Wolfcry Page 14

My dreams were those of an unborn infant, the sound of a heartbeat, and the gentle rhythm of breath indrawn and exhaled.

Chapter 17

We returned to Wyvern's Court at midday. For a moment I paused on the hills, watching my people go about their lives, almost as they had every day before. The scene was marred only by the soldiers I could see patrolling the public areas, serpiente on the ground and avians either perched or circling the skies above. A fierce protectiveness swept over me, as well as anger, and fear. This was my world. These were my people. And someone had threatened them.

What do you want from me, Wyvern's Court?

I demanded silently.

What can I possibly give to you that will let you be free to live, and love, and dance and sing? Anything you want-except to hurt each other. How can I spare you this pain?

I jumped when I heard a wolf's howl; I took a step in its direction before I heard a response from another direction, and then another. Just the Vahamil. They used this music to communicate over great distances.

"Oliza?" Nicias asked. I wondered what he had seen in my face.

"Let's go," I answered.

With Nicias beside me, I walked hesitantly into the reception hall in the Rookery, where my mother and father were waiting for me. I knew I was about to face an interrogation. I had one foot in the door when my father dragged me farther in, lifting me in his arms as if he couldn't believe I was real. My mother followed suit, whispering praise for answered prayers.

I learned from their hasty words that when they had discovered "my" note in my room, Urban had told them of the awkward scene between us in the nest.

"You didn't run away?" my father asked finally, his hands on my shoulders as he looked at me intently.

"No," I answered.

"What happened with Urban wasn't  -  "

"Let's let Oliza talk," my mother suggested, slipping her arm around my father's waist to pull him back and give me room. "What happened, Oliza?" The answer to that question was trickier than I had imagined it would be. The four of us sat around a small conference table at the back of the hall, and I described as well as I could the attack and what I remembered of my captors, which wasn't much.

"Is anyone tracking them?" my father asked Nicias.

"I've got three of my people on it," he replied. "The lions are a practical group; they won't fight when they know they can't win. That they accepted an assignment to abduct Oliza in the first place shocks me. I didn't expect them to tangle with Wyvern's Court." Again, Nicias sounded disappointed in himself.

"Continue," my mother said to me.

I described stumbling through the snow, not knowing what it was, sick from the drugs. I told them about Betia saving my life by bringing me to the Frektane. I explained about the poison and for the moment left them to assume that it was why I still could not shapeshift; I wasn't ready to deal with that loss yet. There were more important things to discuss.

I hesitated when I got to the incident with Velyo. Among both avians and serpiente, what Velyo had tried to do to me was a crime punishable by death. Even if my family and the new head of my guard were willing to ignore it  -  and even that much I doubted

-  they would not forgive it. It would fracture our peace with the wolves, and in this time of unrest, we could not afford to alienate our allies.

I tried to gloss over the moment, but my mother noticed. "You were in such a hurry to leave that you brought no one?

I might not agree with Frektane's arrogance, but at least he would have provided you with an escort."

I shook my head, forming my words carefully. "A disagreement arose between Velyo

-  the new alpha, now  -  and me regarding a matter I was not willing to compromise on. As an outsider far from home, I was not in a position to question their customs, but neither was I willing to accept them. I thought it best to leave." My mother sighed, shaking her head. I knew that my explanation sounded like atrocious diplomacy, but I could not defend myself with greater detail.

"Betia walked most of the way with me," I continued. Just saying her name made me feel a little ache in my chest, so I gave as little detail about her as I did about our trek home. "Whenever we heard the lions, we ran," I explained. "So I can't tell you anything more about them from my trip home. Eventually

I ran into Kalisa's tribe, and they sent for the Wyverns. That was when Betia stopped traveling with me."

My story was full of holes. Omitting the Obsidian guild had caused that. I was uncomfortable lying to my parents, so I tried to account for some of the brevity by explaining, "I did receive some other help on my way home, but from a very private group who requested I not discuss them."

Nicias asked, "Are you certain they were not involved with the abduction?"

"I am."

My father said, "I won't insist on knowing why you ran from the wolves; the Frektane are willing to overlook the slight, and I have faith in my daughter's judgment. As for your mystery group, we will trust your instincts there, as well."

"Thank you," I said, before my father added, "As long as you plan to explain where you received the melos you are wearing, that is."

"The melos."

I answered, "was given to me for its earliest traditional reason: as praise for my abilities, and as a request for me to dance. There is no law saying that it must mean more, even though it commonly does. As for the color," I continued, "the giver was a wolf, who doesn't know all the connotations." Among the serpiente, gold represented the bond between mates.

My father nodded slowly, acknowledging the facts but hesitating to outright agree. Even though a request of a dance was the true meaning, for centuries the scarves had been given as courting gifts.

I sighed. "Betia became a very dear friend to me during our time together. She saved my life repeatedly and traveled with me for weeks. I would never have survived without her.

She knew how much I resented the pressure I received from serpiente at home, and how much I wanted to perform."

Both of my parents looked relieved the instant they realized that Betia was a woman, though Nicias was still looking at me with an expression I could not quite place. What if I

had fallen in love during my travels? What if I had brought home a white viper from the Obsidian guild? All things considered, bringing that group back into the court would have been an amazing political accomplishment.

Further, what if I had just danced, and some young man I trusted had offered the melos with no ulterior motive, as Betia had  -  simply because he knew what it meant to me?

My parents never would have believed me. If they had, they never would have trusted him.

There was a short period of silence, which Nicias broke for me. "Would you like to see the note?" he offered.

I nodded. "Please." He handed over the letter, which had been written on the stationery I kept in my room in this very building. "Do we have any idea who wrote it?"

"The best scholars in the Hawk's Keep insist that, as far as they can tell, it is your handwriting," Nicias answered. "I don't know of anyone who openly admits to such skill for forgery. Perhaps one of the mercenaries?"

"I don't know. It would probably be helpful in their line of work, but..." The letter distracted me, and I began to read.

To rule is easy. To truly protect my people is harder. I write this with tears in my eyes, hoping that perhaps one day my time will come, but believing that for now we are not ready for a wyvern on the throne. We have struggled for twenty years to make Wyvern's Court one land, but one cannot perform such a marriage while both parties bleed into the dirt and fight against the Fates. Let us heal; let our children learn peace. And then maybe it will be time.

I leave now of my own free will. This is what I must do. Please do not seek me. Oliza Shardae Cobriana

"I don't know who wrote it. I don't know who would write it." I shuddered, standing up. My parents exchanged an intense glance, the silent communication of a long-married pair. My father looked away and sighed.

"What?" I asked.

"This is going to be a very delicate time in Wyvern's Court," my father said. "Your mother and I have been discussing what could be done to calm our people."

"We know how reluctant you are," my mother said, "and hate to press you for a decision, but we believe that it would comfort them if you announced your choice for your mate." She added quickly, "You don't need to go through the ceremony yet or do anything you aren't ready for. Just let our people know that the decision has been made. People believed too easily that you had abdicated."

My father winced, but he supported my mother. "I know I was one of those who encouraged you to wait, but perhaps that was wrong. Technically, your mother and I still rule, but Wyvern's Court looks to you for guidance. As long as you are undecided, it will be."

I recoiled, refusing to see the sense in their words. "I have friends and suitors on both sides of the court, but no one I love, no one I could even imagine as..." Protector, companion, friend and lover. An alistair, whom

I could trust with my life and my heart. A mate, whom I could turn to in any moment of joy or grief. A leader, someone to rule beside me. Someone whose children I would carry. Someone I would spend my life with, however many more years I had.

"I can't just pick a life partner like plucking a pebble out of a riverbed," I argued. "I know you two made the agreement without love, politically, and found it later  -  but you were lucky, incredibly lucky, and there was no other choice. I don't know a single avian man who wouldn't be horrified to see me stand on the dais and perform a harja during the Namir-da  -  and I certainly don't know one who would dance with me. And I don't know of a serpiente who  -  "

My mother sighed. "Oliza, I'm sorry. I don't know the answers this time. I only know that indecision can cripple this entire world. And if we can't make Wyvern's Court survive, what does that say?"

I lowered my head. "I'll consider your words," I said softly. Even if I could choose, I remembered what had happened to Urban for daring to steal a kiss. How much would I be endangering any man I claimed to love? "But for now, I need some air. Can we continue this later?"

My mother nodded. "Go. Nicias?"

"I'll be with her," he answered.

"You'll want to speak to your people soon," my father said gently. "They have heard by now that you're back, but they're going to want assurance from you that the rumors of your abdication are false."

"I will speak to them," I promised.

As soon as I know what to say.

As soon as I knew how to tell my people that I was grounded, flightless. As soon as I could figure out what to do.

Nicias followed me out. I knew he had to, but in that moment, I did not want him near me. I wanted to be alone.

"Oliza, I know why you're panicking," he said, his long legs easily keeping up with mine. "And... I noticed that you didn't tell them."

"What could I say?"

"You could say what happened," he replied. "Your mother might know something that would help. More important, she would want to know, and you might feel better having told her."

I spun to face him.

Panic

-  that was the word he had used, and maybe it was the right one. "Nicias, they want me to choose a mate. I know why they feel I need to, but for the life of me I cannot figure out who to pick. No, not for my life, but for the life of Wyvern's Court. Especially now, with my wings gone. How could I ask an avian man to be my alistair, knowing that he will always see me as some crippled creature whom he must protect and be polite to because he pities her? I

can't ask a serpiente, not if I'm never going to take to the skies again; the avians would have objected to a serpent before, but how much more will they object if they know I'm not even one of them anymore?"

How can I lead them if

I am not one of them?

I jumped when someone spoke behind me. "I'm glad to know you think so little of those who walk the Earth like mortals." The dry, emotionless tone made my skin crawl as I turned to face my cousin. "Don't worry, little queen," she added. "The sky doesn't really matter so much, now, does it?" How many times had Hai been told the same thing since coming to Wyvern's Court with her falcon wings broken and lost? "And at least your serpents can ignore your hawk's blood, if you never show it to them again." I had felt pity for her before, but this was too much. Nicias must have recognized how nasty the conversation could get, because he quickly said, "Hai, maybe I should speak to Oliza alone."

She shook her head as she obediently moved toward the front door of the Rookery. She paused just before leaving, though, to say offhandedly, "If you had the skill and courage to force-change her, you could heal her wings, my prince. Though in the process Anhamirak's power might ravage your magic as bitterly as it does mine." Nicias's eyes widened in surprise, but before he could respond, she added, "Of course, never having practiced it, you might also kill both of you. And I would find that unfortunate." Hai turned to me. "Oliza, if you're ever interested in speaking with someone who has a great deal of experience with these magics, a working knowledge of Anhamirak's fire and absolutely nothing to lose from the falcons' wrath or her own self-destruction, you know where to find me. Right now, I'm going to go for a ride. Serpents keep telling me it's just as grand as flying."

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