Kindrie’s first coherent memory is sitting in Rawneth’s lap.
It isn’t his very first memory. He remembers a woman’s hair, and a perfume that smells like grass and ink. But that memory, though vivid, is hazy and doesn’t match anyone he remembers.
But once, when Kindrie was very little, Rawneth held him on her lap. They were seated at her writing desk in her personal rooms, her gown brilliantly embroidered and covered in tiny, glittering stones that left an imprint on his cheek when he leaned against her shoulder. She smelled of petitgrain and winter lilies, and Kindrie had loved her fiercely at that moment.
Of course, she had only held him there so that she could place his hand on a scrap of parchment while she read strange words from an oddly-bound book. When the parchment grew the tiny green tendrils of a clinging vine and began to climb into her hair, she threw it, him, and the book all three across the desk in disgust. Kindrie thinks it was the first time she ever touched him.
It would explain a lot, really.
On the day Kindrie ran across the courtyard at Wilden to throw himself through the doors of the Priests College, Elder Valderon had placed a welcoming hand on the boy's shoulder and smiled warmly at him. It was a chance to start again, so Kindrie smiled back shakily and ignored the sense of familiarity tickling at the back of his mind. After all, none of the novices were terrified of Valderon the way everyone was terrified of Rawneth. The fact that he liked Kindrie... was just a fact.
Looking back, Kindrie can see that there were warning signs. There were days when Valderon was a little too interested in keeping Kindrie with him and away from the other novices. On occasions, he was a little bit short with Kindrie's eagerness to practice the Senetha, and pushed the boy further in his healing practice than any of the other instructors thought wise. Still, he often said that Kindrie would always have a place beside him, which made the rest easier to overlook. Even Rawneth hadn't taken such a personal interest in Kindrie's talents, no matter how much he tried to please her.
Unfortunately, those moments led here, to Kindrie sitting at Valderon's desk, in the elder's high-backed chair. The surface of the desk is slate inlaid on heartwood, smooth and shimmering in the captured light from the diamantine panels in the low ceiling. The room smells of leftover incense and bitter mushrooms, the same smell that clings to Valderon himself. Kindrie loves that smell.
He doesn't love the book in front of him, filled in the same odd writing that Rawneth had studied. Kindrie could do without that. It isn't the same book, either. This one is bound in warm green leather, the stitches along the spine sewn evenly with glittering thread, not the patchwork bundle tied with sinew that Kindrie still keeps in a hidden corner of the kitchen pantry. He hadn't been able to force himself to leave it behind, and Rawneth had never asked after it. She had others. Apparently, she isn't the only one.
Kindrie looks up to find Valderon studying his expression intently.
"It frightens you, doesn't it?" Valderon asks gently.
Kindrie nods, not trusting his voice, and keeps his hand folded tightly in his lap.
Valderon reaches out to clasp his shoulder. "Then you're a smart boy. This world's magic is a dangerous thing." The fingers squeeze more tightly. "But do we dare to keep ourselves in ignorance, and leave this tool as a weapon in the hands of others?"
Kindrie knows Valderon wants him to agree to study the book together, but the old man can't possibly understand how dangerous it is. The memories rush in, one after another. The parchment incident. The time the water in the bath turned to acid and ate through three feet of solid stone. Once Kindrie’s reflection reached out of the mirror and tried to strangle him --
"We can't!" Kindrie flushes, embarrassed at the thin panic in his voice. "It’s evil."
"It’s only a tool," Valderon responds. "The Witch-King mastered it for the good of his people, and his acts, though harsh, are hardly evil. The magic merely reflects the character of the person who masters it."
Kindrie closes his eyes for a moment. That’s exactly what he always suspected. When he opens them again, he frowns down at his hands, still twisted tightly in his lap. "I. Elder. I." He takes a deep breath. "I shouldn’t do this."
"Kindrie." Valderon sighs and drops his hand from Kindrie's shoulder. "I had hoped, by this time, that you might be willing to call me Uncle."
Kindrie knows he ought to argue. He ought to refuse. If Valderon was ever a good man – and Kindrie has few doubts about this, and those only because he can’t imagine families throwing their children to the priesthood without some significant proof – that goodness might not survive much longer.
But Kindrie has never been good at turning down affection. "I. Of course." Kindrie has to stop and swallow the lump in his throat. He’ll just have to be very, very careful. "Uncle."
Valderon's smile lights up the room more than the diamantine panels, and he reaches out to stroke Kindrie's hair like petting a cat. "Very good, my boy."
Kindrie lets his eyes drift shut, trying to calm his racing mind. He can do this. He just has to be stronger.
"We'll start with the pronunciation first, shall we?" Valderon's voice is confident, commanding. "Simple words, and you should be able to pick up the meanings as we go."
Valderon's voice calls to mind all their lessons on the runes. The old man's fingers would trace the motion on the page, and it would waken sparks behind Kindrie's eyes. If he told Valderon that he could read every word in this book, wouldn’t it make the old man happier? They could do such amazing things together. Such terrible things.
Kindrie shivers, and he wishes it were fear. He wishes he were a good person. "Of course, Uncle."
Kindrie's dreams are always dark things. He dreams sometimes of laughter that draws him across a blighted landscape of shades and shadows. Sometimes, he dreams of blood. The dreams only bother him when he wakes up.
This time, the darkness finds him in a courtyard he barely remembers. It was sunny when he saw it last, but the stars hang full and bright above it now. Kindrie knows it's still a dream by the way the stars dance, slightly out of focus.
But Rawneth is there. Her dress is darker than the sky above them, pooling around her feet like the froth at the base of a waterfall.
"Kindrie, my dear boy," she says with a mocking smile. "How I've missed you."
"M’Lady," Kindrie manages, but can’t find any words to come after that. He wants to run, but in the way of dreams, he can’t make himself turn around. He recognizes the courtyard at Wilden, and behind him in the waking world would be the door to the Priests’ College. Kindrie is afraid of what he might find instead, in this dream.
"I thought you might be worth something, some day," she goes on, as if he hadn’t spoken at all. "And now I find you playing with dangerous toys again."
Kindrie is suddenly convinced that anything he says in this dream, Rawneth will hear. She’ll know, and then she’ll take Kindrie away from the Priests College and any chance he has at redemption. "I don't want to be. It won't be like last time."
His obvious terror makes her smile widen. "Oh no, my dear boy. That wouldn’t do at all."
Kindrie gapes up at her as she drifts closer. The hem of her dress pulls at his feet, more like a small animal than water.
"I think it will be fascinating to see what you’ll do, when you can do anything at all." Her hand takes forever to reach out to his face, but he can’t move away. "Some day --"
Her fingers dig into his jaw, and Kindrie can feel the blood start to drip down. He still can’t move, her eyes growing larger until they’re all he can see.
"-- Some day everyone will know exactly what you are."
Kindrie wakes with a start, his heart pounding so hard he wonders for a moment if he’s going to die. It would be ironic for a healer to die of a heart attack, but if anyone could make it happen, Rawneth could, he thinks wildly.
There is blood seeping down his neck and into the collar of his nightshirt. Kindrie touches the wound automatically, and the flesh knits under his hand.
Even after the wound closes, his face hurts. It’s a phantom pain, something that still happens sometimes when Kindrie heals himself. Underneath the pain, he can still feel the softness of Rawneth’s touch on his cheek. He still has all the old yearnings -– to make her proud of him. To make her love him. It was pointless and stupid, and Kindrie can catalogue a thousand evil things the woman had done in the years he remembers.
A small, traitorous part of him clings to those memories. The things she could do were evil, yes, but they were so fascinating --
Kindrie blanks his mind with an effort and climbs out of bed. He had hoped that the strictures of the priesthood would rid him of those desires, but so far, nothing works for long. Kindrie doesn't want to be evil, but he is beginning to believe that he'll never get away from the taint in his blood. All the Randir are evil, and though he can't possibly be purely of that House, the only other blood he knows he carries is Knorth -- hardly likely to redeem him. The priesthood is his only chance. So he does what he does whenever his desires get too horrid to control: he sneaks down to the main hall, normally empty while the college sleeps, and dances.
He hasn't told Valderon, of course. He hasn't told anyone. There are other, less dangerous places to practice the Senetha than the great hall itself, but none of them can sweep him away from himself in the same way. Anywhere else, and he can still feel the urge to use the power he's channeling. No, the great hall is the safest place for him like this, because the pattern of the dance makes his choices for him. His free choices have never turned out well for anyone involved.
The tiles under Kindrie's feet are perfectly dry, but with his eyes closed, he can feel water flowing smoothly across the floor as if he were dancing in a shallow stream. He can't see it yet with his eyes open, but then, he's only recently been able to see clearly anyway. The details have always been blurred; Kindrie still trusts his other sense more.
So he dances with his eyes closed, letting the energy pull him where it will. His fingers curl, arms weaving gently as he traces the next few steps. Glide, turn, shift -- the tug of the current tells him he put his foot down wrong even before he tumbles to the floor.
Regardless of any other quality they might have, the tiles are hard. The mats in the practice rooms would have been kinder.
Kindrie hears a muffled gasp from the far side of the room. When he opens his eyes, startled, there is a younger boy in a novice's white robe staring at him. The boy's eyes widen, and he starts to duck back through the doorway.
"Wait!" Kindrie calls softly. He remembers his own days as a novice. Even Valderon's favor hadn't kept the instructors from working him to exhaustion. For one of the new boys to find his way down here in the middle of the night, he must be very curious, or very driven.
The boy turns back around slowly, head hanging, clearly braced for a tongue-lashing.
"What's your name?" Kindrie asks.
"Renel." It's barely a whisper, but sound carries easily in this room.
Kindrie tries to place the boy, and draws a blank. "I haven't seen you before, have I?"
The boy shakes his head, daring a glance up at Kindrie's face before ducking again.
"I'm Kindrie. Pleased to make your acquaintance."
The boy looks up finally, blushing fiercely. "That was -- good. Your dancing."
Kindrie snorts. "You clearly haven't started Asdenel's class yet, or you'd know better."
"Is it okay. If I. Watch more?"
"Shouldn't you be sleeping?" The boy's shoulders sag at the question, and Kindrie finds himself unwilling to push the issue. "Never mind. You can stay for a bit longer. If you can keep your eyes open."
Kindrie takes a breath and steps back into the edges of the pattern. The energy tugs on his weight, and he goes. One gliding step. Another. Turn.
Kindrie tries not to look back, but it's hard, knowing that Renel is watching. The dance feels infinitely different now than when he has danced with his class for the instructors. There, he just wants to perform the moves correctly and with the fewest number of additional bruises. Having an audience makes him want to show off a bit, not that he's good enough. But he feels the weight of the boy's eyes on him, his wonder and amazement like strings in Kindrie's fingers. It feels amazing.
If it reminds him of anything else, the memory is easily shrugged away.
Kindrie doesn't stop, but he lets the dance pull him back toward the edge of the room. "Here. Let me show you a bit."
The boy sways forward, but shakes his head. "I don't think --"
"Don't think," Kindrie repeats the instructions given to him. "Just let go."
He drops down into it, and the boy slides in beside him. It's better with two, something Kindrie feels he should have known from his classes, but he's never led anyone else before. This is wonderful. The pattern pulls him around and around until his feet tumble out from under him.
Renel is already panting on the floor when Kindrie falls. The boy's hands are scraped raw where he has been scrabbling at the tiles, trying to continue through his exhaustion. It occurs to Kindrie that he could keep the boy going all night, watch him drag himself through an approximation of the dance until he broke a limb, perhaps, or simply snapped his neck. There were spells that would keep him moving even past death, and that would be something to see --
They stare at each other for a long moment before the boy blinks once and scrambles away. There was something about the blankness in his eyes that lets Kindrie know that Renel won't remember any of this.
Kindrie wishes he could forget it, too. Already, he wants to try again. Maybe find someone a bit more practiced, a bit less exhausted, and see how much power they can raise. How long Kindrie can keep control. Of course, once the power is raised, he'll want to use it. He's already seen what he does with power. The priesthood was supposed to keep him safe. It was supposed to teach him how to control his own impulses.
Now that he's felt what he can do, Kindrie isn't sure it's a better path than Rawneth's. At least hers was honest.
Kindrie stares up at the ceiling. If he lies here long enough, the older acolytes will find him in the morning. Valderon will chastise him, but not punish him severely. Life will continue. And if Kindrie's very, very lucky, whatever he and Valderon summon with that book will eat them both first.
Kindrie's luck has never been that good.
Or he can run away. From the stories the novices tell, the Caineron would probably take him in -- they'd be happy to use a healer of his talents. And they have enough evil in their House to be unsurprised at anything he could do. Now all he has to do is make sure they can't use his other talents.
As a healer, Kindrie knows how to make himself forget, at least for a while. He can bury the secret deep inside his soul image, bury the book somewhere in the woods north of Wilden, and no one will ever need to know. It'll be a nasty surprise if it ever worms its way out, but at least by then, perhaps he won't be in a position to abuse it so very badly.