(chapter continued from previous post)
Kieran and Kaveri edged backwards, so there was less open ground between them and Neoma and Narcissa, more space between them and the ranged arc of opponents. Lysandra and Demetrios followed their lead, cautiously. It was something of a relief to have family and allies all clustered together and easier to protect, but Tyrel wasn’t sure he cared for where this was all going. Gernot wasn’t going to be swayed by any appeal to logic or emotion: he had too much of a vested interest in maintaining the current system, which justified even the worst of his actions. The same would be true of his second in command, and probably of others. Some of the rest might be persuaded, but they’d have to take an immense personal risk to act on it. And the humans? They were out of their depth and if it came to a fight they were doomed, but it would be dishonourable under local values to disobey their lord.
“We were told,” Neoma said, “that the moons wanted us to live under a harsh law and obey others who were more worthy of their grace. The law was created to turn us into domesticated animals, easily controlled for the purposes of others with no say in our own lives. Draw this load, hunt that prey, carry this, guard that. Talir helped me to escape. She asked an earthborn to give me sanctuary. She gave me a new ability that helped me to survive there, the ability to weave moonlight into fabric and other things. When Gernot believed me dead, Talir took me very far from here to protect me. Would she have done any of that, if she were displeased with me? Since then, she has chosen two others who share my blood…”
“More,” Narcissa murmured, before translating the last line. “Several died, only Kieran met ever them. All were Talir’s until recently.”
“Incomplete information,” Neoma muttered. “Explain to them, please.”
“Since then,” Narcissa announced, “Talir has chosen only from Neoma’s bloodline. Until some twenty-five or thirty years ago, only Talir chose Neoma’s bloodline. The others have begun to do so more recently, which suggests that they approve.” She paused to wait for Neoma’s next words.
“You do not have to obey anyone. You can reject their authority and the right they claim to command your actions and dictate your thoughts and to punish you if you question them. Our mothers will not be angry and will not judge you for it.”
“In fact,” Narcissa added on her own, “they will be delighted.”
“This is all heresy,” Wira snarled. A bright line of silver-blue blood still showed across his throat, unhealed. “All lies, meant to turn the chosen of the moons from the True Path. Do you think we’re that gullible?”
“You were,” Demetrios pointed out, “sufficiently gullible to fall for empty promises and to continue to consent to your own abuse. We all are. There are abundant facts in front of you, and you are refusing to admit that they exist. That is worse than gullibility.” Tyrel heard a soft echo, and realized that Narcissa was translating for Neoma. “How do you deny that you’re bleeding still, and what that means?”
“Gernot’s right, this is trickery of some sort! We’ve been following the laws for centuries, and the moons have blessed us with success after success! They reward our submission to them with immortality and freedom from merely human laws! And you want us to reject that in favour of listening to The Great Traitor who turned her back on the True Path?”
“The laws are no more than four centuries old. Possibly less. Before that, no one could have followed them. But there is no reason to believe that the moons only created our kind at that time.”
“The moons gave us the laws so we could follow them the right way, the way they want us to! They were not invented by men, they were given directly. The laws are not meant to be interpreted or debated or doubted. The laws say to obey those who earn greater authority because they are more worthy and nearer to the moons, and not to question that!”
“Exactly Neoma’s point, I believe. An excellent way to convince sheep that they should worship and obey the shepherd who wears sheepskin and eats mutton.”
The one Juro had named as a leader shifted his grip on his spear, his brows drawing down. Tyrel readied his throwing knife. The moons didn’t want anyone dead, he knew, but things would get complicated if there was an all-out attack.
Sanur’s light brightened and gathered in two spots side by side, then coalesced into Madoc and Mirren—human-form and looking understandably confused, dressed but of course unarmed.
That sent all four humans and most of the reborn back a couple of steps in apprehension. It wasn’t, after all, something they ever could have seen.
The usual disorientation didn’t last long: there wasn’t much ambiguous about the situation.
Juro held out the sica hilt first to Madoc, Madoc’s belt with the clawed glove in his other hand, and Madoc accepted them with a nod of thanks. Tyrel edged around closer so he could give Mirren her belt with her sword and matching knife.
“Might get messy,” Tyrel murmured. “Hold for the moment, but stay ready. Juro?” He handed over his own dagger from his back, as a replacement weapon, if a poor one.
Madoc left the clawed glove on his belt, but kept the sica out; Mirren drew her sword, but kept the point down. Without a word, they both fit themselves into place, Mirren nudging Lysandra back towards her sister. Lysandra didn’t resist.
Yet again the moons had broken, or at least bent, the rules… though yet again, in a way that might discourage a fight. The stronger they looked, the less appeal a battle would hold.
Which meant… one amarog and nine others in human form with widely varied combat abilities and widely varied weapons, against a dozen or so who weren’t all moonblood but were armed with spears giving them a longer reach.
For reasons that were probably different from those of the moons, this was not a fight Tyrel particularly wanted to see happen. At least, not without getting Lysandra and Narcissa safely out of range, and possibly Neoma and Demetrios as well since he had no idea what they might be capable of. Getting the humans off the field would be good, too, for their sake. Juro seemed able to handle himself well, but he was under-armed. Tyrel sighed to himself.
“Look around you,” Tyrel said tiredly. “You do outnumber us, but not by much. We’ll be healed as soon as we’re hurt, but you won’t. We can use both forms at will, but you can’t. It’s very likely that the moons will not allow any of us to die, except those poor humans over there because they can’t help them, but they don’t want us to fight at all. They’re trying to make sure we don’t, can’t you see that? Can we please just end this some other way?”
“How?” asked a tall, lean-muscled woman with extremely dark brown skin and close-clipped black hair, skeptically. Sanur’s green-gold light haloed her faintly. “What are you proposing? That we stand back and let you walk out of here? With, I suppose, Juro and Demetrios?”
“We’re certainly not going to leave them here to suffer whatever punishment you lot would come up with. The same goes for any of you. Leave with us if you like. You don’t have to stay, with us or here, unless you want to.”
“And you’ll all just go away? Leave Ilek?”
“Well, no,” Tyrel said reluctantly, “we can’t do that.” He’d have preferred to get to that part once they were on more neutral ground and the non-combatants were no longer involved.
“What does that mean?”
“We’ve made promises to Ejiro and his current Bride and her predecessors that we would help any way we can. So that, y’know, the local earthborn doesn’t bloody die from the completely insane atrocities you’ve committed around here. This means that unless we can come to an understanding, then once this standoff is over, we’re going to have to resume looking for ways to stop you. The easiest solution would be to kill all of you, or as near as the moons will allow, right here and now. If you think I’m boasting, you have never seen an adult amarog whose pack is threatened and who has a massive grudge a hundred and fifty years old.” Kieran rumbled agreement. “Against my better judgement, we’re going to try to avoid that because our mothers and our healer and, apparently, Neoma all say we should, even though that might mean taking longer to help Ejiro. If you’re stupid enough to push this into a fight, then the consequences are your own fault.”
“You arrogant little bastard,” Wira spat. “You think you can stand there and tell us that the moons love you better than those of us who have devoted our lives to them, and that you somehow know better than we do what they want…”
“They don’t love us more,” Mirren said in exasperation. “Mothers typically reward good behaviour, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love their children who behave badly.”
“Look up sometime,” Lysandra said. “Look at your mother, and just listen.”
“They have more important things to do! We aren’t worthy of that!”
“No, that is one of the things they created us to do, and it’s how they communicate with us. What mother considers her child unworthy of talking to her?” Lysandra turned her own gaze to blue-white Meyar and extended both hands palm-up. “If I should no longer talk to you and listen for you and rejoice in your love and dance in your light, show me that I’ve been wrong and disrespectful and I’ll do so no more.”
Pale light brightened around her, then faded back to its previous level.
Her mottled dark trousers and top had become a version of her Enodian dancer costume: an elaborate top that still left her arms free, loose multi-layered trousers with an overlapped slit up each leg, all in near-white with indigo-blue edging and indigo serpents. She even had her dancer jewellery, though in silver, not gold, with blue stones that glittered in the light.
She glanced down at herself, then up again, smiling. “Thank you.”
Wira hefted the spear in his hand and drew back his arm to throw, all in one swift motion.
Lysandra’s reflexes were very good: she dropped flat to the ground, and the spear missed her, thudding home in the mud brick wall a few feet past her. Demetrios offered a hand to help her back to her feet, which she accepted with a smile of thanks.
Juro jerked the spear out of the brick, tested the balance of it in one hand, then tucked Tyrel’s knife into his kilt and shifted his grip to two-handed. Tyrel had scant personal experience using a spear, but he’d fought beside and against those who did, and that stance looked confident and competent both. There was definitely more to this poet than what showed on the surface.
Tyrel wasn’t sure whether he heard it or felt it or just knew it, but he had the sense that his entire body was vibrating with that one word. It was Talir, he was sure, but not Talir alone. It was… loud, but that wasn’t quite the right word even though it drowned out everything else.
(chapter continued next post!)