Return 13 pt2

(chapter continued from previous post)

The man who sank down on the ground offered no immediate threat, though Tyrel stayed ready. “I already did choose,” he said in clear, if somewhat accented, Enodian. “I saw Faiga above us, she’s a very large owl, and when I realized what they were doing I tried to get Kaveri under cover but Faiga attacked too quickly. Sahen wasn’t up yet, I couldn’t explain. I didn’t know they were going to, I was only supposed to watch.” Drawn in on himself as he was, he looked miserable. He certainly wasn’t local, not with that pale skin and the fair straight hair that was hiding his face. Although his frame, as near as Tyrel could estimate, suggested substantial height and breadth, his actual build was quite lean, closer to scrawny—and being entirely naked, it was easy to see what muscle he did have. “How did you know?”

“Aithre’s children see what’s there. And as well for you that I did, and that even before Aithre’s visit I persuaded Kieran that the spy we knew about was better than one we did not see, or he would have killed you in a heartbeat the instant he caught your scent. As it is, you’re fortunate the cats tend to follow his lead. I assume you’re only accustomed to hiding from humans.”

“If you actually tried to help, well, that’s a start,” Madoc said shortly. “Now, how do we trust anything you say?”

That got him a shrug. “Why would you?”

“You could,” Narcissa said, more gently, “tell us why you’re willing to help us.”

The blonde sighed heavily. “We don’t have that much time. My friend Demetrios and I saw you dance, at the abandoned farm.” That was to Lysandra. “Meyar loves you. Believing lies when they’re the only source of information, that’s one thing. Believing lies that contradict what you see in front of you, that’s another. I haven’t been able to write new music in… twelve years? Fifteen? I lost count, it doesn’t matter. Demetrios can’t paint anymore, not since before I was born. But you can still dance like that, with all that passion. There’s a lot I don’t know, but I do know that they’ve lied about everything and I need to know the truth and you have that.”

Lysandra let her arms fall, some of the rigidity softening. Not normally susceptible to flattery, she nonetheless looked at him now with less anger.

Having watched Lysandra dancing in the moonlight, a sight she took care that humans never saw, Tyrel didn’t find it all that difficult to believe that it could have a powerful effect—especially on someone who had been misled into losing his own passion, which they knew was common. On the other hand, manipulation was at least equally common.

“Aithre told us,” Narcissa said, “that we should remember what makes them fear us, watch for allies in unexpected places, and keep an open mind. They fear us because we not only tell the truth about what we are but demonstrate it and embody it.”

There was that, and Aithre’s advice was generally sound. It certainly had been regarding Onyeka. Quite possibly Aithre had known Lysandra had an audience, and about their spy being in hearing. The name Demetrios sounded Enodian, possibly further reason for her to take an interest or at least a connection allowing her to perceive more.

“I’ve heard worse reasons for switching sides,” Tyrel said finally, trading glances with Madoc, who shrugged and nodded with a dismissive flip of one hand. “All right, any further conversation and truth and histories and whatever will have to wait. Where did they take Kieran and Kaveri?”

“And while we’re at it, do you have a name?” Lysandra asked.

That got a brief flicker of a smile from the blonde. “Outside my own people, no one can pronounce it properly. I’m usually Juro. One place is by far the most likely for them to take them to, since there’s no moon-temple here. Probably they didn’t know for sure what you are until today. I didn’t tell them. Maybe they knew last night, since they could have had Faiga fly over and that would have been easy to miss from below but she could have seen you by moonlight. It’s very unlikely that Oluwakanyinsola had permission to invite you to visit and even less likely she had permission to give you food. She doesn’t think about what she does. The ones they choose for land or local authority either don’t last long or climb very quickly the ruthless way.”

“I take it you know the lady,” Tyrel said.

“My other form is small and cute—a sign that Sahen has little respect for me, I was told. I grew up speaking four languages and I’m a scop—a trained poet and storyteller and musician by memory. I learn new languages very quickly and remember what I hear. Sold as an exotic pet to a wealthy lady, I can gather a lot of very personal information. Wondering all the while about the right and wrong of it.” He shrugged. “I know more about her than I wish I knew.”

“Small and cute,” Mirren muttered, “has nothing to do with respect. I wouldn’t want to be a cat the size of Kieran. Well, most of the time…”

“Well, it’s Lady Olu-whatsit’s lucky night,” Madoc said. “By moonset, she’ll be dead or free. So this was a quickly-planned attack. I wonder if whoever is in charge panicked and is trying to prevent a repetition of Enodia.”

“Betraying your friends for saying the wrong thing gets you rewards,” Mirren said dryly. “From what the friendly ones in Enodia said, anyway. What do you think the reward is for a heretic?” She gave Tyrel back his dagger, ran to the cart, and returned with the basket of weapons, handing Madoc his sica and claws, pulling out her own crescent-hilted short sword and long knife to belt into place. Tyrel replaced dagger and both katari. Kaveri’s club and her heavier weighted cords remained within. He was sure she’d been wearing a light one, but doubted she’d get to keep it or that it would be much use even if she did.

“Very high rewards,” Juro agreed. “And the one in charge here, from what Demetrios says, recently lost a lot of status. He’ll be looking for ways to get it back. Demetrios thinks it isn’t the first time. But it might also be fear. Warnings about heresy used to be in fairly general terms and mostly about asking forbidden questions. Talir being angry about Neoma was a common example.”

Tyrel gestured upwards wordlessly, and yellow light splashed around him. Talir, right now, was anxious to the point of agitation, it came across more strongly than anything but her love had in years, but she was also intensely interested in what was happening here, he was absolutely sure of that.

“I know,” Juro said. “Lies. But in the past few years, the warnings about heresy have been much stronger, almost hysterical, and have had a lot of emphasis on the dangers of talking to outsiders who know, or seem to know, too much.”

“Well, that’s ironic, given their methods,” Lysandra said. “So the ones at the top are terrified of us and terrified that we’ll actually talk to you. Are they going to want to kill them immediately?”

“The laws say that a heretic should spend at the very least a full day, from first light to last, in complete darkness so they can contemplate their own blindness that has led them off the path and away from the moons’ light. Then they’re tortured, in the dark and out of the moonlight, but not killed. Before their moon sets, they’re brought out into the moonlight. When the moons refuse to heal the damage done, it’s called a sign of guilt and rejection, and they’re left to die. When they do heal it, it’s called penance.”

“Never innocence, though,” Narcissa said. “Abominable system. To the moons that would be a question of mercy, not guilt. They mourn when their children die.”

That made Juro pause for a moment, maybe trying to absorb that, before he continued. “I don’t know about your friends. He may want to wait for someone who can verify that they’re from Neoma’s bloodline. He’ll gain more status if there’s no question. That one of them belongs to Talir… I have no idea how that will be interpreted. It will not be that Talir isn’t actually angry.”

“Kieran and Kaveri are both resilient, but let’s not put them or Talir and Lirit into such a position.”

“Do you have,” Tyrel asked Juro, “any doubts at all, any reservations, about helping us? Just to be clear on this, because I don’t think it will be a surprise, if you do betray us you’re dead even if you aren’t in immediate reach.”

“Of course it’s not a surprise,” Juro sighed. “You have nothing to trust me on except my word, and the word of anyone who has already switched sides once has very little value. I have better reason for believing you. I don’t want your friends tortured or killed, I think they’re better people than anyone on the so-called True Path and the moons approve more of them. I don’t like what’s been done to Ejiro and Ilek. I hate a lot of what I’ve done since I was stupid enough to believe them. Whatever honour I have left isn’t a high price to pay to change things and try to fix things.”

“I wish we had time to get you talking to Sahen.” What had Aithre said about the power of a desire to atone for mistakes? “All right. Concrete details. Where are they, how are they confined, and how many people are we going to have to disable or kill to reach them? And while we talk, we need to find you something to wear, because we need to not attract excessive attention. It won’t be from the right moon so it’ll feel sort of itchy, but for the moment it will do.”

* * *

Kaveri woke with her head pounding. Galimont, and she’d set herself up to be kidnapped? No, Galimont was years behind her. They were in Ilek. She’d been chasing the lemur to get her knife back, and there’d been a sudden downdraft that probably meant someone with wings had ambushed her… then nothing.

She sat up, one hand on her head. She’d been stripped naked, she noticed. Why did people who captured her always do that?

In the near-total darkness, she explored by touch. There wasn’t all that much space in this cage for her and clothing anyway. It was roughly cubical and she doubted it reached four feet in any dimension. It was made of metal. Very heavy vertical and horizontal bars had a more dense mesh of finer bars woven through so tightly that she wasn’t sure even Lysandra could squeeze through, and the bars and mesh continued both overhead and underneath, which made sitting extremely uncomfortable. She was certain the bars of both sizes had left imprints in her skin from her own weight. She had the impression that the cage was in a room of fair size, the walls at least several feet away in any direction. It was completely lacking in windows and, judging by the stale smell, had little or no ventilation.

A soft whuff from nearby made her squint in that direction. Yellow eyes gleamed in the shadows.

“Kieran?”

Another whuff, confirming it.

“This is probably not a good situation.”

He growled softly in agreement.

“We’re probably stuck unless the others can find us and get us out without getting killed, aren’t we?”

He sighed heavily, and from what she could make out, rested his head on his forepaws.

“Wonderful. Especially given what we heard in Enodia and from Aithre. I wonder whether we can goad them into just killing us fast.” She couldn’t even reach him with a hand, for whatever mutual comfort it might be. He hated cages, and she wasn’t fond of them herself. With a sigh that echoed his, she tried to achieve what comfort she could to wait for either friend or foe to arrive.

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