Wolfcry Page 13

Nicias nodded slowly. "Of course." After that, he changed the subject to one that obviously had been gnawing at him the way the attack on Urban had been at me. "Oliza, when you were taken... all your guards thought you were sleeping in the nest, and everyone from the nest thought you had gone back to the Rookery. You were abducted from the middle of Wyvern's Court." His voice was raw with guilt. "There were signs of a struggle by the statue in the market, but there were dozens of scuffles that morning and the rest of the day, once word got out about what had happened to Urban. We were so focused on minimizing those fights that it wasn't until midday that anyone even noticed you were missing. And once we found the note, half of your guard  -  including Gretchen  -  refused to search for you, saying that if you had left willingly, it wasn't their place to drag you back like a disobedient child. Others hesitated because they wanted to obey our captain.

"Actually, I have charges of mutiny and treason hanging over my head right now for blatantly ignoring Gretchen's orders and convincing others to follow me," he said,

"though your parents won't support a trial for either. Unfortunately, by the time I convinced people to look for you, the rain had washed most of the lions' tracks away. We sent out search parties by air and land and found almost nothing. We failed you."

"It sounds," I answered, "more like you were one of the ones who didn't." Nicias shook his head. "I swore to protect you, Oliza  -  not the Arami, nor the heir to the Tuuli Thea, but you.

Even if you had left Wyvern's Court willingly, I would still have been bound to protect you. And not to judge you." Reluctantly, he added, "I didn't know whether you had wanted to leave, but I didn't want to lose you either way." The trip home was long and dismal. Within a couple of days some of the serpents from my guard met up with us, but even then we were short several Wyverns. These were the only ones who had looked for me, I knew, the ones who would not let me disappear into the night. None hesitated to consider Nicias their leader; apparently he had earned the position. They watched me vigilantly, never leaving me by myself for a moment. I appreciated the security, even though I desperately wanted to walk away from the group a little and call for Betia.

None of the serpents had seen a girl by her description on their way here, and while they had seen wolves, they admitted that they couldn't have recognized Kalisa from Velyo in wolf form.

A few of the serpiente glanced quizzically at the melos

I wore, but they never asked their questions aloud, so I never had to answer them. Being surrounded by armed guards made me uneasy. In Wyvern's Court, I had rarely been guarded unless I was somewhere secluded. Never had this many been around me at one time, and never had they been so heavily armed. There had never even been an incident in Wyvern's Court in which my guard had needed to draw a weapon. Ours was not a warriors' society.

Right now, we looked like one. Any stranger who approached us would be seen as a threat, not as a visitor.

Sitting by our campfire and thinking my dark thoughts, I shuddered and felt Nicias put a hand on my shoulder. He sat beside me and stirred the fire in silence. I needed to tell him the one thing I hated to admit even to myself. He was the only person I knew who might have the power to do something about it. Softly enough, I hoped, that my other guards would not hear, I said, "Nicias, when the lions took me, they..." It hurt to face this, as if saying it would make it real. "It wasn't just the drugs that stopped me from coming home sooner. Those wore off days ago. They clipped my wings."

He tried to hide it, but there was a moment when I could see his horror, the very response I was afraid I would get from all my people.

"Is there anything you can do?" I asked. "I don't know much about falcon magic, except for how powerful it can be. There has to be a way  -  "

"I wouldn't even know how to begin," he admitted.

"I know you've been studying further since you came home. I know you have some kind of a teacher. Isn't there someone you can ask?"

"I have been studying," Nicias answered carefully, "but along very different lines. And as much as I hate to admit it, no one on Ahnmik would help me with this."

"Why not?" I demanded.

Nicias averted his gaze, the way an avian guard would when he suspected that his monarch was near to hysterics and he wanted to allow her some dignity. The instinctive, infuriating gesture made something inside me snap.

"Nicias, you are one of my oldest friends, and one of my personal guards. You told me that you preferred not to discuss your time on Ahnmik, and I accepted that, because I trusted that you would tell me anything I needed to know. You brought home Hai, a half-falcon heir to the throne, and I accepted that because I knew that your vows left you no choice but to help a cobra in need. You continue to study falcon magic and continue to tell me little about it or about your falcon tutor, and I have accepted that because I trust your loyalty. But now, I ask you a direct question about a relevant, necessary topic, and again you refuse me?"

"Oliza, maybe this isn't the best time for  -  "

"Nicias Silvermead, I am not asking you as your friend. I am giving you an order, as your princess. "What is it that you learned on Ahnmik that pertains to me, that makes you step away from me, that makes you study so hard  -  and makes you so certain that the falcons who seem perfectly willing to teach you whatever it is you are learning will deny you this?"

"They fear you," he finally answered, looking at me defiantly. He drew a deep breath, trying to get control of himself before he continued, in a softer tone. "You're right. You need to know. Oliza  -  " He bit his lip, hesitating. "According to the falcon Empress," he told me finally, his gaze distant, as if he hated to say it, "the Cobriana still possess some of the magic of their ancestors  -  a dormant power that they can no longer use. The Shardae line also carries latent magic, though again, they cannot use it. The falcons believe that, should those avian and serpiente powers combine, they would become active."

He looked at me as I struggled to unwind his nervous words.

" You carry that magic, Oliza, but thousands of years have passed since anyone has wielded it, and so it is still sluggish in you. The experience you had with Hai after Urban was hurt  -  the disorientation and lost time  -  resembles the episodes many falcons have when their magic first wakes. Often they perform incredible, or devastating, feats of magic they would never be able to replicate. Fortunately, yours was fairly mild, which supports the falcon Empress's belief that even if your magic wakes, it will never be strong or reliable. Probably nothing would have happened at all without Hai's magic acting as a catalyst. But when you have a child, he or she will also be born with avian and serpiente power, and the falcons believe that that child will be able to wield it."

I stood and stepped away from him, trying to clear my head. What had happened with Hai and the Obsidian guild had seemed like a fluke, perhaps with a simple and reasonable explanation. I had been raised in Wyvern's Court, not in a falcon's land of magic.

It didn't make sense to me.

"Avians and serpiente are so different," I argued. "They may live together now, but they come from completely different worlds. How could my parents' joining possibly have bred something neither side had in the first place?"

Nicias winced. "Wasn't it the dream of a history where avians and serpiente lived together that led your parents to found Wyvern's Court?"

Only then did it occur to me that Nicias's time on Ahnmik was spent with the only living creatures who could remember the days when the wars between the avians and the serpiente began, who might know how they began. "Is it true, then?"

"Not in the way your parents envisioned," he replied. His words seemed carefully chosen. "But both powers, from Kiesha and Alasdair, originated in the same place, two halves of a whole."

There was something he wasn't telling me, and I truly wanted to shake him and demand that he stop evading it, but I refused to get sidetracked.

"So my child may have magic," I said, keeping my mind on the future.

"The falcons believe that the power she might have would be dangerous," Nicias explained. "I don't know whether I believe that, but I know that they do. I know that if you have a child and she shows an ability to wield the serpiente magic that you carry, the falcons intend to kill her."

Dear gods.

I had ordered him to tell me this, but it made the air seem dense and suffocating. They would kill a child?

My child?

Nicias caught my hand, drawing my attention back to him. "I may be able to bind the child's magic, or at least control it. I have been working with a falcon named Darien, to try to find a way."

"And when were you planning to tell me all this?" My voice sounded hollow.

"When you chose your mate, so you could discuss it with him. I had hoped that I would be able to give you some assurance of safety by that time." I couldn't help shivering. "I assume it's occurred to you that if the falcons are so opposed to my rule, they could easily have orchestrated recent events."

"That's true; they could have," he admitted softly. "I can't say that they didn't, even though they assured me they will not interfere yet. On the other hand, if falcons had chosen to remove you..." He took a deep breath, his disgust obvious. "Urban wouldn't have been the one who was beaten and nearly killed. You would have been, and it would have been fatal. Further, they would not have gone to great lengths to soften the blow by convincing us that you had left willingly; they would have left us with a serpent or an avian with blood on his hands, to drive us into a civil war."

"You know this of them, and you still trust them?"

"I trust Darien's motivations," he said. "If I didn't, I wouldn't be working with her."

"And despite that, you know that she wouldn't help you with my wings?" The horror of being grounded was something I could wrap my mind around, whereas the atrocity Nicias had just described was beyond my comprehension.

"Darien probably would, but the Empress and her heir would never let her. I had to bargain to keep you safe from them.

They won't help protect you from anyone else. And if Empress Cjarsa forces Darien to stop working with me, it won't matter if your wings are clipped or not. When your first child is born, if the royal house of Ahnmik does not believe that I can make the child safe, they will kill her, and you, and anyone else who stands in their way." I tried to calm myself, practicing avian control, wrapping reserve around me like a cold blanket. I couldn't let this information break me.

"We can discuss this in more depth when we need to," I said. "When I declare my king, I will ask you to explain this magic to me: why I have it, why my ancestors had it and why my child will have it. After... after I have a child," I said, willing my voice to be level, "we will take precautions, to either control her power or control the falcons if they will hurt her."

The thought made me shudder. We had just ended one war. I was not enough of a fool to try to preserve a child's potential magic at the cost of a war with the falcons. I said,

"We will do what we must to persuade them that she is not a threat. Without bloodshed. And as for my wings..."

What was losing the sky if I could lose Wyvern's Court entirely?

"I will make do. I need to."

He nodded. "I'm so sorry."

I shook my head.

"Try to get some sleep," he suggested. "We will probably be back at Wyvern's Court by tomorrow evening. Someone there might know something about your wings. But, Oliza?"

"Yes?"

He met my gaze with his very blue eyes, and asked not with a guard's examination but with a friend's regard, "If you don't mind my asking, who gave you the melos?" My hand brushed the soft cloth as I remembered dancing for Betia, and I once again hoped that she was okay.

Softly, Nicias asked, "Have you made your decision already, then?" I shook my head. "Just a friend," I told him. I was going to have to explain the melos to the serpiente when I returned to Wyvern's Court, or risk everyone there jumping to the same conclusion. A female wolf  -  wouldn't that shock the court?

It was no wonder that, when I slept, the old nightmares invaded my mind. I was back in Wyvern's Court  -  and I was armed. I was wearing the blade my mother had given to me; the steel shimmered as if new when I drew it. The instant the blade cleared the sheath, I saw the first wound appear on my own skin. The blade was already bloodied, even though I could find no enemy to slay.

"Oliza, this is madness," someone said, pleading. "There has to be another way  -  " I woke with a gasp, shivering even in the warm air, but before I could sit up, someone was beside me; arms were going around me and guiding me back to sleep. For a moment I thought Betia had returned, but I quickly realized that it was just Nicias lying against my back, protective and friendly  -  the way we had once slept as children in the nest.

I needed that comfort now.

This time I dreamed of the sky as it could only be experienced in flight, something I longed for. I dreamed of the Obsidian guild, and the melos

I had danced for Betia. I dreamed of running with a wolf, and then of running as a wolf. I half woke once again, wanting to weep at the dreams lost. What wouldn't I give to have those days back?

I turned in Nicias's arms, tucking my head down against his chest, and closed my eyes one more time. I matched my breathing to his, allowing his peaceful sleep to guide me back into the realm.

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