that burden for you,” Zandaril remarked.
‘That’s right—bunnas comes from your folk, doesn’t it? What’ll you trade for it?”
“Not very good quality that is, that they buy for the troopers.”
“No point bad-mouthing it to me,” she said. “I can just ask your Hing Ganau.”
A faint smile crossed his lips. “You can trust me for an honest price. When you find something you want, we’ll talk again about it.”
She dug through the rest of the pack. “Looks like wrappings for bandages, soap, and that’s about it. No clothes, like I thought. Not even a comb. Nothing to read.” She began to put everything back in.
Zandaril cleared his throat. “I may have a sushnib or two. Books.”
“Yes, a wizard would, wouldn’t he?” She tied the straps at the top of the pack and stood up.
“I’ll show you a bit tonight, when we camp up again,” he said. “In wirqiqa-Zannib they are written, so it may be they are of no use to you, bikrajti.”
She said to him, in his own language, “If I can speak it, then easily enough I can read it, with a little instruction in the script.”
He stared at her in silence.
“Didn’t believe me, did you?” she said, with a quirk of her lips, as she returned to the western Kigali-yat dialect she’d been speaking since her arrival. “There were a few wirqiqa-Zannib scrolls at the Collegium, but no native speakers, so I appreciate this opportunity to truly learn the language.”
Looking at her with interest, he said, “Do you retain the knowledge after your source departs, bikrajti?”
“Only if I’ve taken the effort to master it m’self, and make it my own.”
This was more than she’d intended to share, and the clop of hooves provided a welcome interruption as a young trooper led a saddled horse and hitched him to the cleats on the side of the wagon walls, next to Zandaril’s mare. The mules already in their traces turned their heads to watch.
She laughed out loud when she saw him—a piebald gelding, quiet and deliberate. She couldn’t picture him bestirring himself to a canter.
I bet that mare can run rings around him.
“Not taking any chances, eh?” she commented to Zandaril.
He bowed in her direction with a smile of his own, and she sketched him a comic salutation to honor his precautions.
Penrys restrained herself from burying Zandaril with questions until he had worked the kinks out of his lively mare. The two of them trotted up one of the rolling slopes some distance northwest and then turned more directly west to parallel the men riding below them. Her horse maintained a steady pace, and eventually Zandaril’s mount settled in beside hers and they both slowed down to match the main body of the expedition.
Scouts rode in pairs barely within her sight well in front, vanishing forward as she watched, and she could just make out other outriders on the far side of the line of march. The primary force rode in columns of two at a walk, with the supply wagons behind them, two dozen large ones with six-mule hitches, and not quite as many smaller ones pulled by two mules. More outriders brought up the rear behind the herds of horses and mules not in use and the cattle herd. At this distance, the constant noise faded into the background, and only the occasional shout made itself heard.
Looks like about five hundred men, and maybe another five or six dozen in support. There must be close to fifty spare horses. And dinner on the hoof. Probably a good idea in this empty landscape.
She’d seen cooks and a doctor on her way through the camp in the morning. A blacksmith, too. There were a few women doing laundry or managing supplies or horses, but it was clear that soldiering was a role for men in Kigali, on the whole.
Time to find out what I’ve fallen into.
She looked to Zandaril, riding to her right, on the outside. What, in case I make a break for it on Lead-foot here?
“So, where are we, exactly? What’s this all about?” She gestured at the moving squadron below them.
Zandaril turned his horse’s head uphill. “Follow me.”
They rode a hundred yards at a slant to the top of the low, grass-covered ridge and reined in their horses. The chill wind from earlier in the morning freshened the air and she inhaled deeply. From where she was, on horseback, Penrys estimated she could see about thirty miles. The air was exhilarating, but the view was not—in all directions, grasslands on rolling ground stretched out, interrupted by occasional wooded streams, with no sign of habitations anywhere.
Zandaril smiled at her expression. “Not what you expected, eh?”
“I thought there was this big river, and mountains all the way around.”
“That’s right. Let me explain.” He used his hands to illustrate. “We are in the center of the world here.” His deep voice made the pronouncement sound irrefutable.
She laughed at the hyperbole.
He glanced at her, deadpan. “I’m only repeating what the Kigaliwen say. We Zannib say the same thing about our own land—so does everyone.
“Have you seen the steppe hounds, the ones with the long, thin bodies and elegant necks?”
“I’ve seen drawings,” Penrys said.
“So. Think of one, facing right, to the east, lying down on its belly, its head erect like the noble beast it is, with a leg stretched out in front, and an extra-long tail with a puff at the end.” He cupped his hands in the air to represent the puff.
She smiled at the image, and he nodded in encouragement.
“That is the world. Now,” he held up a finger, “Your Ellech is the hinge of the open mouth between the long snout and the heavy mountains and frozen ears of the upper face. Yes?”
“I can see that.”
“Good. We will not waste time on the over-lengthy neck, with its hot and uncivilized peoples, but come with me down to the body of the hound. Here there are bands along the side, like the coloring of the actual beast.” He swept his hands back and forth.
“On the spine and the shoulder are two nations—Fastar to the west, and Ndant in the east.”
His hands sketched out rough forms in the air. His low voice lent gravity to his description.
“Below them is a line, the Kunlau Mountains. That is the northern border of Kigali. But Kigali is also the chest where it meets the sea, and the beginning of the foreleg, and part of the front belly. You see? Yenit Ping, the Endless City with its great harbor, is on this belly piece.”
“The capital?” she said.
He nodded. “From there, Kigali merchants sail all over the world. From Kwattu, too, on the chest. That’s how they send goods to your Collegium, without going all the tedious way around the front leg first.”
He leaned closer, conspiratorially, though no one was within hundreds of yards of them to overhear, and dropped his voice even lower. “Kigali wants Shirtan-pur, too, the harbor on the spine at the base of the tail, but it doesn’t belong to them.”
He pointed northwest of their current position.
“It’s that way. You go up the Neshikame river to the end, then overland a bit through Lomat, then down the Kabanchir. If they had that, they’d have a harbor on all three sides of the hound’s body. Merchants, they want that. Very good for business. But it means war. No decisions yet.”
“Is this something recent?” Penrys asked.
“No, no—many generations. Sometime merchants push, sometimes not. But never final. Always problem. Sometimes Rasesdad, sometimes Fastar. Sometimes both.”
He waved his hand as if to dismiss the unresolved territorial ambitions of Kigali.
“Now we come to the middle band of the hound’s body, below the mountains. This is the valley of the Junkawa, the Mother of Rivers.”
“The largest river in the world.”
He smiled at the remark.
“Yes, exactly. Two big rivers, running east. They join at Jonggep, the Meeting of Waters, and reach the sea at Yenit Ping. Many little rivers and not so little rivers go to them. Most of Kigaliwen are on a river somewhere.”
He looked at her. “We are now between the north branch, the Neshikame, and the main south branch, Seguchi, four hundred miles west of Jonggep.”
“The hound’s liver?” she suggested.
That surprised a grin and a nod from Zandaril. “The nearest mountains in any direction are the Lang Nor, the Red Wall, about three hundred miles west of here. This whole valley, if you can call it that, is roughly six hundred miles wide, north to south. A giant valley for a giant river.”
She pulled her reins to keep her horse from cropping grass with his bit in place. He raised his head and shook it, and the bit clattered. She patted him absently in apology, then leaned forward to scratch his poll.
“What about the Zannib?” she asked.
“Ah, we are more modest, as befits the rest of the belly and the back leg. Between us and Kigali are the Ardib Yakush, what they call the Minchang Mountains. We have not so many rivers, but much grass and fine horses, all the way to the cold sea at the bottom of the world.”
“So I see.” Penrys cocked her head at his mount, the small, shaggy horse she associated with steppe nomads.
“Yes, I brought my lubr mar-az, my string, with me when I came to join. Everything had to come on horseback over the passes, no wagon. Chang let me use a wagon. And Hing Ganau.”
“This horse, too?” She gestured at her sturdy mount.
“He is from the troop herd. But is he not fine, in his own way?” he intoned.
“Very fine. He can probably keep a walk going all day long. I’ve named him Vekkenfet, Lead-Foot.”
He grinned again. “Ah, but wait—I am not finished. I forgot the rump of our hound, and part of the tail. That belongs to Rasesdad, who borders both our lands, Kigali and sarq-Zannib.
“Not all neighbors can be friends,” he said, glancing at her slyly. “The Rasesni, maybe they have friends up the tail, but they have few here on the body.”
“But they’re mountain folk, aren’t they, not a great nation?” Penrys tried to recall the geography books she had glanced at in the Collegium.
“For people who are not a great nation, they are big pains in the rear of this hound.” He smiled at the image.
“So. Word came downstream from the western border of raids and people evacuating. Neshilik has always these problems. The Rasesni would take back more of the headwaters if they could, and so they test Kigali readiness to defend them. Every generation or two, they do this. If they can ever reclaim and hold the land up to the gorge at Seguchi Norwan, the gates of the Seguchi, it might be difficult even for the Kigaliwen to shove them out again.”
“The gorge?” she asked.
“You’ll see. In about two weeks.”
Penrys sat her horse and digested the information. That’s another three hundred miles, at the usual pace. So what’s this Zan fellow doing here, in the middle of Kigali?
“What brought you into this expedition?” she asked.
“The Kigaliwen are great merchants and not bad farmers. They build well, too. Make things.”
He gave her a sidelong look. “But they are not famed for their wizards. Not like the Zannib.”
She stifled a smile, apparently unsuccessfully, for he frowned at her.
“With the first word out of Neshilik came stories that spoke of wizards. The Rasesni are like the Kigaliwen—no wizards—so where does this come from? Where? Or is it a lie?”
He straightened in his saddle. “Commander Chang was appointed to lead this expedition, I suppose because he was already at Jonggep, the Meeting of Waters. Or because he is experienced.”
“Or both,” she said.
“Or both. Chang asked for assistance from sarq-Zannib, and we listened. Neshilik is on our border, too, and so is Rasesdad, to the west. I agreed to come, and joined him just after they started west.”
“Why did you volunteer?” His deep voice was misleading—every time she studied him she was surprised how much younger he looked than he sounded. Looking for adventure, were you?
He spent a few moments fussing over his mare’s mane before answering, with his face turned away.
“I have been to Kigali before, several times. I have visited their cities. It… interests me, how they do things, how they organize things.”
He glanced over at her to see if she understood what he meant.
“This expedition, it is like a building project in some ways—it is an organized response to a problem. I have not traveled with soldiers before, so all of this is new experience for me.”
“We do not organize like this, in sarq-Zannib. The Zannib-hubr have independent routes for our taridiqa, our annual migration, and even the Zannib-taghr work independently, farm independently. Our merchants do things in small groups, not large ones—not the caravans, not our western fishermen. Even our clans and tribes are small, compared to Kigali.”
He gestured at his turban, and Penrys wondered if that identified his clan, if she but knew how to decode it.
“Wizards work alone. If something happens, we talk about it. A lot. And do little.”
He looked over at the soldiers riding steadily along.
“Long time we have been friends with Kigali. Trading partners. Kigali stands between us and all others. They fight for both of us.”
He turned to face her directly. “This is not proper, for adult peoples. It is not safe. How will we fight, if we have to?
“I am a wizard, so I am interested in how to organize wizards. This is my journeyman project, how I become a master. I would like to go to your Collegium and find out, but it is too far away and, besides, maybe I don’t meet their standards. So, I go with troopers instead during my tulqiqa, my journey time, so I can at least learn this.”
He set his mare on a downward diagonal off the low ridge and cantered slowly back to the level they’d started at, expecting her to follow, but refusing to turn his head to see if she did.
I’d be more impressed with that if I thought the sound of Vekkenfet’s hooves trotting behind him weren’t audible.
He would never have fit in at the Collegium, I think. They don’t organize either, not really—they’d rather work alone, too, even if they speak about sharing knowledge.
She pursed her lips. So what happened last night? What are they marching into?
Penrys caught up with Zandaril once he’d fallen back into a walk to keep abreast of the troopers.
He seemed to have thrown off his embarrassment at revealing so much of his personal feelings, and smiled at her when she trotted up at her horse’s stately speed. “See, he can go fast enough to run down Badaz when you want.”
Falcon, it meant. She ignored the tease. “What about last night? Where did that mirror come from?”
He sobered. “What about you? Where did you come from? Geography lesson free. Time for trading now.”
All right. Why not? I don’t have to tell him everything. “Agreed,” she said. “You first.”
Their horses walked companionably side by side, Zandaril again on the outside.
“Mirror was a stupid trick. Stupid for us, I mean. Old mirror, used by Chang whenever he travels.”
“Part of his furnishings, you mean? For his own tent?” she asked.
“Right. Last night, first time, it spoke to us, showed us Menbyede of Rasesdad.” He wrinkled a lip. “So it said.”
“In the command tent. With the senior officers.”
“Bad idea. I examined it while Rasesni talked. Don’t know how it worked. Picked up a cloth to throw over it, then… nothing.”
“You were frozen in place.”
He nodded. “I saw you. Pop! Then… thump, as you fell down.”
Penrys felt herself flush. “I was in my workroom. I’d tried my little model of a ryskymmer and it seemed fine. So I got inside the framework of the full-sized detector to make the same adjustment. There was this one lower joint I thought was the problem. When I stepped back out and tried it again, it didn’t work. I did this three more times. It was exasperating. Finally, I just gave the thing a good whack, not remembering I was in the wrong place.”
“And that time it worked,” he said.
“Yeah, I was stupid, too. I never thought it would go far if it did work, anyway, so I wasn’t worried. The more fool me.”
She glanced at him. “I still don’t know what happened, exactly.”
She rode in silence for a moment, the ache in her unaccustomed muscles from the morning’s ride grounding her in the reality that she had come a quarter of the world from her refuge in the time it took her to fall to the ground. Try again with a new device, built in a wagon from scraps, or walk home? Great choice. And what do I do for power-stones?
“What are you thinking?”
The low voice interrupted her thoughts.
“I was thinking about the difficulty of getting home. Getting back, anyway,” she said.
“Everyone wants to go home sometimes.”
She muttered, “Doesn’t feel like home. Just someplace I… work.”
“Work is good. But it is not the same.”
She grimaced. “Your turn now. What did the Rasesni say and what did you do with the mirror?”
He grinned broadly. “This Menbyede, he said we should not bother coming, that he had already taken back Neshilik and fortified the Seguchi Norwan gorge with fine new weapons. He was prepared to talk treaty terms, instead, and warned that we were surrounded. Here! In the heart of Kigali!”
He slapped his thigh. “Our blood was hot, and then we were… stopped. Very angry, and nothing we could do. Maybe he lied about attack, but maybe not.”
“Then, when you released Chang, he bluffed right back. Excellent plan. Now Rasesni don’t know what happened. Don’t know about you. Don’t know why it didn’t work the way they wanted. And we are still coming to Neshilik.”
He straightened up as if he were about to charge that instant.
Penrys hooked a thumb down at the expedition. “But isn’t that an awfully small force against an invasion?”
“Who says Kigali is invaded? Kigali is very, very big. Very many people. Rasesni live in mountains—not so many people. They attack Neshilik, yes, and they have some new weapon, yes, but more likely this is all a trick to make Kigali give up. We go to see what is really happening. Then we fix it, or we send for real army. Army has a long way to travel, but they are not easy to stop.”
He looked at her. “I think maybe we fix it. We have new weapon, too.”
Her ears drew back on her scalp. “Me, you mean.”
“Of course, you.” He stared at her with friendly interest. “What can you do?”
Despite herself, Penrys could feel her face freeze. What can I do, is it? Well, that’s a change from Aergon and his colleagues. They just wanted to know what I was—the rest didn’t matter. Here at least maybe I can be useful.
“Um, you know about the languages.” She paused. “I didn’t think—would you rather we spoke wirqiqa-Zannib together?”
He shook his head. “I need practice with Kigali-yat.” He stopped with his mouth half open and crinkled his brow. “But you do not get Kigali-yat from me? You speak it better than I do.”
“No, I’m using them.” She pointed down at the troopers.
“Ah! So, how far can you go for language?”
Farther than I’m willing to admit. For now. “Pretty far.”
His expression told her the evasion had not gone unnoticed, but he let it pass.
*And this? You can hear this?*
She answered him just as silently. *As you know from last night.*
“Not all wizards can do this,” he commented, “to speak in this way.”
You have no idea. Almost none in the Collegium. And the few who did didn’t understand how to take it further. “Is it common among the Zannib wizards?”
He pursed his lips while he considered.
“Almost all—it’s usually how we first know we are maybe going to be nal-jarghal, apprentices. It is a great blow when a young wizard fails at this, for it is harder for him to find teachers.”
All! They’d be wasted at the Collegium.
The cry of a hawk hunting overhead drew both their gazes and gave her time to recompose her expression. “Do you study all in one place, then, like they do in Ellech?”
“No, very different. Some taghulaj, teachers, they specialize in the young ones, giving them basic instruction and keeping them from trouble—those usually live a settled life in the winter villages. As younglings, those who want to pursue the craft seek out a mentor willing to take them on, if a parent can’t do it, and they stay together until both are satisfied or the student is dismissed.” More quietly, he added, “Or the student dismisses his taghulaj.”
Penrys filed that away for later. “So, is there a place, a repository, where all, um, craft knowledge is kept?”
“Sushnib, books, you mean. Wizards have their own books and pass them along to other wizards, their friends or students. Like I said, it is not organized, the way the Collegium is.”
She could see the envy in his eyes. It’s not fair to let him cherish that illusion.
“It’s not what you think, the Collegium.” She touched the chain at her throat. “The books are there, like you’d expect, and the wizards and students can use them, but they don’t talk to each other, not about important things, and new books, serious ones, don’t get written. The senior staff, they’re mostly off working on their own narrow specialty, focused on past glories. The young ones, well, if they don’t make themselves fit in, they don’t last long.”
He narrowed his eyes. “I do not think you fit in, with your new detector.”
Devices, experiments, disruptions—no, I do not fit in.
“What do your wizards do? How are they useful?” Zandaril put the question politely but Penrys thought he was on the verge of outrage.
She spoke frankly. “I am not involved in Ellech politics, sheltered at the Collegium, but it seemed to me they do not do much of anything of worth, except produce more wizards like themselves—qualified, unimaginative, and timid. The knowledge is there, but not the will to try new things, to fail until something works. The merchants come with requests, sometimes, but not much happens.”
He laughed. “Almost you make me glad I have not gone there. If it weren’t for the books…”
“Yes, if it weren’t for the books.”
They walked on together for a few moments, upright but swaying slightly to accommodate the movements of their horses. Breakfast was beginning to seem like a distant memory to Penrys and she unhooked the canteen that was affixed to the saddle, hoping that a couple of swallows of tepid water would mollify her stomach for now.
Zandaril waited until she was done.
“You are hungry? We will all stop when the sun is high, but we can find something for you now if we ride down.”
“No, I can wait. Thanks.” She tried to remember whose turn it was, but Zandaril beat her to it.
“You knew the mind-glows last night, the ones who couldn’t bespeak. I showed you Chang and Kep, and you shielded them from the Rasesni.”
“What about them, below?” He cocked his head at the moving men and baggage train.
She opened her mind briefly. “Too many to count, but in range.”
He paused. “Horses?”
She smiled. He was clever. “Yes, animals, too. Have to be choosy about that—do you have any idea how many critters live in the grasslands around us?”
He grinned wolfishly at her. “Dangerous mice, must be careful or they’ll attack.” He glanced up. “Hawk would like that.”
“Can you…?” she asked.
“Not the same for me. Just the mind-glows nearby, and only people.”
He cocked his head and looked at her. “Maybe you can teach me, bikrajti.”
“I can try. Um, sometimes that gets a bit… personal. More than mind-speech gets through.”
At his expectant look, she added, “I don’t recommend that lesson on horseback.”
“Tonight, then, after dinner.” He nodded briskly as if it were all set. “Language, too?”
What have I started? “I don’t know if that can be taught.”
“Maybe we can practice on your language.”
Her muscles tensed. “And what would that be?” she muttered, bitterly. At his look of puzzlement, she continued, “Do you know Ellechen-guma? We can try that.”
Zandaril closed the sushnibtudin and retied the heavy cords over the leather wrapping that enfolded the trunk. Putting aside the volume he’d extracted, he shifted it back into its place in the corner of the wagon and evaluated the cleared area he’d left free for lessons, in front of the sacks of beans that still made up most of its load. The square carpet that filled it, with its border pattern of intertwining vines in a riot of colors brought a fond smile to his face. It was good that the jimiz, the scholar’s rug, could serve its proper purpose, even if this would be a meeting between bikrajab, not a lesson from taghulaj to irghulaj, teacher to student. This is my first offer of nibar, hospitality, as one bikraj to another. Not what I expected.
He could have used their tent, but he’d wanted more privacy for this. He’d sent Hing Ganau off and now all he was waiting for was his guest. Or prisoner. Or even, if Chang’s worse fears had any basis, a spy.
He didn’t think the latter was true, any longer, not after a day in the saddle together, exchanging stories, asking careful questions. He wanted to know much more, but better to go at it slowly, in these long days covering the vast distances, feeling his way, rather than damage, by clumsy interrogation, what he thought could become an alliance of colleagues. For all her peculiarities, he thought Penrys might have much to teach him.
He did, however, take his responsibilities seriously, and Chang had put her in his charge. He kept a mind-touch on her while she took care of “private matters” after dinner, just to confirm her location. She’d offered as much when she brought it up. “Better a mind-touch than a tether,” she’d said.
He felt her approach now and moved forward to greet her as she came to the back of the wagon and walked up the steps that Hing had placed there.
“Come in,” he said. “I’ve made us a place. You can lean against that.” He pointed at a partly filled bean sack over which he had draped his red uthah, the printed mythical animal figures seeming to move in the lantern’s light.
“This is for you, for now.” He presented the sushnib to her with both hands, pleased with her obvious delight. She ran a hand over the cover and held it up to her face to sniff at it, then she opened it to look at its contents while walking blindly to her place, and stumbled a bit over the sack as she settled herself cross-legged on the rug, still intent on the pages.
Zandaril smiled to himself. Anyone that clumsy should walk first and read later.
She looked up as he seated himself and leaned against another sack draped in his sky-tree uthah, all blues and greens.
“This is a basic primer on magic, for a young student, isn’t it?” she said. “What are you doing with something like that? Did you learn from it, yourself?”
“Yes, it’s the one I used. Good to be prepared when you meet a new student.”
“It’s cut down from a scroll, isn’t it? Don’t see many like this at the Collegium.”
“It’s sturdier, as pages between boards. Hard to get rid of the curl, though—it’s an art, flattening the parchment of an older work to bind it like this.”
She grunted, and lifted a page to note the absence of text on what would have been the back of a scroll.
He baited his trap. “But I thought you would need help with the letters.”
“Not when you’re so close,” she said, absently, buried again in the first few paragraphs. Then she started, and shifted her glance to him in alarm.
“Ah. So it is more than language, is it?” he asked, mildly, and watched her cheeks redden. Through his soft mind-touch he could feel her chagrin. The flickering light from the lantern hanging low overhead from the central bow supporting the canvas cast deceptive shadows over her face, but her mind was not so easily disguised.
“So,” he said. “Can you show me?” More softly, “Will you show me?”
She exhaled and lifted a finger as if to ask him to wait a moment. “When you said it was hard for a student to find a mentor if he couldn’t mind-speak, what did you mean? How do you use it with your teacher?”
“The teacher shows the student what to do, how it looks, from the…”
“From the inside?” she suggested.
“What about private thoughts?” she said. “Unintentional sharing?”
“That is not done,” he said, drawing himself up.
“Isn’t done, or can’t be done?” she persisted.
On the point of sputtering a reply, Zandaril caught himself. She deserves an honest answer.
“It is not proper to try, but I cannot say that it is impossible. There are rumors of wedded couples, close friends…”
She smiled faintly.
“But there are also rumors of powerful men, misuse…”
She nodded as if he had confirmed something for her.