Read Blood Song: The First Book of Lharmell Online

Authors: Rhiannon Hart

Tags: #Teen Fiction

Blood Song: The First Book of Lharmell (16 page)

BOOK: Blood Song: The First Book of Lharmell
4.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

I bit my lip hard, feeling tears begin to brim in my eyes. It could be the interference from the rain. Or she could be dead, stripped and burning in the storm. ‘I should have warned her earlier. I sent her miles off to the north-west, looking for a pass. There was no way she was going to make it back here in time.’ I looked down at Leap, checking for burns. He was unharmed, but his eyes were large and terrified.

‘It’s all right,’ said Rodden. ‘As soon as the storm stops we’ll find her.’

I slumped against rock and closed my eyes. There was nothing to do except listen to the hiss of the rain and the screams of the dying brant.

––

The rain eased just before dawn. I had fallen into a fitful doze a few hours earlier, fatigue finally overcoming me.

I awoke to an alien world. Everything had either been bleached white or burnt black. The brant was a wreck of twisted, smoking bones. It looked too much like the fears I held for Griffin and I felt my stomach twist with nausea. I was about to loose a mental yell to her when Rodden stopped me.

‘Let me do it. We want the Lharmellins to think we’re dead. You’re too upset to channel your thoughts.’

I reluctantly put my wall back up and scanned the sky with my eyes. Before Rodden could begin I saw a speck with beating wings come hurtling off the tors.

‘There!’ I cried. It was Griffin. I gave a triumph- ant, ear-splitting whistle and raised my wrist to her. She dived for us, pulled up and settled on my arm, making a clicking noise in her throat and ruffling her feathers. She was just as upset as I had been. I checked her over, but there wasn’t a mark on her. Amazed, I asked her where she’d been. She showed me an image of the brant nest we had passed going into the mountain. She’d spent the night in the nest with the chick. I laughed with delight. ‘Did you get that?’ I asked Rodden.

‘Loud and clear. Clever girl.’

He didn’t seem as happy about Griffin’s safety as I was. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘How many arrows do you have?’ he asked.

I checked my quiver. ‘Four.’

‘I have none and I lost my bow.’

‘Then let’s call a brant and get out of here.’

Rodden shook his head. ‘It’s too dangerous. They’ll have a tight watch on them now they know we can control them. If we call one down we’ll bring a whole army of harmings down on our heads too.’

‘But there’s no other way to get home. Unless we walk.’

‘We have no supplies. There’s nothing to hunt. Everything will have been killed by the acid storm. We don’t have our packs so we have no water, either. We won’t make it.’

‘Then what? We need to get out of here.’

Rodden clenched his jaw and looked back at the tors.

‘No,’ I said. ‘No way. I’m not going back in there. You heard them, they want to kill us. We’ll call a brant.’

‘It’s too dangerous to do from here. If we get closer, they might not notice until it’s too late. The Lharmellins won’t be active right now, so there’ll just be harmings on guard. Plus, they’ll be disorganised. They have a whole valley full of frustrated part-harmings clamouring for Lharmellin blood.’

I considered this. Every fibre of my being was adamant that I didn’t want to go back in there. But he was right. It was our only chance to get home. I sighed. ‘Let’s get going then.’

It was easier to scale the tors without our packs, though it was thirsty work. We had no food, no water and no blood. Griffin scouted ahead, flying back to us before sending any thought-pictures to keep our mind activity to a minimum. For the moment, the pass was clear. It would have been safer to find another entrance but we didn’t have the time. We had to get a brant before the Lharmellins could regroup and begin their hunt. I thought of the blue flashes among the trees, the clicking noises they made as they closed in on their prey. To be hunted in that way – the idea was terrifying. This time going in, there was no joking, no laughs. Our mouths were set in grim lines.

‘You could have warned me,’ Rodden said as we climbed, his voice tight with anger. ‘At the Turning. I thought you were going to become one of them right before my eyes.’

‘There wasn’t time,’ I muttered. I remembered the urge to kill, my confusion. The truth was I hadn’t been sure what I was about to do. Someone had to die, and I was sick at the thought that I might have turned on Rodden, or even myself.

‘I felt you hating me,’ he said, his voice flat, colourless. ‘I felt you wanting to kill me.’

I shook my head, unable to speak. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.

‘I felt you wanting to kill yourself.’ His voice came from behind me.

I felt tears burn my eyes, as if they were made of acid. I was too tired to hold them back and they left searing trails down my face. The ground blurred in front of me and I had to stop or risk my footing. I swiped at my face, angry that a few drops of salt- water had hobbled me.

‘Don’t,’ I said. ‘I couldn’t help it.’

I had hated him, loathed him, wanted to kill him, and he had heard it all.

He cursed, and caught my arm and turned me. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry. Don’t cry, I’m an idiot.’

I fumbled for a piece of sleeve that wasn’t filthy so I could wipe my face.

With a moderately clean corner of his cloak he dabbed at my tears. I closed my eyes, avoiding his gaze.

‘He of the arrows and the watchful eyes,’ he murmured.

I opened my eyes in surprise, and he was smiling at me.

‘You were only gone a few seconds, and that was your first thought when you came out of the frenzy. Do you remember?’

‘I’d forgotten your name,’ I said thickly.

He ran his eyes over my tear-stained face. ‘I have to say, you were rather magnificent up there. Scary as hell, too. I think I was pulling at you so hard it was no wonder you wanted to kill me. It must have hurt.’

‘It hurt,’ I agreed. ‘It hurt a lot. But I think it kept me on this side of sanity, so . . .’ The words felt strange and inadequate in my mouth, dwarfed by the mountainside, the sheer size of the sky. ‘. . . thank you.’

His hand was still on my sleeve, which was spotted with holes from the acid rain. The air about us crackled with tension. He was looking at me the way he had in the ballroom, but this time there truly wasn’t another soul around.

After three seconds had dragged by, I punched him on the shoulder. ‘And don’t be such a bully, or you’ll make me cry again.’

––

We reached the pass. Griffin gave the all-clear and we started through. I felt sick with worry. It was all wrong, going back into a place where everything wanted us dead. But Rodden was right – we didn’t have a great deal of choice. We would soon be hunted down or die of exposure if we stayed in the forest. I tried to comfort myself with all the things I was going to do when I got back to the palace. It would be before nightfall. We would get home by moonrise tonight, or we would die here.

‘A bath,’ I whispered to Rodden. ‘That’s the first thing I’m going to do when I get back to Pergamia: have a bath. I’ll probably need ten baths to soak all this grime off me.’

He nodded. ‘I’m going to shave.’ He scratched his chin. ‘And then I’m going to burn these clothes.’

‘Burn mine, too. But not the boots. I quite like the boots.’

We approached the entrance to the valley with caution. The morning light showed that the valley had been stripped of greenery. All the trees were blackened and bare. The acid had killed everything. Nothing moved on the ground or in the sky. I realised how much of a miracle it was that we were still alive.

‘Where will the brants be? They’re not all dead, are they?’

Rodden shook his head. ‘No, they would never risk that. There must be an overhang or a cave somewhere. We could go looking for them, but it’s too dangerous. We’ll just have to wait and watch the sky. They’ll have to feed their chicks soon. There’ll be undisturbed land somewhere for them.’

‘That nest in the pass. We could stake it out.’

‘We could. It’s risky, though. There are only two exits and they could be so easily blocked off.’

‘What if I watch the inside entrance, you watch the outside entrance and Griffin watches the nest? Leap can be our go-between.’

‘All right, but let me take the inside entrance.’

‘Because it’s more dangerous?’

‘Yes.’

‘But I have the bow and arrows.’

‘Give them to me then.’

‘I’m a better shot and you know it. Everyone in Xallentaria knows it.’

‘By the tiniest fraction of an inch! It barely counts.’

‘If the wind gets up and you don’t correct for it properly . . .’

‘Oh, shut up. Fine, take the inside entrance. Keep Leap walking between us. The pass is only five hundred yards long so he shouldn’t be absent for more than fifteen minutes at a time. If he’s gone longer than that, come running. Tell Griffin to alert us as soon as the brant comes back.’

We took our stations. Leap sat with me for a few minutes before turning and pacing to Rodden at the other end of the pass. I was glad he had slept in the dolmen the previous night as he might have to keep the walking up all day. I tested my bowstring and notched up an arrow. I was crouched behind a rock but I had a clear view of the valley below.

I began to see the holes in our plan. Once the brant came back to its nest, how were we going to coax it down without using thought-pictures? And what if the chick’s parent was the one that had died in the storm last night? We could be waiting forever for a bird that was never going to turn up.

My eyes grew tired from staring at the landscape, but I couldn’t afford to let up. Leap reappeared and disappeared six, seven, then eight times. He carried nothing from Rodden in his mind except a picture of him, exhausted but vigilant, at the mouth of the pass.

After another three circuits by Leap, I heard the flap of wings overhead. The brant was descending from directly above the pass, its wings beating awkwardly in the cramped space. I waited for it to settle on its nest before I crouched low and ran along the path towards Rodden and Leap. We met in the middle, twenty yards from the nest.

‘Now what do we do?’ I hissed. ‘It’s too far up to get to.’

Rodden stared up at the nest, shielding his eyes against the strip of bright sky above. Then he cursed.

‘What?’ I whispered.

‘They’ve taken off its saddle and bridle.’

I looked. He was right. ‘Can we still ride it?’

He seemed doubtful. ‘Maybe. If we upset it, though, it could easily throw us off. Maybe we can make some sort of harness.’ He pulled off his cloak and began tearing it into thick strips. ‘Tear yours up, too. We’ll just have to tie ourselves onto it.’

I did so reluctantly. It was a good idea, but it really did mean we had to get home before nightfall or we would freeze to death. I was shivering already.

Once we had a knotty length of black rope I asked, ‘Now what? We’re still no closer to that bird.’

Rodden looked up at it again. ‘We’ll have to call it down. There’s nothing for it. It won’t be easy to pull it off its nest, though.’

‘We can’t do it here, there’s no space for it to land.’

‘Outside the tors then. We can both call it while you keep your bow trained on the entrance. The harmings can only come through single file so you can pick them off one by one.’

‘And we’ll just hope that once I’ve shot the only four arrows I have the others will trip over the dead harmings and brain themselves on the rocks?’

‘Something like that.’

Our plans were getting worse.

Very carefully and quietly, I explained the plan to Griffin and Leap. I added that if anything were to happen to Rodden and me they were to get far, far away. I told them there was probably still forest on the northern side of the tors and it would be full of lovely, juicy rats. They were to stay there, and . . . 

I felt the urge to cry again and I stood up quickly, praying that whatever happened, they would be safe.

‘All right,’ I said hoarsely. ‘Let’s get this over with.’

Outside the tors, Rodden broke a large stick from a tree. It sizzled in his gloved hands and he put it down quickly. ‘Once you’re out of arrows, use the bow to beat them off. I’ll use the stick. Just keep fighting. I don’t think they have weapons and they’ll be weak from hunger.’

We were weak from hunger too, and fatigued. It had been a long time since we’d eaten a proper meal or had a drink of water, and last night’s blood seemed a long time ago. Our plan was desperate and clumsy, but I tried to feel as confident as Rodden looked.

He tied the knotted rope firmly around my waist and left the other end lying on the ground.

‘What about you?’

‘It’s too dangerous to tie ourselves together. I’ll tie you to the brant and then just hold on to you.’

I didn’t like that at all. What if the brant took off without warning and he was left on the ground? I opened my mouth to protest, but closed it again. The odds of us staying alive long enough to get on the brant were slim. I took comfort in the knowledge that the harmings would probably tear us limb from limb rather than take us captive. Being dead was infinitely preferable to being Turned.

I suddenly understood the meaning of ‘fate worse than death’.

I crouched and stuck three arrows into the ground, points down, at easy grabbing distance. The fourth I notched up and aimed at the entrance, ten yards away. Rodden stood beside me. The pass curved slightly so we wouldn’t see the harmings until they were most of the way along it.

He gave my shoulder a squeeze. ‘Ready?’

My stomach was in turmoil. I was sure there was something critical we were forgetting, but I nodded. Together we found the brant-thread and began a summoning command. Instantly I felt the bird’s reluctance. It was unsettled by the storm and its chick was fretful because of Griffin’s presence in the nest all night. We kept our walls up around our minds, but the harmings were monitoring the brants just as Rodden had predicted. From inside the valley I felt a hundred minds prick up. The harmings listened for a split second, recognised us with a roar of outrage and began to swarm towards the pass. They were voracious, angry, and had murder on their minds.

I tried not to be distracted from persuading the brant and keeping aim but the harmings began beating at the wall I had put up. They were trying to break it down, force me into submission by their sheer numbers. My hold on the brant wavered as I felt the first harmings approaching the pass. The bird screamed in defiance.

BOOK: Blood Song: The First Book of Lharmell
4.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Never Too Hot by Bella Andre
Aliena by Piers Anthony
Owls Well That Ends Well by Donna Andrews
The Frighteners by Donald Hamilton
The Alpha's Desire 5 by Willow Brooks
The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
Flying to the Moon by Michael Collins
The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell