She killed her first man when she was thirteen.
He was a brigand out to harm a trader under her protection, with hair as filthy as his speech, who didn't take her seriously despite the uniform marking her as one of the Morgol's guard. Lyra put a spear through him as he brought the knife up; it was a clean cast, burying the leaf-shaped blade through his neck and severing his spine. He died almost immediately. It took longer for the trader's nerve to recover, which she found insulting at the time.
When she was seventeen, she made her last kill, the one that drove her to put down her spear and retire from the Morgol's guard. He looked like a man as her knife slid across his arm, along his leather vest, and into his heart, but he smiled as he died and there was a knowledge in his gaze that plucked something within her until she vibrated like a harp string tuned to his playing.... For far too long a moment on a battlefield, it made her wonder whose heart she had just pierced and which of them was dying.
At eighteen, harp music in the City of Circles slid past the bright blue hangings around her bed, soaked through the heavy furs that covered her, and settled into her mind with an answer to a question she'd never wanted to ask. Lyra lay awake in her room, her muscles quivering as if she'd been training too hard and her bones aching as if she'd fought off another bought of marsh fever. The fact lay across her mind, certain as the grave and dangerous as a guardswoman's spear: She had been within steps of death in Harte.
Had she stayed in Danan Isig's house an hour longer -- slept there an hour longer -- Lyra knew, beyond doubt, that she would have woken up walking down into Isig Mountain, with things shifting inside herself as inexorably as they had changed for Morgon and Raederle.
Slightly more than a year ago, countless deaths ago, the reshaping of the realm ago -- the winds had come and changed the inner heart of Isig since then.
Lyraluthuin of Herun got out of bed and began packing for the journey anyway.
Lyra was halfway to the marshes by the time the first traces of pink and gold began to stain the sky and slip over the mountains. Ground fog drifted around her, eddying over the tops of her boots in the stirrups. Her mare nickered uneasily and Lyra murmured absent reassurances, then yawned and stretched cautiously, shifting her spear to the other hand as she did. She was no longer a guard, and she hoped never to see life fading out of a man's eyes again, but she was land-heir of Herun; staying alive was one of her obligations to both her mother and her people. She'd still had to force herself to pick up the spear.
When the fog cleared, she dismounted long enough to remove her mare's saddle, rub her down, and kindle a small fire. Milla taken care of, Lyra heated wine and water to warm herself and wash down the dried meat and trail bread she had taken from the guards' supply room. Dodging their shifts in the night had been easy enough for a woman who lived there and had walked those same rounds until last spring. She'd done it twice, actually, carrying her supplies in packs small enough not to draw notice. Hopefully, she'd brought whatever she might need, or enough money and jewels to pay for anything else that became necessary.
By the time the sun stood in the middle of the sky, Lyra had threaded a path partway through the marshes, past rocky monuments standing solitary in the bog as if the mountains were reaching up through the water with stony fingers. To Lyra, the individual tors were familiar landmarks, known by a flicker of gold in one, a green-weeping band of copper in another, the faint red blotch of a mostly-buried ruby in yet another.
Lyra glanced at the stone and for the first time she saw not only the outer granite but the ruby in its entirety. It was larger than she had ever imagined, large as Eliard of Hed's clenched fist would be, resting next to a buried vein of darker, volcanic rock still further within the marker. Her eye followed that twisting line down, down, down, tracing the dark line past the floating grasses that concealed the marsh waters. Volcanic stone ran through the dark water into the bones of the land here, a long, twisting river of resistant granite writing its own meanings within porous limestone hollowed here and there into the sinkholes that made the Herun marshes so deadly.
A slow-moving underground river ran here, Lyra realized, leading to the slow erosion of the limestone and the changes in temperature that caused the deceptive fogs. Fascinated, she sat for long minutes, looking along the bones and veins of the land, tracing the safe paths through the marsh by the necessities of high ground and impermeable stone rather than memorized landmarks and the warning flags of plants that preferred more solid ground to the floating existence of the marsh lilies.
The sun beating down on her might have brought her out of it, or the wind whipping past and fluttering the hem of her riding tunic, but it was Milla's impatient snort as she tried to lip Lyra's thigh which brought her vision outwards again. And only then, sitting there chilled by her immobility and wondering what had triggered that ability to see, did Lyra realize that the Morgol had been looking for her.
She glanced up at the sun standing almost directly overhead, assessed her mount's condition in an equally fleeting look, then gathered up the reins in a capable hand and clucked Milla forward. She twisted briefly to look back at Herun, raising her off-hand in a swift spearman's salute that drew a silver line through the sky. It might reassure her mother.
Lyra rode into Hlurle the next evening, tired and damp from a late spring shower. The warehouses around the harbor raised grey stone walls to the sky, slate roofs against the damp, thin lines of grey-white smoke against the chill... and around them, the sails of the trade ships billowed and gusted in the winds like an early blooming garden. Gold and red sails from Ymris, An's blue and purple, the pine-colored sails of Osterland and the orange and yellow colors of Herun -- they clustered around the wharf docks, swarmed by deckhands and surrounded by the give and take of voices calling orders, instructions, imprecations.
Lyra rode down to a small tavern, not the best of them and not one she'd ever been to on the Morgol's business. A small girl with a streak of mud across her cheek and a quick, happy smile led Milla off, chattering merrily away about, 'A good feed and fresh water and you'd like your coat brushed, wouldn't you?' Lyra found herself smiling as she turned away towards the common room.
Barley stew and surprisingly good mulled wine filled her stomach as she listened to the traders chatting among themselves. She took her mug with her as she moved to join them, receiving friendly nods from men with speculative eyes. A dark-haired trader in a furred Osterland coat asked, "A cold trip in?"
"Just damp," Lyra answered. "I'm headed to Kyrth. Do you know who might be going that way?"
"You've the look of one of the Morgol's guard." The trader next to him had hair gold as summer wheat, eyes light as the best beer out of Hed, but his tunic was richly cut and embroidered in the style of an Ymris noble and his sword hilt was well-worn. Lyra watched him silently, face sharp and unreadable as her blade's edge, until he said apologetically, "Sorry, lady. None of my business, I'm sure. "
"No land-ruler has set me outside the law. I'm merely asking if any of you are going to Kraal or Kyrth," Lyra said, one hand relaxed around her mug and the other resting easily across her thighs.
The older trader nodded. "I'm Rawl Ilet, and I'm bound for Kyrth and then on to Yrye. Were you wanting to pay or work passage?"
"If it's not too dear, I can pay," Lyra told him.
He chuckled. "If you can tell stories we haven't told each other a dozen times already, we'll call your passage paid, lady. And if you've no stories, we'll discuss the price."
His name was familiar but it set off no alarms within Lyra, and his smile set her mind at ease. "Thank you. Which ship, and when?"
"The Green Lady. We'll leave with the evening tide -- you've time for another bowl of stew if you like, but not much more than that. I was getting a last mug of beer before we left," he admitted. "How soon can you be ready?"
"As soon as I get my packs and explain to my poor mount that she'll have to sleep aboard." Lyra smiled suddenly as she rose. "Getting the packs will be easier."
Ilet just chuckled. "Promise her carrots. We've a few to spare."
The journey north was a flurry of sea spray, chill winds, and unexpectedly warm nights -- Ilet's load included sheepskins and beer from Hed, fine cloths and hams from An, Herun wine and herbs, and an assortment of iron wares from Ymris, which were slowly becoming more common since the turmoil on Wind Plain had eased the stresses there. Lyra slept in a mound of sheepskins, with her pack as a pillow and her cloak as a cover, and was warm and content.
The days gave her time to study Rawl Ilet's charts and stare at the seas and wonder about what lay beneath them. No one knew where Morgon had bound the Earth-Masters, but his winds had hounded them west into the mountains, not east into the seas. Before him, Deth had bound them into the sea for centuries, able to escape only rarely, as the royal houses of Yrmis and An could attest....
Raederle had said her brother Duac had the coloring of Ylon, had called up his image among others one night in a fit of homesickness she'd never call such. What Lyra remembered most about that night was the way Raederle smiled as her hands wove through the fire, shaping images to match her fond words. She'd spoken of her stubborn brothers, of her devious father, of her mother whose shouting temper had been silenced forever by a fever not a year before.
Watching stone-green water topped by pale white froth, Lyra had to shove aside the memory of foam-white skin and sea-green eyes on An's now-deceased land-heir. She forced away raven-dark eyes, too, those eyes sharp as raven's talons on An's current king and land-heir both. Instead she made herself study the sea and soon found to her surprise that the element of water fascinated her.
Lyra watched the waves, sea-green near land and late twilight-blue farther out, seeing how the water shifted under the wind and trapped air along the waves' crests, how the birds skimmed the surface or dove in after fish. She smiled, watching sailors' friends race the bow wave and skim the water, laughing and dancing alongside the ship, only to turn and race off at some signal Lyra could neither see nor hear. Their swift, delighted motions reminded her of some of Deth's rippling harp pieces, ones he played on quiet nights when the Morgols' guards wanted something to dance to. His fingers were always faster than their feet, but it had been a point of honor to try and keep up, for the finest guards in the realms to try to match the best harpist in those realms.
They'd never managed it, and had always laughed in their defeat, flushed and breathless and laughing aloud as Deth's eyes laughed soundlessly. Lyra wondered, again, when Morgon would come wandering through Herun or the other realms as Deth had, the new High One visiting as the old one had. Would she recognize Morgon any more quickly this time, or find he'd acquired more lines, more scars, more silences? Being the Star-Bearer had changed him so much; what had it done to him to become the High One? Was that why he was hiding somewhere, or was he mending the tattered edges of land-law the Earth-Masters had frayed? Or was he simply grieving for Deth, as so many of them had?
Her mouth twitched upward slightly. It was the first time in a year that Deth's name had not ached in her heart or her hands. Perhaps her mother was healing, too.
The trip up the Kraal river was every bit as bad this year as it had been two years ago with Raederle and Tristan of Hed. Leaning against the barge rail to watch the murky water rush down to the sea carrying silt, washed-away foliage, and, more than once, dead animals, Lyra wished that, like Tristan, she'd sworn never to repeat the voyage.
"Of course if I had, I'd be foresworn," she admitted to the wind.
"That's never a good place to be," Rawl Ilet said quietly from behind her. "Some oaths are more dangerous to break than others, of course. Are you all right?"
Lyra turned to see him and, finally, realized who he reminded her of. "Oh. Would you be Bere's father?"
"I would," he admitted, moving to lean on the barge rail. "My son said you had clear eyes and a sensible mind. A high compliment from him," Rawl added, his smile lighting his eyes and his voice. "He takes after Danan, I think."
"I think so, too." Lyra studied him, then asked, "How long have you known who I am?"
"You have your mother's face and hair," Ilet said simply. "And her clarity of purpose." He smiled faintly. "Even the same talent for moving towards a goal that makes no sense to the rest of us, but clearly does to you."
"Since Hlurle," Lyra translated. "Not since my letters home in Kraal, then?"
"Since Hlurle," Rawl agreed. "I thought that if a land-heir needed to go to Kyrth, I was going to be the one to take you. A family obligation, by my way of seeing it. I've held off asking, and it's still no business of mine, but why are you going there? Are you going there, or to Harte, or Yrye?"
"I need to talk to Danan," Lyra said quietly. "It's something of a family matter. Thank you for keeping my secret."
"Will I keep this one, you mean?" He considered her, and Lyra could see the calculations going on behind his eyes and his pleasant demeanor, the skills born of years of trading, of piercing surfaces to see and set a true value, of calculating travel time and expense, exhaustion and possible profit. What he saw in her, she didn't know: a Herun woman, yes, black hair thick and braided tidily back against sea spray and possible enemies, her clothing warm but not as rich as it might have been for audiences at home, her jaw as stubborn as her mother's but her eyes less piercing and black rather than gold. He nodded at last, slow and reluctant.
"I'll hold your presence silent for now, lady. But... please. Hed and Ymris have new rulers; Hed and An have new land-heirs. Ash carved the grave marker for Duac of An with his own hands and harrowed his own heart in the making of it, in grief for Mathom and relief for Danan. Please, whatever it is that you're doing, please... be careful. Don't die on us. The realms are healing, finally. Your death on some nameless quest would shred us again." He turned away abruptly, one hand scrubbing across his cheek, the other rubbing at a scar across his forearm.
Lyra swallowed hard, remembering both the battle at Lungold and the long days of Wind Plain and the waiting afterward to hear how many had died and who had lived. She should have thought that the traders had been there, too. "I'm taking as much care as I can," she finally said, choosing her words with the same precise attention she'd have given a target in battle. "But there is an unanswered riddle that I must look at, Rawl. To leave it untouched would be more dangerous than this voyage."
"Riddles." Rawl Ilet sighed out some soundless curse that frayed the froth atop a wave and broke the wave's force; the Green Lady dropped into the unexpected trough, her broken rhythm startling all her sailors out of their own rhythms of work. "Yes. Vert speaks of Sol occasionally.... Be very careful, Lyra." The worried look he turned on her held bafflement as well as concern, as if his normal ability to pierce surfaces to the core had abandoned him.
For the rest of the trip upriver, Lyra occasionally caught him watching her, perplexed by some incongruity or unseen aspect of her behavior that she couldn't see herself. She almost asked him what was bothering him so, but the land-rulers of Herun had always relied on their own sight; Lyra set herself to cultivating that, instead.
At Kyrth, she took Milla for a long canter away from the city, to let her mare stretch her legs and to give Rawl time to send a message to his father-in-law. When she finally, reluctantly, turned Milla back towards Isig, the sun was low in the west and Isig and her sisters were casting their shadows farther than Lyra had expected. She and her mare picked the last half-mile of their path up Isig mountain as much by memory as by moonlight and found Danan walking down with a torch to meet them.
The old king placed a gentle hand on Milla's nose, a caress that soothed the mare's ship- and night-nerves as thoroughly as the earlier run had. "I thought perhaps you could use light, that you might not have your mother's sight yet." Danan smiled at her, his face seamed with years and smiles as a tree's bark was with years and winds. "I see I was wrong."
"I don't have it in full yet," Lyra said at last, comforted by the easy silence that seeped into the night around him. She swung down from Milla's saddle to walk beside Danan, grateful for the chance to stretch her own legs. "I didn't think I'd see this way until Mother died and I gained the land-rule. It's a relief to be wrong."
Danan nodded. "The land-rule alone is a startling thing, even in a gentle land such as Hed. Herun holds her own secrets, as Isig does, and I suspect learning to see them is no easier. Your eyes are going gold as El's." He smiled at her. "It suits you, as it does her. How may I help you, Lyra?"
"I came for advice," Lyra admitted, one hand resting on Milla's cheek piece. "I'm looking for something hidden, Danan, and I think only you or Morgon can help me find it."
"And Morgon has yet to return," Danan agreed quietly. "Har insists he'll be back, that he loves the realms too much not to come back to us all." Danan chuckled. "Of course, that old wolf made sure Morgon owes him a debt, too. Still Morgon will come home when he's ready, or when he must. In the meantime, I will help you if I can. Rawl says you have a riddle riding you."
"Yes," Lyra said, relieved to hear it named so precisely. "That's exactly how it feels. A goal that I don't know yet, and a need to get there, and the bit and spurs awaiting me if I turn away from the path."
Harte loomed up in front of them, dense and torch-lit against the weight of Isig's shadow, and they paused to hand Milla over to a groom. "An unpleasant feeling, I'd expect," Danan said at last. "Come in, please. We've readied Yrth's old tower room for you. There's a fire laid, hot water and your bags brought up. Come down for dinner if you like. Bere and Vert would like to see you again." Pine-colored eyes met hers, and Lyra felt an odd jolt within herself as some part of her shifted; it reminded her of nothing so much as finding her balance the first time in the training ring.
Danan only nodded slowly. "You knew it was important, Lyra." His voice was gentle, reassuring, laced with decades and centuries of love and life. "Trust yourself."
She smiled in a quick, rueful quirk of lips. "I'm beginning to see why Raederle found that hard advice."
"Ah. I wondered how many of us told her that," Danan said imperturbably, and escorted her across his hall of stone and running water and shifting, shivering firelight to the tower stair. He left her to the ascent and the chance to bathe the sea salt from her hair and the fear and anticipation from her nerves.
When Lyra came down after her bath, clean, warm, and dressed in tunic and pants of gold and orange Herun cloth, familiar against her skin and to her eyes, their warmth reinforced by a fur-lined cloak left on the end of her bed, the hall had emptied considerably. Vert met her partway across the room with a hug and a kiss on her cheek. "You look comfortable. Come and eat, then you can tell us about it."
Lyra fell in with their silence and strength again, grateful for both. Bere nodded to her, his blunt, black hair still short although he had grown a full hand-span taller and correspondingly broader since she'd last seen him. Ash, Danan's land-heir, passed her mulled wine and roast fowl and fresh-baked bread, and they talked over and around Lyra as she ate. Trade, recovery, winds and rain, births, deaths... all the small details of daily life eddied around Lyra while she savored her food and found herself tracing the channeled waterways through the hall with her eyes, watching the fires over them shade the water.
She had begun to perceive the pattern behind the seemingly random route, and to realize how the Morgol Rhu had used similar patterns of elements to hide both paths for the servants and, Lyra suspected, an escape route or three, when Danan spoke. "Lyraluthuin."
Lyra looked up, startled and flushed with embarrassment; it was at least the third time he'd said her name. "I'm sorry."
"You're tired," he said simply. "Shall we talk now, or in the morning?"
Lyra wanted to wait until morning, she realized in surprise, wanted not to speak in the silence and darkness of Isig's night, and that was fear talking -- someone else's, which was reason enough to override it. "Tonight, if you can spare the time," she said quietly, hating to bother him even as some part of her knew full well that if Ash of Isig had walked into Crown City unexpected and unheralded, her mother would have made time for Danan's land-heir.
Danan only smiled at her. "I'm an old tree. A night sitting up and talking won't harm me."
Bere looked up, placid and resigned. "Must we miss this? We all fought the Earth-Masters when they came, Danan. I fought them twice."
"Bere. Lyra's a land-heir, and a woman. Not all of her words are for your ears." Vert stroked his hair as she scolded him, easing the words with her touch.
"I'm never going to have secrets," Bere disagreed, but he nodded. "All right."
"You will, Bere," Danan said calmly. "And you'll hold them in such silence no one will ever see them until you chisel them back out as precisely as you're cutting that topaz free."
Bere smiled, an unexpected flash of pleasure from the normally serious craftsman-to-be. "Perhaps I will hold them, then, until I can make them into something beautiful."
"You will manage it if anyone could." Lyra smiled at him. "If there is something I can tell you, Bere, I will. Not yet, though."
"All right." Bere nodded and turned back to Ash, sketching out a proposed shell inlay for a table they were planning. Danan smiled, the faintest of motions, and stood up. Lyra rose in a rustle and flare of fire-colored cloth and walked with him through the flickering shadows.
Danan led her through darkness and fire-lit shade, past murmuring water and softly humming stone, until, turning a sharp corner, they came to a wide seat carved into the wall under a window paned with small, clear pieces of glass set in an intricate iron filigree. Lyra's soft sound of pleasure drew a matching smile to Danan's face as he sat where they could both look out to see the moon's slow ascent.
Lyra watched the moon, and the night, and the patterns the iron drew against the stars. Danan's silence settled around her like the fur cloak his daughter had leant her, and Lyra finally attacked her problem as directly as she would a foe. "I need to find the Earth-Masters' children, Danan."
Danan leaned back against the wall, his thick, work-roughened, rock-etched hands motionless for once across his leg. Wise, patient eyes studied her and the problem both. "Deth moved them from beneath Isig not long before the Earth-Masters attacked."
"Yes." She unknotted her fingers and stared out the window, then untangled her fingers again as she slowly untangled her thoughts. "Mother made a point of finding out what had happened to them, as much as she could. She hasn't found them yet, I think."
"But you think I'll see further than El?" Danan placed a hand over hers; Lyra wrapped her fingers around his own strength, drew on it without hesitation.
"Not that you'll see further, but I think you know more than she does -- than I do -- about where in this realm they could be hidden. When the depths of Isig were no longer safe enough, where would... where would Deth hide them?"
Danan's eyes met hers; in the moonlit silence of the window seat Lyra could almost hear him thinking. "Morgon is not the only one haunted," he finally said, and set his mind to the puzzle. "When the winds scoured the Earth-Masters off of Wind Plain, Morgon blew them north and west, across Umber and Marcher...."
"Across the length of Herun, too," Lyra said softly, watching him and trying to follow his thoughts without guiding them; she needed Danan's sight, not hers. "We were months rebuilding the roofs in Crown City, and more months replacing wood molded by snow and ice blown where they didn't belong."
Danan nodded. "I remember. Ash sent timbers south and your mother sent too much payment for them. So. West as much as north across Herun, because the second round of winds never came to Isig."
"West and north... Morgon bound them into Erlenstar?" Lyra's eyes widened as strands slid together into a completed weave. "Of course. Ghisteslwchlohm trapped him under that mountain; Morgon would see it as a prison, and one more easily barricaded than the sea."
"Har visited briefly this fall," Danan said mildly and apparently irrelevantly. "He tells me that the woods around Erlenstar are as quiet and unoccupied as some of the Ymris woods used to be."
Her hands left Danan's to braid the end of her hair as she thought about that. Teasing out possibilities from facts was more Morgon's skill than hers, but over the year since she put down her spear, Lyra had been learning the value of more kinds of hunting than the Guard had taught her. "Danan... Morgon absorbed the land-rule here, too. Would that let him feel those buried children, tell him if he'd trapped them with their parents?"
"The Earth-Masters' dead lay in the heart of Isig like a buried grief," Danan said simply. "An aching hollow, here," and he tapped lightly below and right of his heart. "Morgon would have felt that, felt them. Feeling them, he would never have bound the Earth-Masters anywhere near them. He could never have faced Raederle again if he had."
Lyra said helplessly, "Then where could they lie? A buried grief in a land-ruler's heart... which of you doesn't have that now?"
Danan said more practically, "Lyra. Think. You know where they must rest if you think about it."
She stared at him, then reached for calm as she would have before weapons practice. "A buried grief now, but--" Her chin came up, jaw clamping down on surprise and fear before either could control her. "They were moved before the High One died. A land-ruler would have to have been very new, or very heart-sick, to miss it."
"Or Deth would have had to hide his dead from a land-ruler in his or her own realm," Danan said, but he nodded at her. "Deth was old, Lyra, and tired, and he'd been holding at least one illusion for the duration of the realms."
"Yes. Wind Tower." The thought of what her mother would say if Lyra traveled into Ymris' war-battered fields after a goal she couldn't even name to herself drew faint, pained lines along Lyra's mouth. "Oh. Eliard held Hed by then, but Heureu..."
"...was losing more men, and more ground, by the day. And when his war wasn't distracting him, his house was surely reminding him that his wife of five years was not the woman he'd been engaged to, but an Earth-Master. He was heart-sick, no doubt." Danan considered the implications of both the question and its answer, turning the puzzle in his mind as he'd have turned a gemstone ready to be cut. "Har has said nothing of a new silence in his lands. Riddler that he is, perhaps he would not have."
Lyra shook her head and said quietly, "It would be easy to wonder if Mathom missed a new pain in his ache for Duac, or if Eliard missed one more ache in the days of Morgon's absence. It would be too easy, Danan, and too hard, too. Deth hid the true High One behind the silence in Erlenstar, behind Ohm's portrayal and betrayal, behind the winding stairs of Wind Tower. Deth always hid secrets behind other secrets and let us think that we had found the truth."
Danan nodded. "Yes. That rings true as Ash's swords. Then you believe Deth hid those poor children beneath Wind Tower, as he hid himself within it?"
"One less illusion to maintain, one less stronghold to defend. He was in his last battle, one that he could not afford to lose," Lyra said, looking out over the darkened land beneath the window as if she could see to Wind Plain, to the stone forms waiting there. "Yes."
Lyra left Kyrth again two mornings later, after two nights in beds that didn't move with the passing of sea or river and a full day exploring Danan's home and capitol city. Ash of Isig had claimed fraternal rights as another land-heir and had taken her wandering, showing her favorite taverns and his current stone-cutting projects with equal enthusiasm when he wasn't asking questions about Herun weaving techniques and the difficulties of traveling through the marshes. Lyra's ears and thoughts were full of his cheerful industry and interest in adapting techniques from one skill to another; it made a pleasant change from her own worries.
Ash and Danan had both seen her off at the wharf, smiling and worried at the same time, and relieved under both of those. It took half the morning for Lyra to realize that they'd expected her to go wandering off, either into Isig or out towards Erlenstar, as Morgon and Raederle had. She'd laughed softly at the idea, and found, too late, a wistful desire to explore the bones and mysteries of Isig, to trace a thin line of water back past stone columns and trickling flows seeping slowly off hidden ponds and lakes.
It was possible she'd return to Isig one day, traveling with traders or bringing some gift from the Morgol as the land-rulers tried to keep in closer contact with each other; it was just as possible that Lyra would never go farther than Caithnard or Caerweddin again. That knowledge added a sharp edge to the view and to her memories, and Lyra found herself grateful for it.
As before, her trip back down the Kyrth was faster and more peaceful than the trip up; most of the debris had washed downstream by now, and the current sped the barge along instead of impeding their progress. Her thoughts traveled like the river: swift, inexorably channeled, and stripped of chaff. She watched the wind ruffle the water and let the combination lull into her own thoughts and memories. In her mind's eye, Deth's fingers danced over strings, quick, deft, and skilled. His dry, wry wit danced through remembered conversations, his diversions skilled and his silences a deflection that, in retrospect, guided conversations where he wanted them as easily as his words had.
Danan's silence radiated calm, painted comfort and calm around him; Deth's silence drew people to him, elicited conversations and confessions. Lyra explored her memories on the long trip down, trying to see the similarities between Deth and the land-rulers she knew, between Deth and the wizards. Sitting on a momentarily-unneeded coil of thick rope, she came up against the Thing in the Room at last, and refused to let her mind skitter off into the riddle of Arya of Herun. Instead Lyra made herself examine her suspicion and its supports or flaws.
Her mother had never married, seeing no need for it as more than a few of the Morgols had not. There could be no question that the child she had carried was hers, after all, and Elrhiarhodan of Herun had no desire, or need, to share the throne. She had also never named Lyra's father, seeing no need to do that, either.
Lyra's face and form could almost mirror her mother's; no clues lay there, for or against her theory. Lyra held no skill at wizardry beyond the normal run of odd skills that the lands bred into their land-rulers, and while she had not been the worst guard by any measure, neither had she surpassed them all. She had a fine, clean voice for a song or a tale, but had never had any great interest in learning any instrument more complicated than a drum. She had, slowly, been finding in herself unexpected talents at trading and solving problems in ways that seemed just to her people as well as herself.
Her proof seemed slight compared to her lack thereof, but El of Herun and the High One's harpist had loved each other for as long as Lyra could remember... and a lyre was an old form of harp. Had her name been intended as a hint? And if so, for whom? For Lyra if she came to care about her paternity, or for the court if they wanted to attribute favoritism to one noble or another?
It would be an interesting way to distract a fractious band of nobles. The land-rule made it far easier to hold the throne than it would have been in the earliest days of the settlement, but An's history warned of the dangers of unhappy nobles or neighboring kingdoms. Lyra filed the notion away and only then realized that she was beginning to plan strategies within the politics of Herun in much the same way she'd once planned routes and guard-strengths for trips through the marshes.
She sat on the barge's deck and watched the wind carve ripples in the water and ruffles in the leafing branches along the river and wondered why she'd ever thought the changes in her self would wait until she met her half-brother in his new tomb.
When the barge tied up in Kraal, Lyra disembarked with her bags, her mare, and a mental list of names provided by Rawl Ilet, traders that he considered safe for her to travel with. Any plans she'd made around those three things, however, failed to take into account the young woman with the sweet face and the silky blond braid walking along the pier towards her. Lyra waited until she wouldn't have to raise her voice over the hum and bustle of the docks to say evenly, "I'm not going to be dragged home, Imer."
"Our orders are to guard you while you do whatever it is you're doing, not to take you back." Imer winced, a flush coloring already reddened cheeks. "Before she told us that, the Morgol had a few words to say about you getting your mare out without anyone noticing."
Lyra straightened up. "Well, of course she did. If she hadn't, I would have dressed you down when I got back. Bad enough that Mother walked out without being noticed last year, but you let me do it, too? And how many guards did she send?"
"Eight of us." Lyra set her jaw, but Imer read her expression anyway. "You're her heir, Lyra, what did you expect?" Imer shook her head, impatient and indignant. "And I suppose we can argue about it later; we have time. The tide isn't going out until this evening, if we're sailing. Where are we going?"
"Caerweddin," Lyra told her. "All right. Do I need to ask around to see who'll take us, or have you already scouted out which ships are headed where?"
Imer flinched and muttered something mostly inaudible about bets before saying, "If you want to go to Caerweddin, there's an Ymris warship waiting for a load of arms from Kyrth."
"After we led seven of them a merry chase, do you think they're going to willingly take us anywhere?" Lyra asked, all too aware that it was their best option. A question touched her mind, startling her, and she asked, "How long have you been here, and why were you waiting here?"
"We were a day behind you at Hlurle, then we had to wait a day for a trader coming to Kraal, and we lost another day at sea. But we knew that if you went up that river, you were probably going to come back down. A trader who went up for timbers the day we got here is going to ask Danan if he's seen you and send us word on his way back down to Anuin. Not that we'll be here to get word, now."
Imer paced beside her back down the pier. "We brought you some clothes, and the Morgol sent money, and if we're going to Caerweddin--"
A second guard fell in beside them at the end of the dock, a tall, grey-eyed woman who carried her spear as lightly and as straight as her spine. "We are? Well. It could be worse."
Imer sighed and pointed out, "Yes, Trika, it could. We could be going to Osterland, or the Northern Wastes."
"It could still be worse," Lyra said sharply. "We could be going either of those places in winter. All right. We'll take chaff from the Ymris warriors over throwing them off our trail last year, but we'll go with them anyway. It will let the lot of you rest a little easier."
Imer glanced up, faintly sunburnt as ever in her first days out after winter duty. It only tinted her eyes a brighter blue, and made her look even younger and more foolish than she truly was. "You're being reasonable. Lyra, why are you being reasonable in the middle of doing something as unreasonable as leaving Herun without telling anyone, and not going home, and not telling us why you're going to Caerweddin?"
"Ymris is not a war zone right now, I need to go, and the Morgol is being exactly as unreasonable as I am." Her voice held the same snap as the sails bellied by the winds when she added, "I'm going to Ymris because I'm driven. I never said you had to come with me."
Trika said soberly, "It certainly sounds like someone needs to go with you." She set a comforting hand on Lyra's shoulder. "Whatever it is, Lyra, you're still the Morgol's land-heir. You're still of Herun, still ours."
Lyra's breath sighed out of her; breathing in again was nearly impossible for a moment. "Why does everyone keep returning my own advice to me?"
Imer tilted her head sidelong and asked thoughtfully, "Why don't you take it?"
On a brilliantly blue spring day tinged along the sea's horizon with dark grey storm clouds, the Sword Dance scudded into harbor at Caerweddin. Light, clean-lined, and dangerously fast, the Dance had outrun the incoming squall easily. To Lyra's eyes, the warship's captain and his crew were equally shaped and suited to speed; the marines were sleek, fast-moving, always happier moving swiftly than holding still, and as likely to practice with wooden blades up and down the deck as to practice intricate drills with the sails and nets.
Some of the guard had spent the trip alternately fishing with long lines off the stern railing or sparring with the Ymris warriors, trading spear tricks to the marines for knife and sword traps and disarms. Lyra had spent the days and nights learning to see through only as many layers as she meant to, until she could read a map through a man's arm without pausing at sights under his corselet not meant for her. When her head ached too much from trying to control her vision, Lyra practiced spear drills instead. Her hands felt shaped to the heft and balance of her weapon and her arms ached from the precise motions, but her new perceptions obeyed her as automatically as her spear's tip followed her gaze at an enemy. It would do for now.
On the dock, Lyra didn't argue with her guard when they formed up around her in a rhythmic clatter of spears on stirrup rests and flutter of brightly-colored tunics; for their part, Imer and Trika looked relieved when she waited for the red-haired squadron leader who'd offered to lead them up through the city to Astrin Ymris' great stone house. Lyra might have argued with her guards, or against her own need for information, but above and beyond those two reasons, some doom seemed to hang so closely about her that she sometimes thought it must shadow her every movement.
The first winds of the approaching storm whipped the pennons and banners wildly as they arrived. Lyra's first impression of Astrin Ymris' house was one of brilliant color and reaching heights, of stone that only looked fragile and of fluttering pennons whose devices denoted great families whose names, and force at arms, was anything but fragile, even in the aftermath of war. Then an imposing, gray-haired woman in a beautifully embroidered vest and billowing dress of deepest blue appeared in the wide doorway to scold their guide and Lyra's guard impartially, fussing at them to have enough sense to come in before it rained, and all Lyra could see was a large hall full of richly dressed men, exquisitely polite women, and servants chivied hither and yon by the seneschal's crisp orders.
The great hall full of dark wood and bright islands of torchlight called them to its hearth, to the warmth of the fire laid even on a late spring day. Lyra looked up from warming her hands at its flames and saw Astrin Ymris beside her, his white hair a flame of its own over a deep blue tunic conspicuous by its lack of decoration and by its cut, which was wide enough to conceal a mail coat, unlike the tailored, embroidered tunics of his courtiers.
Lyra ignored the armor to focus on Astrin's half-smile and the curiosity rising in his remaining eye. "Thank you for the reception."
"You and yours are very welcome here, Lyra. I half-expected to hear Raederle or Tristan had accompanied you again." He glanced at her guards, at his, and then some awareness of her compulsion surfaced in that light-colored eye and flattened his smile into something more worried but equally nuanced. He said softly, "You have found some question that must be answered...." He released her hands, which Lyra barely realized had found their way into his, and that let Lyra step back.
His lips twisted around some memory bitter as marsh water and his voice echoed someone else's cadences as Astrin murmured, " 'Beware the unanswered riddle.' " Then he pitched his voice to be heard and obeyed. "It is my great pleasure to have you visit, Lyra. Be welcome in my house and my lands. If there is anything you need, please, tell us." More softly, the words almost lost around the increased bustle and hurry of servants moving to follow the implicit orders, Astrin added, "I must finish a meeting with my generals, but it won't take long. Whatever is wrong, I will help you if I can."
"Thank you." Lyra looked at her guards, assessing the alert flickers of their eyes as they watched for weapons amid the grand furnishings and the richly dressed people. "I suspect I'll need the time, too."
Astrin's glance flicked over one of his personal attendants, then over tiny Kya who'd taken up a flanking position on Lyra's left. Astrin saw something that Lyra didn't, and it pulled him back from that bitter memory. He laughed softly before summoning the seneschal with a lift of his chin.
A flurry of orders, stairs, halls, and stone-walled rooms later, and Lyra firmly ushered the last page and servant out the door of her chamber. Her clothes had been taken to be cleaned, a hot bath had removed both the storm-chill and the sea-spray, and now she was pacing in a dress richer and warmer than she'd have worn at home. The color suited her; the full, tangling skirt that kept wrapping around her legs did not.
The bed was made of very solid wood, fine-grained and recently polished. The smell of fire-warmed wax seeped from it, inviting her to crawl under the thick pile of furs. However comfortable and inviting bed and chamber might be, Lyra would still have rather had a favorite tunic and her boots and be on her way to Wind Plain. That would not only be impolitic in another land-ruler's realm, however; it would probably be foolhardy.
An urgent meeting with generals suggested that Astrin was dealing with his own problems and shouldn't be asked to help with hers. Lyra had eight of the Morgol's Guard to act as wedge or shield-- A memory of silence surfaced among her thoughts, and of the shattering of that silence. The Earth-Masters had nearly killed Morgon, even under her guard. Morgon and the winds had driven them away from Wind Plain, but....
Her guards had been assigned rooms on either side of her and across from hers. Lyra found she was grateful for the certainty that one or more of them was surely standing outside her door, spear in hand and eyes watchful. Still, when there was a tap on the door and Astrin came in, carrying wine and glasses in his own hands rather than bother with a servant, the first words out of Lyra's mouth were, "Is there another insurgency?"
Astrin raised an eyebrow, then filled both glasses. "Did anyone offer you food? And no, not in the sense of Tor and Meremont raising arms against each other again. Meroc Tor... was never found after Wind Plain. I've come to believe he'd been dead for at least three years before that. His rebellion never did make sense, from his point of view or Heureu's....
"No, my generals are here for orders because I have odd bits of land across Ymris suddenly free of ghosts and far too many men free of lords or family obligations but not at all free of the need for food or an acquired skill with weapons."
"Ah. Bandits." Lyra nodded; they were a common problem in Herun. She took the goblet, sipped at it, and settled into a chair by the window across from him. It was a dry, faintly spicy vintage and it slowly warmed her from within. "Generals are rarely much help with those."
Astrin crossed one leg over the opposite knee. "So I'm finding. A lack of imagination on their part, even after the insurgency last year." He smiled that faint smile that Lyra was learning concealed plans and insights and, beneath all of that, amusement at others' behavior and perhaps even his own. "We'll manage. At least bandits don't rise up from the dead and fight me again the next day. I assume you're here because you believe I can help you with your riddle?"
"You're something of a riddler, something of a wizard, and you know what things can drive a land-heir wound 'round by a mystery," Lyra heard herself saying. She flushed suddenly and stared at her goblet, wondering just how potent the wine was. "And you could always write Mother to see if any of our guard would be willing to come advise you on banditry."
Astrin set his goblet down, eye suddenly alight with laughter and mischief. "What my generals would say, to have to take advice and tactics from one of your guard.... I'll write her, yes." The amusement eased faint lines in his face, relaxed his jaw and shoulders, and for a moment Astrin was simply a man rather than a burdened ruler. He looked, Lyra realized, more suited to the black robe of Mastery than to a crown.
Before she could bring herself to hand back his responsibilities, Astrin's gaze returned to her, more contemplative than it had been. "But you're worried about my problems above and beyond both courtesy to a land-ruler and the relative closeness of our borders. I would rather not meet the fate of Ingris of Osterland. What do you need, Lyra?"
Lyra paused, reaching for the riddle and its stricture, then finding it. " 'Give what others require of you for their lives.' No wonder I'm driven so," she murmured. She looked up to meet Astrin's gaze, controlling her sight and attention to surfaces rather than look beyond his. "I need to go to Wind Tower."
Astrin waited, motionless, then said quietly, "Of the Ymris lands once haunted, only Wind Plain still holds its stillness, and that silence is centered around the rubble of that tower. I had not had time to question that." His head faced the fireplace, but his eye was focused far beyond the flames among the dog-irons. "Wind Tower holds one more mystery, then."
His gaze met Lyra's; after his momentary detachment on the question, she hadn't expected his gentle compassion. "I'd ask if morning was too soon, but you look ready to leave now." Astrin nodded once and rose. "We'll leave at dawn."
Under a sky deep blue and storm-cleansed, brightly embroidered surcoats caught the sunlight, wind-whipped into a flutter of brilliant threads competing with the shimmering glitter of the scale mail beneath the tunics and the duller silver of sword hilts. Astrin and Lyra rode in the center, surrounded by Herun guards carrying ash and steel spears and Ymris warriors carrying swords and sometimes maces.
The High Lord of Umber, a redheaded man gone grey, had first tried to protest, then to accompany them, and had finally abandoned both as lost causes, subsiding with dark mutters about Mathom of An and land-rulers who rode blithely into danger. Astrin had only raised an eyebrow and pointed out that his current land-heir was young but not incompetent, which, oddly, eased Rork Umber's tension into reluctant laughter.
"Who is your land-heir?" Lyra asked at mid-day, when they stopped long enough to rest the horses while eating bread, sausage, and apples.
Astrin fed an apple core to his gelding before glancing up. "Teril Umber."
Lyra paused, remembering the young, tired redhead who'd brought one hundred fifty warriors across Ymris to Lungold. "No wonder Rork didn't argue, or that he didn't want to take charge while you were gone."
"This is my realm," Astrin repeated, as inflexible as he had been the night before. "If another riddle lies beneath its surface, I will be there when you face it."
She had as little argument against him now, so Lyra left it alone and remounted.
They reached the remains of Wind Tower late in the afternoon. Rubble lay in an untidy sprawl of colors -- violet and crimson, gold-toned and blazing white, black as midnight and blue as a fall afternoon -- but a slow process of separation had begun, with smaller stones lying along the edges where they'd been blown by the winds. Bigger pieces, some larger than the Ymris warhorses, formed the support for the central height of rubble; a few had fallen, here and there, to lie -- or stand, in three large and notable cases -- in solitary grandeur among the grass.
"What did it look like before?" Lyra asked finally, motionless atop Milla as she traced colors down within the rubble. She could see a slab off to the right, night-black and inlaid with silver and small, faceted stones that, even after the stone's fall, reminded her of the winter sky.
"Tall and slender from a distance, all too solid up close, and intact. Nothing else out here was." Astrin was looking at the tumbled stones as well. "It was lovely, and a challenge to my ancestors, with all those brilliant colors climbing towards the sky -- I think Wind Tower lay behind Galil Ymris' stubborn insistence on using stone from the old cities of the Earth-Masters to build our house at Caerweddin. The tower stood here, rooted to the plain, broad and solid at the bottom, with gold steps winding up that were said to climb forever. I never reached the top, but some days, when the sun lay at the right angle in the sky, you could see windows there."
Imer quieted her gelding's restive motion with an easy competence. "Why try to climb it if no one ever had?"
Astrin continued to study the cairn lying in the heart of his realm. "Because it was a mystery, and a mystery of Ymris. Would you leave something this old and unknown in Herun?"
"If it wasn't causing problems?" Imer asked prosaically. "Why not?"
Astrin looked over at her. "And now, knowing that this ruin still holds secrets that trouble people in my realm and beyond it, to Herun?"
"Now, sir, we're here," Trika said calmly. "Where shall we pitch camp?"
That question set all of them into motion -- some to pitch tents, two to dig a trench (straws would have to be drawn later to fill it back in), and others to cook dinner. Lyra gladly leant a hand with it all. The ride had drawn some of the tension from her, leaking it away in the familiarity of travel, but the silence of the plain called to her, vibrated along her nerves in the silence, danced along her hair in the breezes that whipped the open ground at unpredictable intervals.
Occasionally -- when she looked up from washing dishes, or glanced across the fire from the dice game her guards were pretending to learn -- she would see Astrin studying her as thoughtfully as Lyra wanted to study that towering pile of stone, that remnant of the tower where Raederle had told the Morgol that Ghisteslwchlohm had killed Deth with Morgon's starred sword, snapping it. Part of her wanted to look for the sword, hunt with this new sight through the stones until she found the pieces, but she didn't know what she would do with them. Take the pieces to Herun, for her mother to bury? Why, when Deth had his cairn here? Send the hilt at least to Isig, for Bere to study the faceting he still called the most incredible thing he'd ever sketched?
All she wanted, Lyra realized, was a chance to touch the cairn, to say goodbye to Deth again... because she was here, finally, instead of waiting in Herun for Morgon to finish settling his land-law, for the land-rulers to come home. She realized she was studying the rubble again, and that Astrin's eye was focused on her again: curious, intent, dispassionate in his contemplation of this new riddle that rode through his land, and all too passionate about simply knowing....
Lyra tightened her hand around the knife sheath she'd just mended and forced her attention back to the dice game in front of her. She wanted to pace out to the heap of rubble, to set her palms on the stones, to lean her cheek along a toppled piece of wall, to let the tears fall for the harpist, for her mother, for herself, for all of them. She wanted to let the stillness of the earth below thrum up through her legs, the tension of the winds sing through her back and shoulders, until she knew how to move the stones to find her way down into the mystery... and how to replace them after, to safeguard that mystery.
Her guard would worry if she let the cairn absorb her attention, as would Astrin's men, and Astrin. She was the daughter of Elrhiarhodan of Herun; she would not do that to them. Tomorrow. She would look for some way to accomplish her goal in the morning.
Lying wrapped in her blanket on a collapsible cot whose design was an old one from Herun, Lyra slept, and dreamed. In her dream, Lyra saw the party approach Wind Plain again as they had hours before, but this time they approached with the advent of twilight rather than in the brighter light of late afternoon.
The empty ground lay silent under the fading light as if even the breezes were bound; ashen clouds hung motionless on the horizon, distinct against the darker sky, pierced in places by deepest blue holding an occasional star. No leaf rustled among the trees, nor horse stamped impatiently. Like their riders, the horses waited, caught, until one last ray of sunlight flared on the edge of the plain to free them into motion.
That light drew Lyra's eye now, tugged her attention and her sight past the walls of her tent, past Imer and Kya's patient circuits of the sleepers, past the tethered horses. A flash of gold, of rose, of silver... the light became the jumbled stones of Wind Tower, the traceries of color, the fallen blocks broken or barely cracked. The shadows that lay among them were only one more part of the pattern and formed their own maze to be traversed as Lyra had traveled the imperatives of the knowledge which had been slowly seeping up within her for so long now that finally it felt part of her.
In her dream, she looked to see how wind traveled through the stones, and light and its attendant shadow, snow, and frost, and water... even fire had briefly come and gone, leaving faint black traces of soot, softened and streaked by the wind and water. Down, and down, and down, she traced the pattern of stone and air, of stone holding against stone to make pockets or cracks small enough for field mice. The proportions of air to stone changed as her perception flowed downward, until the tracery was no longer a fretwork such as the glass panes and ironwork of Danan's window but the slow opening of rock much like the caverns beneath Isig: full of unexpected colors -- blues, and greens, a bone-white luminescence that startled the eye after shades and tones of darkness. Out of that vast emptiness came an unexpected sound: a voice.
Lyra rubbed her eyes fiercely, trying to wake up, and finally realized that she was awake. Awake and standing unshod on smooth stone, although the tents had been pitched on earth mostly cleared of leaves. Awake and trying to look through the roof of the cave to see how far below ground she was, although she had no real idea of how she had arrived there, or how she would return, or, entirely, where 'there' was. Barefoot or not, her feet weren't cold, only her hands, and those only from fear now that she was, at last, awake.
A fragment of harp-weave tumbled through her memory: the slow, elegant piece Deth had never named but had written for the Morgol. This was how she would have awakened in Isig, she knew, had she stayed there even a few hours longer before checking on Raederle. Her hands were damp with sweat, and a shiver trembled through the long muscles of her thighs: anticipation, not fear.
The voice spoke again, clean, timbreless, sexless as the voice of a young child or a ghost. "Lyraluthuin. Sister."
Lyra straightened her spine in an attempt to straighten her thoughts and tried to resist the urge to look through the darkness around her. Her fear should not outweigh what privacy and shelter these children still had. Fingers -- cool, and too rigid, but still fingers -- touched her arm, shaped her wrist, curled, finally, around her hand, and she turned to look.
"Young," she breathed, shocked and shaken to tears by the reality of the small, stony form before her, the others hovering just outside her reach. More and more of them gathered with each heartbeat, silent except for the occasional soft scrape of stone on stone. "You were so young."
"We were children." The child holding her hand had star-white eyes, white as the stars on Morgon's harp, whiter than the stone they had become. "You came."
Lyra nodded, watching him, trying to etch him into her memory. "I came. I don't know how--"
"My father, our father, mastered earth and wind. You mastered earth. Can you master shadow?" The still lines of his face shifted, but not enough to let her see his expression. The darkness around them was pressed still farther back by the slow, steady build of the eerie luminescence. It felt nothing like seeing in the dark.
"I can see through shadow." She held her voice steady with the same effort which held her hand steady in his. Reassurance somehow seeped up from the earth beneath her feet, from the awareness that she had, finally, come to where she must be and what she must do. "Will that be enough?"
"I think so." That lean, cool hand moved, touched her cheeks, and came away glistening with the jewels of her tears. "We had these, once. I had forgotten."
"We needed them in the storm. Tir was kind to us." Another voice, lighter, both more injured and more healed. A small form moved forward, and Lyra could see hair falling over her shoulders in a pour of white stone. "He brought us here, where there are more languages to listen to."
"Birds as well as bats," agreed a third voice, from behind Lyra, higher and less grounded. His hands, or hers, were shorter, and looked as if they had been strong and sturdy as Bere's, in living days. "Grain, and trees, and the bark of foxes."
"Are you... is this enough?" Lyra asked, helpless. "We can... we cannot bring you life, nothing can, but--"
"You came," her brother repeated. "I was Tirnon, son of Tir. In our first tomb, he promised us a man of peace. In this tomb, he promised us kin. You came."
Lyra nodded, hands still tightly clenched, back straight, because she was no longer a guard but she could at least salute their strength. "You gave Morgon the riddles he needed. Thank you."
"We have one for you to take back to him. What seed lies wind-scattered, what crop will it raise, and what harvest will it bring us?"
"Wind-scattered...." Lyra stared into the darkness, into herself, and said softly, "Oh. Whatever... whatever we want to become. What love makes us, and duty." Her eyes and voice grew fierce, hummed with air bound to her will, shadow held to its light. "We won't bring you cousins. Not down here, not stripped of power as you were. If there are more like... like us -- like Raederle, like... me -- we'll start out human, start out... bound by love." She swallowed the sobs trying to tear loose, fought the tears in her eyes that threatened to blur her brother beyond the bounds of earth and darkness. "Morgon... Morgon knows what the Earth-Masters can be. Raederle is showing us what they could have been. We'll shape something that loves, Tirnon. We will."
"We knew love," the lighter voice said, soft and aching as stone should not be able to hurt. "We--"
A drop of water fell, splashed heavily against stone, and they fell silent.
"Yes." Tirnon, his hand falling back to his side, stepped back once. Again.
"Yes." The long-haired child faded into shadows. "Love." That light, trusting voice slid away, was gone, leaving only echoes.
"Go home." That strong, small hand gathered a tear from her chin. "Live."
Tirnon's face shifted, the stone planes resistant to subtlety, but even through her tears Lyra could recognize it as a smile. "Earth mastered us, and we are here. You mastered earth; you should return there." He slipped away, cradling her tears in his palm, and left behind the words, "They're looking for you, but you're the one who can see."
Soft and sure, a last voice said, "You have the key, if you'll only look. You are yourself, and the shadow is itself, all of itself."
And then they were gone and Lyra stood erect still, tears steadily streaming down her face for all the griefs of the battles, for pity for a race so desperate for power that they had destroyed their own children and, almost, the realms. The tears slid down her face, out of her heart, like oil on a whetstone, easing the slow give and slide of the powers surfacing within her.
The sight of the rulers of Herun was already familiar to Lyra; the skill to link to the eyes of a hawk wheeling overhead startled her only with the fact of its flight, not the sight it leant her. Morning sun painted the land with patterns she read as easily as the hawk, and she saw the movement in the grasses when he did, pulled away as he stooped after breakfast. That much was almost familiar, like learning a harmony after learning the melody.
The slowly growing intuition for fitting tags and bits of information together into a coherent puzzle had always been a gift of the Morgols of Herun; a knack for sensing flawed stones or metal seemed only one more facet of that ability, as did whispered instructions for ways to see around the edges of wind and light and shadow and hints that there were useful things to be seen there. Lyra let those new abilities settle into place as she'd have sheathed her belt knife, placing them where they'd be out of the way until needed.
She stood motionless, balanced, as odd bits of wizardry continued to rise to the surface of her mind: a bubble here, there a tor shouldering its way upwards. Ways to plunge her hands through fire or molten metal and come out unharmed, the smell of a river of stone and ways to deflect its flow, the meanings of owl screeches and how to shape herself to night and flow smoothly through it wrapped only in soft feathers. A skill in calling, from mind to mind, from hill to hill, from depth to height, from wholeness to shattered bits.
Some of the proffered skills were useful, some of them were merely odd, and some bore no relationship to what Lyra knew of herself, of her talents, of the abilities she was still accumulating for the day long-feared when her mother's death would make her land-ruler. Lyra settled herself into the relaxed balance she had learned on long nights of sentry duty and used the balance of her body to sort out a new equilibrium for her mind.
Her tears slowed finally, grief melting slowly into an aching acceptance of Deth's absence, of the loss of the High One to whom Lyra had been bound as much as any other person in the realms, and more bound than she had realized then. With that acceptance, she freed herself to look at the talents both as tools in and of themselves and as tools for her use... or not.
In the end she accepted only those talents which seemed to fit her hand and felt a part of her self, a part of Herun with its needs for sight, for forethought, for care, for mysteries hidden, nurtured, and cherished. The other skills Lyra shunted aside, settling them deep within herself: seeds replanted for a future harvest, buried under layers of pain and love, and surrounded with acceptance. Lyra didn't want them for herself but her descendents might, and what was Herun without its mysteries?
Above and beyond that drive to protect secrets, the drive that had led Lyra to be a guard, these odd tricks and skills were Deth's inheritance to her, from the most useful to the most obscure. For that alone, Lyra could love the odd bits of power even as she chose not to use them. Her descendents would have access to unexpected abilities in years to come, and would in their own time have to make their own choices of what to touch and what to leave fallow, as Lyra had made hers.
Turning, Lyra closed her eyes to let in the darkness and reached for a line of shadow cast by a solitary piece of stone on Wind Plain, somewhere above her. She remembered the rock vividly: thrice her own height, dawn-grey until the stone became pink as clouds at sunset or sunrise along a demarcation drawn straight as a sword thrust. It had fallen away from the destruction of the tower and plunged into the earth, needle sharp and needle straight.
Lyra saw the stone suddenly, sharp and clear as a hawk's cry or a spear jab in battle, and stepped forward into the shadow below the ground and then out of the shadow above the ground. The grass was cold under her feet, and the wind whipping across the plain chilled the tear streaks on her cheek... and one of Astrin's guard had turned, sword already drawn and pointing at her heart.
Lyra sighed and sat down abruptly, mindless of the chill of the grass and the earth beneath it. The warrior stared at her uncertainly, suddenly pale under a shock of black hair, and called for his captain, once, then more loudly a second time.
Astrin arrived first, his face corpse-white. He stared at her, searching for something until, finally, he reassured himself he wouldn't find it. Lyra knew the point had tipped when color began to flush his cheeks again. A single muscle in his jaw twitched rhythmically, fascinating her, but the narrowing of his eye and the thinning of his mouth tempted her to come to attention as best she could.
It was too much effort and Lyra sat on the grass and watched in bemused fascination as Astrin clamped down on anything and everything he might say and only pulled her upright to wrap his cloak around her shoulders. The Ymris warrior watched them both, wary in a way all too familiar to Lyra from the weeks of watch around Lungold. She flinched away from the warrior's fear of her and into Astrin's shoulder; the dark shade of the king's tunic meshed with the darkness roaring up through her mind, rolled over her sight, and then over the world.
The room around her was familiar as her own hand, and as unfamiliar.
Lyra looked around at the tapestries, reached out to not-quite-trace a single rider lagging behind the hunt and wondered, again, what he was watching or thinking that he had let the others get so far ahead. Like the figure on the wall hanging, she had lagged behind Morgon and Raederle. She had used her skills as a guard rather than explore other abilities that might have been of more use... or might have made her more of a target for the Earth-Masters. Raederle had spoken once of Duac as 'my brother with Ylon's coloring, but without the curse of his temperament;' Lyra had wondered ever since if Duac's death on Wind Plain had been accident or assassination. Now she would be a long time wondering if she had missed the call of her own talents or ignored the call as too deadly.
She let her hand fall, let her gaze follow the arc and drop to consider the terraced beauty of the green-silver plants that helped channel the water running down the stone floor of this antechamber. Lyra watched the water curve and carve its runnel through the black stone before she knelt to scoop some of the water into her mouth. The familiar bitterness reassured her that not everything had changed, even as she knew that one day soon she would track the stream back and look to see where Dhairrhuwyth had built escape routes into his house before he set out to answer the riddle that had killed him.
"No," Lyra said softly. "Ohm killed him, not the riddle." She straightened up, slim and poised under flowing robes made of Herun cloth, dyed in Crown City to match spring grass and winter skies. The silver band confining her hair had been made by Herun craftsmen; the knife on her belt and the boots on her feet came from her land. So did she. There was no shame in that, and she had no regrets in choosing to remain of Herun.
A muffled clatter of spears on stone outside the room pulled her head around to look at, not through, the hanging curtains of gold and orange that veiled the doorway. The noise was deliberate, Lyra knew, a kindness from her sister guards as they warned her to collect herself.
For all her time on the trip from Ymris back to Crown City, all the silence Lyra had wrapped around herself as she tested her new mental equilibrium, this was what she had most wanted and simultaneously most wanted to be done with. Days on trails and on ships, visiting other land-rulers, dealing with traders, speaking with dead kindred who still remained to make her heart ache, learning who and what she was, and the things she would become, and those she would not... she had questions still to ask, but they were less urgent now. Questions for her mother in her varied roles as mother, and land-ruler, and Deth's lover, for Raederle when she came to visit (as she inevitably would), for Morgon when she saw him. They could and would wait, however.
Hands fisted within her long, loose sleeves as she resisted the urge to straighten her hair or adjust the drape of her robe, Lyra stood her ground for the final trial of this journey: finding words to make sense of it all to Elrhiarhodan of Herun.
Comments, Commentary, & Miscellania:
Melannen asked for a Riddle-Master story involving riddles and how it felt to have people you knew become living legends; this is what emerged. From a 'writing process' standpoint, it's one of the stranger stories that I've ever done. Unanswered Riddles emerged in 1500- and 2000-word chunks over about a week and a half, despite my being sick. The only thing that stopped it was my fever going too high, and once that subsided, the next section would end up on the screen and then in email in-boxes. Despite the high number of betas who looked at this, I made surprisingly few large changes; what you see is, for the most part, what came out. A couple repeated phrases came out, a few clauses traded places in sentences, or a repetitious choice of words was edited away. That's about it.
Alyss and Merewyn read it in chunks as I handed over hardcopies. Devo and Barb read each chunk as it came out, provided moral support in chat, and helped me figure out the last turn to end the story. Vanzetti helped me brainstorm ideas, and provided what I consider to be the definitive take on Astrin Ymris. Rana, Raine, and Hafital all beta-read this mother at the last minute, despite their own Yuletide responsibilities. I owe them all a great deal, and none of them are responsible for any errors that may have crept in and/or lingered.
I don't remember the last time a story possessed me as this one did, and I'm still trying to decide what I think about it. Because of that, even more than usual, I would very much appreciate comments on this, if only to discuss something that I'm still not entirely sure is mine so much as I was its. If you care to discuss it, catch me here on AO3 or here on my LJ. And thank you for making it this far.