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Authors: Edith Pattou

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BOOK: Hero's Song
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"There are worse things than hurr-burrs," replied Brie, pulling up on the mare's reins.

"Perhaps, but that doesn't make their bite any less sharp," countered Talisen testily.

"I believe it does."

"Have you always been so stoic, Breo-Saight?"

"My father raised me so."

"Is that so? Tell me, are you your father's only son?"

"Yes," Brie answered shortly.

"I think not."

"I beg your pardon?"

With a sly grin, Talisen suddenly dipped into a low bow. He began to recite in a singsong voice, "'A father's child, a mother's child, yet no one's son.' Am I not right...
m'lady?
"

Collun stared down at Talisen. "What brand of nonsense is this?"

Talisen laughed and said to Brie, whose face had turned a vivid shade of red, "You can't deceive a bard when it comes to the fair sex. We are a sensitive breed, you know."

Brie glared at Talisen, her eyes like lightning in a storm. "I am a warrior and a marksman, no matter what my sex, and I understand little of the sensitivities of a bard!"

"Temper, temper, my dear girl. I believe I will re-name you Flame-girl. Much more apt than Fire Arrow, don't you think?"

Brie swung the horse around furiously, urging it forward.

"Is it true?" Collun asked, staring at the back of Brie's head.

At first she did not answer. Then, stopping the mare, she turned toward Collun. "Yes," she said simply.

Collun stared at her. "I do not understand. Why do you disguise yourself?"

Brie swung herself off the horse and Collun followed. "I am the daughter of a warrior who wanted a son," Brie began. "When I was a babe, my father laid the marksman's bow and arrow on my chest, even though I was a girl. My mother had died bearing me, and when my father realized there would be no son for him, he trained me as he would a boy. I learned quickly and he
was pleased. When I first started traveling on my own, I was often mistaken for a boy. I decided it was easier and safer to maintain the charade."

"I never guessed." Collun examined her face closely, trying to picture her with longer hair and wearing feminine clothes. She was not beautiful—not, at least, the way Nessa or Emer was. Yet Brie's face had strength, with angles and shadows that drew his eyes. Her limbs were lithe, he realized now, in a way that most boys' were not.

He saw something else in her eyes, something unknowable, sadness perhaps, mixed with something darker.

"Of all people, it is extraordinary that
he
"—she gestured back toward Talisen, who was plucking hurr-burrs off the pony's coat as he muttered encouraging words to the stubborn animal—"should have seen through my disguise. There are only one or two others who know the truth."

"We shall not reveal what you do not wish revealed," Collun promised.

She turned and smiled at him. There was a radiance in her face when she smiled that made Collun stare. He dropped his gaze quickly.

Brie's smile dimmed as she cast a doubtful glance back toward Talisen.

"Do not worry," Collun said. "Talisen can keep a secret when he understands it is important to do so. I will tell him."

"Thank you."

The weather stayed fair and their progress the next day was even better than the two before. But just before
twilight, as they came to the top of a rise high enough to command a view of much of the surrounding countryside, they spotted a band of riders coming up behind them. They were too far off to recognize, but the companions all had the same thought: Scathians.

Brie quickly led them down the other side of the rise and along the bottom of the moor. For the next several hours they traveled hard, moving at the fastest pace the pony could muster.

They finally came to a large stream. Brie urged the mare forward. After hesitating a few moments, the animal plunged into the water, which came up to her knees. The pony took a little more cajoling, but it, too, went in. Talisen let out a groan as the chilly water filled his boots.

"It will make it harder for the Scathians to track us," said Brie.

"If you don't mind fish swimming between your toes," Talisen grumbled.

They traveled along in the stream until dawn, when they ate and rested for several hours. Then they resumed the same urgent pace of the night before, zigzagging across the land and trying to keep away from the tops of the moors, where their pursuers might be able to spot them.

By late afternoon Brie felt confident they had shaken the Scathians, at least for the time being.

They made camp that night on the far side of a hill.

"The Forest of Eld is not far now," said Brie as they rubbed down the travel-weary animals. "And once we get through the forest, Temair is less than a week's journey beyond."

"How long will it take to get through Eld?" asked Collun.

Brie shrugged. "It is hard to say. At best nine or ten days."

While searching for kindling, Collun noticed a strange kind of ivy growing near their campsite. He had never seen its like before—thick black stems with broad leaves shot through with dull red veins. It grew along the ground in a dense mass, clinging mostly to the opposite side of the hill on which they were camped.

That night, as they ate the last of Job Wall's provisions, Collun became aware of a strange odor. It smelled like something dead that had been lying in the sun too long. Perhaps there was a skunk nearby, he thought.

Then Talisen drew out his harp and badgered Brie into teaching him several songs she knew. Collun found himself feeling envious when he heard how well Brie and Talisen harmonized.

"One more," Talisen urged as Brie began to yawn. But she suddenly let out a small cry. A tendril of green was shooting up her leg, winding round and round her calf, her knee, her thigh. The ivy Collun had noticed on the other side of the hill had crept into their campsite and was growing at an impossible rate.

Talisen dropped his harp and reached down to push away a tendril that had begun to encircle his ankles. Collun heard the pony let out a terrified bray. He looked over to see it and the mare kicking out at a mass of green that was clutching their legs. The pony went down, then the mare.

Suddenly Collun felt pressure on his ankle and looked down to see a green shoot climbing his own leg. When
he put his hand down to fend it off, it changed course to wind around his hand and up his arm.

The plant was tough. When Collun tried to lift his arm, it wouldn't budge. It felt as if it had been bound by metal bands. Meanwhile, ivy swarmed up his other leg, and no matter how he struggled or tried to squirm away, the tendrils kept winding and cinching. Soon Collun could not move his legs at all.

By now Brie was almost completely encased. The ivy even concealed her face. A squirming, shouting Talisen was covered to his shoulders, arms bound to his sides.

Collun had managed to keep his other arm free by sticking it straight out to the side, and his hand found a knife they had been using to cut cheese and bread for their meal. It was not the dagger his father had made for him, but its edge was almost as sharp. He brought the blade down hard on the thick stem of the vine that imprisoned his right hand. Though his movements were clumsy, he made direct contact.

To his horror the knife didn't even score the surface of the thick stem. Even as he sawed, an ivy shoot spiraled up his left arm and back down, binding the arm awkwardly across his chest, the knife still in his hand.

The three travelers and their animals were now completely sheathed. The only sounds that could be heard were the crackling of the campfire and the pulsing, scratching noise the ivy made as it blanketed the hill.

Collun could see out of only one eye; the other was sealed shut by an ivy stem. His nostrils were only partially covered, so he was still able to breathe. The smell was not like that of any ordinary plant, and he realized
this was the rotten odor he had noticed earlier. The stench made him gag.

The vine was still growing. Collun knew it was only a matter of time before his sight and his breath were cut off for good. He struggled against panic. He remembered, as if from a long time ago, Emer's voice as she pressed the lucky stone in his hand. "So you will know that even as you lose your breath, it will always come back." But the lucky stone was in the dagger that had been a trine, which was now buried at his waist under layers of ivy.

Then through his one open eye Collun suddenly spotted a figure stride up to the campsite. He blinked to make sure the flickering light of the fire was not playing tricks. No, someone was there. His head was cocked to one side, as if he was studying the scene that lay before him.

Moving quickly, the stranger crossed to their pile of kindling. He removed a long slender branch. He deftly stripped the branch of smaller offshoots, then, still crouching, placed his hand around one end. He stayed motionless in that position for several moments. Collun could swear he heard the faint sound of music through the blood roaring in his ears.

Collun could not feel his toes anymore. The ivy was pulling tighter and tighter around his legs. The pain made him dizzy. Then he felt a stinging sensation as though his skin were being pierced by hundreds of sharp needles.

The stranger abruptly rose and, still holding his hand over the end of the branch, crossed to the green bundle that was Talisen. He knelt beside the mound of ivy and
slowly took his hand from the branch. A soft pink light glowed from its tip. In the faint light Collun could just see the stranger's face. He had fair hair and his lips were moving. Now Collun was sure that he was singing.

The figure took the glowing end of the branch and ran it along Talisen's body. Though his vision wavered, it looked to Collun as though the ivy was shriveling and falling away from Talisen's body. Then a green tendril snaked across Collun's open eye, forcing it shut, and he saw no more. Ivy pressed against his nostrils and the choking smell of decay filled his nose and mouth. It was harder and harder to breathe. His lungs were bursting.

Through the haze, he felt someone crouch beside him. He dimly heard Talisen's voice. It was as if he were in a deep hole and Talisen was calling to him from above. They were playing hide-me-and-find-me, back behind the smithy. That roaring noise must be the sound of his father's furnace. Why couldn't Talisen find him? What was taking him so long?

Suddenly he felt something wet and cool on his lips and someone blowing into his mouth. "Talisen, stop that," he protested. "It was a good hiding place. You couldn't find me..." He stopped short. What had happened? Why couldn't he move his legs? Then he saw Talisen's anxious face hovering over him and the dark eyes of Breo-Saight. Of course. The ivy. He took a deep breath of air, then another, and another.

The stranger with the golden hair was leaning over Collun's legs, holding the branch with the pink light at the end, which now seemed dimmer than before. He was running the pink light along the stem of the ivy around Collun's leg, and as he did so, the ivy withered
and fell away. Talisen and Brie were pulling away the dead vine.

Soon Collun was able to sit up and help them draw the long tendrils away from his body. He took sidelong glances at their mysterious rescuer. The stranger's face was very pale and was covered with a fine film of moisture. He was small, a head shorter than Talisen, and wore simple clothing of white and blue. His golden hair was longer than theirs and curled down the back of his neck.

As he rose, before crossing to the mare and pony, he met Collun's gaze. The stranger's eyes were silver. The golden-haired figure was an Ellyl.

SEVEN
The Ellyl

When he had run his fading pink light down the last of the ivy covering the two animals, the Ellyl looked from one to the other of them. His eyelids flickered slightly with fatigue. Then he smiled gently, lay down on the ground, and was soon fast asleep.

Talisen bent over and picked up the branch the Ellyl had used to free them from the ivy. The end that had glowed with pink light now looked slightly charred.

"He is an Ellyl, isn't he?" Collun said, breaking the silence.

"Yes," replied Brie.

Collun stood, disentangling the last remnant of dead ivy from his ankle. He noticed there were tiny pink
marks on his bare skin and minuscule holes in his clothing. "I have never seen anything like it," he said. "It was as if the vine was alive."

"And wanted us dead," responded Talisen with a shudder. "Thank Amergin the Ellyl came along when he did."

Suddenly a knee-high white shape glided into the clearing. Talisen let out a shout and jumped back, as if at a ghost.

"What is it?" he whispered loudly.

At first Collun thought the animal was a cat. Its movements were lithe and feline. But it was larger than a cat, and its legs were longer. It had a thick tail, almost as long as its body.

The animal turned its head toward Collun at that moment. The white fur of the animal's forehead bore a star-shaped burst of gold, and its eyes were large and silver. Though the ears were pointed and alert, it was not the face of a cat.

"I think it is called a faol," said Brie, her eyes kindling with interest. "It is an Ellyl animal—part cat, part wolf." As the white creature approached, Brie knelt and put out her hand.

"Brie..." Collun began in alarm. The faol did not look like a tame animal. There was a fierceness and arrogance in the face and in the way it moved.

But to Collun's surprise the faol arrested its movements and lifted its head to sniff Brie's fingers. The animal's silver eyes even closed halfway as it allowed Brie to lightly run the backs of her fingers along its spine. Then it opened its eyes, stared unblinking at Brie for several moments, and resumed its course. It came to a
stop beside the Ellyl's golden head. With almost regal grace the faol lay down, resting its head on its paws. It looked prepared to keep a vigil over the Ellyl for some time.

"I always thought Ellylon were supposed to be small, with little wings for flying," Talisen said, taking a step closer to the Ellyl. But he jumped back when the faol narrowed its eyes and lifted its upper lip, revealing a row of sharp teeth.

BOOK: Hero's Song
6.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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