Authors: Sharon Lee
Sunday, June 25
Low Tide 5:29
Something woke me, cleanly and completely.
I was curled on my side, back comfortably pressed into a broad, warm chest, and I smiled even while I strained my ears for an echo, or a repeat, of an unusual sound.
All I heard was the faraway whisper of the surf striking the sand, and, much closer, Borgan breathing deep and even in sleep.
The sound of the waves was too much a part of the usual to wake me, though I’d’ve been awake in a shot, if it had someway stopped. I didn’t think Borgan’s breathing had woken me, though if I thought about it, the fact that I was sleeping with somebody might begin to unsettle me.
I decided not to think about it.
Instead, I opened my eyes and looked at the clock on the bedside table. Two-two-two read the illuminated red digits. Something moved in the darkness beyond the clock—but it was only the curtains, blowing in the breeze from the open window.
And then I felt it.
A vibration, deep inside my chest cavity, as if someone had plucked a single string of my heart.
Or as if someone had unraveled one of my workings.
“Fuck!” I sat straight up, my blood suddenly cold.
Borgan muttered sleepily, then sat up as I threw the covers back and jumped out of bed.
“The carousel,” I said rapidly, grabbing a pair of jeans from the chair and skinning into them. “I forgot to ward it tonight. And somebody—”
The plucked string vibrated
. I staggered, caught my balance, and yanked open the closet door, finding a sweatshirt by feel and yanking it over my head.
“Somebody’s releasing the prisoners,” I gasped, as another string was plucked, and another still.
Borgan already had his jeans on.
“I’m with you,” he said.
to get down there!” I snapped, terror feeding urgency.
And, as I’d done twice before in the last day, I . . . shifted.
This time there was no blurring, no sense of dislocation at all. It was as if I had pushed open a door and stepped from my bedroom into the carousel enclosure.
The air burned with magic; the carousel was spinning in the eye of a maelstrom of power; the animals writhing as if they were alive. I saw the moose shake his antlers; the coon cat raised one paw as if it were about to smack a mouse.
Vassily came into view, crackling with power; his feet braced against the decking, his arms flung wide. His hair, the hood, his clothes stood away from his body, as if he were underwater.
It was a stupid thing to do with so much power in play, and yet, I had to see what he was doing; if he had begun the opening sequence . . .
Even in Side-Sight it was hard to understand what he was doing. I spent precious seconds looking for a coherent spell before I realized that the plan depended on brute force, and a dizzying expenditure of
Mr. Ignat’ would be
Brute force had, however, been effective. The enchanted sleep was shredded; the prisoners were awake . . .
The last prisoner who had left the carousel had done so by transforming the wooden body she’d been bound to. Vassily had broken the binding spells, too, and the prisoners were emerging from their prisons.
I saw a thick, glowing braid of complex powers writhe out of the wolf’s wide jaws. Possibly that was a viable shape in whichever of the Six Worlds the emerging being called home, but in the Changing Land, it wouldn’t last five minutes.
I ran forward, the binding spell already formed and ready. With so much magic in play, I was going to have to get close, to be sure that the spell wasn’t deflected—or absorbed—before it struck its intended target.
I gathered myself to jump to the deck, and yelled as a steam locomotive hit me in the side, sending me head over heels on the cement floor.
“Jailer! I will kill you!”
Twisting to my feet, I ducked a blast of unformed
, its edges burning bright. The woman who had thrown it was naked, and I could feel the power burning in her blood, even in the chaos around us. One of Ulme’s countrywomen, I thought, and then I was too busy parrying her attacks to think much more.
I threw the binding spell at her, that being what I had in hand. It clung to her and she screamed, throwing herself to the floor.
I jumped onto the decking, an offensive spell on the tips of my fingers. The wolf, the woman of Kashnerot, even the angry storm of power—those things were distractions. I needed to get to Vassily.
And prevent him from opening the Gate.
I rounded the wheel’s curve and there he was, floating a few inches above the decking now, power rippling and flowing, infusing him until I doubted he would survive it, poor mortal thing that he was.
Two more running steps—I wanted to be close, to be sure of a strike, rather than just dispelling my working into the general confusion.
Vassily turned, lazily, and flicked his fingers. Power blossomed, raising my hair and crackling along every magical nerve I had, and I threw my offensive spell even as I realized that it was all smoke and mirrors—a diversion.
And a blast of raw, burning power struck me in the back.
I dropped and rolled, felt another blast go over me; snapped the second offensive spell to the fore, came up on my elbows, and released it point-blank into the woman’s chest.
She screamed; it seemed to my magic-saturated eyes that she simply . . . unraveled, and collapsed bonelessly to the decking.
I came to my feet, heard a roar, and was knocked backward, off the decking and onto the floor. Rolling, I called for my third, and last gun, got my feet under me—
And smelled the rich smell of the ocean, heard a sound like wave striking iron, and, in a moment, a hand under my elbow, easing me to my feet.
“Borgan.” I almost fell against his chest.
“You could’ve waited for me,” he said mildly.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen again. I wish to hell I knew what it was and how to get a grip on it. I
talking with Mr. Ignat’.”
It struck me that it was ’way too calm and quiet, and I glanced over my shoulder. Chaos was still ongoing, but there seemed to be a wall between it and us.
“Raised some peaceful waters,” Borgan said. “Won’t last long in this. What’s the plan?”
“Stop the boy who’s trying to open the Gate. Rebind the prisoners. Mop up. Get drunk.”
He nodded. “Let’s do it, then.”
The heat, confusion, and noise returned.
The noise—the godawful racket that meant the Gate was open.
I ran, Borgan at my side, but it was too late; the Gate
open, and two rainbow-winged beings stood in a pall of shadow that washed out over the deer, the otter, and giraffe, coating them and the decking, and the spare, crumpled figure in a gray hoodie, his lips parted, and a line of blood running from his nose.
The winged beings embraced; I felt the shock of their passion in my gut, and for a moment I was truly frozen. Arms and wings about each other, the Varothi turned, and I shook myself free of paralysis, looked into and through the Gate’s energies, to the particular piece of mosaic that I had to remove in order to close it. I extended my will—
And lost my concentration, as Borgan grabbed me around the waist and swung me against him.
“Let them go!” he snapped. “They don’t belong here, and they never did.”
“But—” I began, and then I stopped, because it was true; they
belong here. They were dangerous to this land, and all that lived on and in it.
The land of which I was Guardian.
And so we stood there, Borgan and I, and watched the Varothi walk into the shadow. A damp and cooling breeze sprang up, smelling of leaves and grass. The burning air cooled, and
flowed through the Gate in the Varothis’ wake.
Somewhere, a hound belled. The shadow lightened, relinquishing Vassily and the poor, dumb animals.
Silently, the Gate closed.
Borgan let me go. The air still stank of
, but the chaotic energy was gone. It felt . . . peaceful inside the carousel’s storm gates.
Peaceful and very quiet.
I left Borgan’s side, mounted the decking, and knelt next to Vassily. Despite the thin line of blood, he looked peaceful, too. My eyes filled with tears, and I wondered if the Ozali of Varoth had made good on his promise.
I put my hand against his cheek—and almost fell backward.
the land shouted, barking in equal parts joy and relief.
“Alive,” I said, my voice shaking.
“Good. Best let him sleep until we get the rest of it cleaned up,” Borgan said, which was only common sense.
But it turned out that there wasn’t much cleanup.
I could see the carousel’s decking through the misty body of the woman from Kashnerot, a mist that faded into nothing as we watched. I felt a thrill of guilt, and heard my grandfather’s arms master in memory, “A warrior kills what he intends to kill.”
“The boy I hit’s gone, too,” Borgan said from the floor. “So that’s two accounted for.”
“Three, counting the Varothi,” I corrected, and walked around the decking until I came to the wolf.
It was, as I had suspected, empty. The goat, the knight’s charger, the unicorn, and the hippocampus were likewise empty. Of all the animals on the carousel, the only one touched by magic was the fiberglass rooster.
“They’re all gone. We killed two; the Varothi’s lover escaped. I wonder where the other two are?”
“Prolly got themselves out of here as fast as they could sing the words,” Borgan said. “No reason to stay in the Changing Land, is there?”
“I wonder if they’d know where to go, without their memories,” I said. “Unless the Varothi managed to give them back.”
“Can’t really take a man’s memories,” Borgan commented. “Not to say
. For one thing, where would you put ’em? If it was me doin’ it, I’d just build a nice wall inside my man’s head and put his memories right behind it.”
“So, once the Varothi started breaking the place up, the prisoners would have gotten access to who they were again? That would explain the Kashnerot woman wanting to kill me for being her jailer.”
“Excuse me just a sec,” I said, and closed my eyes to query the land.
“If they’re here,” I said eventually to Borgan, “they’re hidden good.”
“Who’s hidden good, Katie?” asked Mr. Ignat’, stepping through the hole in the storm wall. “And who came through the Gate?”
“We’ll all go down to my place for coffee and I’ll tell you all about it,” I said. “First, let me tend to Vassily.”
I sat cross-legged on the decking next to him, and asked the land to nudge him awake.
His eyes opened, brown and dazzling. He extended a hand, and gripped my arm where it rested across my knees. He smiled at me; a smile of benediction and blessing. A smile you might expect to see, if you were blessed beyond the normal ken—on the lips of an angel from heaven.
“Kate Archer,” he said, his voice trembling with what I thought was awe. “I have been redeemed.”
High Tide 11:49
“So, let me see if I have this right,” I said, handing Mr. Ignat’ a coffee mug.
Mr. Ignat’ alone had taken me up on the offer of coffee and conversation at my place, Borgan excusing himself by reason of having to fish. He’d given me a thorough kiss before we parted, though, just as if my grandfather hadn’t been standing right there, beaming at us benevolently.
after work, if you like it, Kate,” he said, and left us at the water’s edge.
“All right, Katie, dear,” Mr. Ignat’ said, as I settled on the sofa next to him. “If it will make you more comfortable to review, please do, though the concept is quite simple. I did tell you that power carries information.”
“You did,” I agreed, peaceably. After all, it wasn’t his fault that I hadn’t thought through the ramifications.
“So, having shared
, and by extension information, the Varothi just stripped what he needed right out of my code—the structure of the binding spells, how to open the Gate safely—
he needed. Then he returned through his link with Vassily, and set his nefarious plan in motion.”
“It really was,” Mr. Ignat’ murmured, sipping coffee, “quite elegant.”
“You weren’t there for the carnage part,” I said, and sighed. “I feel like such a pushover.”
“I think, when you’ve had a chance to examine the information you obtained from the exchange of
, that you were up against someone who has quite a bit of training and control. He seems a splendid tactician. To manage all that, with minimal loss of life—of course, he knew he wouldn’t be able to harm you, Katie, since your powers were entwined, but—”
“Wait.” I held up a hand. “Wait.”
Mr. Ignat’ raised his eyebrows and sipped more coffee.
“When I have a chance to examine his information,” I repeated slowly. “How do I do that, exactly?”
“That’s a very good question. All you need to do is open yourself to your power, as you open yourself to the land. You already have the Varothi’s information; you only need to bring it into consciousness.”
I have the file; all I have to do is open it.
I leaned forward and put my mug on the coffee table.
“Will you watch for me?” I asked.
He smiled gently. “Of course, Katie.”
I closed my eyes, and asked the land to be very, very quiet. Then I centered myself, and tried to clear my mind.
I considered the possibility that the Varothi had found a way to withhold his information, to lock the file, in essence, in order to protect Jaron, if for no other reason—and only see how well I had protected Jaron! Taken by my enemies, and locked away, his life reduced to a single function—leash.
leash, by which my master would ensure that I come to heel . . .
Mr. Ignat’ had made a second pot of coffee. When I opened my eyes, he was at the counter, sawing bagels in half. Sun was flooding through the French doors.
“Hello, Katie. Breakfast?”
“Thank you,” I said. “Breakfast would be good.”
I stood, carefully, and stretched, then I walked out onto the summer porch and stared over the dunes, to the sea.
, I thought,
going to be a hot one, too
I felt a slight disturbance in the air, and knew that Mr. Ignat’ had joined me.
“The Varothi imprisoned in the carousel—Jaron—was set up,” I said. “He was taken and imprisoned to ensure his lover’s cooperation with a certain political faction. My Varothi . . .” I smiled slightly. “
Varothi is Prince Aesgyr. He’s old and he’s sneaky, and I no longer feel like a doofus before him. He’d give
a run for your money.”
“If I were so foolish as to put myself in his way,” Mr. Ignat’ murmured.
I laughed. “In other news, the wild gate was his; he used it to enter the Changing Land. He’d originally thought to use it as his escape route, too, but then I went and closed it. And he hadn’t anticipated the problems connected with figuring out which prisoner was who. Also . . .”
“Also, they—Aesgyr and Jaron—they didn’t go back to Varoth.” I turned to look at Mr. Ignat’. He met my eyes with a smile.
“They went to Daknowyth. Aesgyr intends to place Jaron under the protection of the Opal of Dawn.”
tactician,” Mr. Ignat’ said, with clear approval.
he can keep the jailbreak quiet,” I said. “He’s only good for so long as the guys holding his leash believe that Jaron’s still fastened to the other end.”
“I’d been wondering,” I said, “if I should call the Wise. All of their prisoners gone; they’re not going to like that. When they get around to noticing. But now I’m thinking that the Wise aren’t wholly above little things like politics and extortion.”
“It might be so; they’re wise, not infallible.”
I nodded, looking out over the water. There were a couple of kayaks out, just beyond the breaker line, paddling upcoast, toward Surfside.
“Not infallible,” I said, nodding. “And it’s really none of my business what they do in their spare time. When it becomes my business is when they use the land of which I’m Guardian—and the business that’s been in our family for years—to do their dirty work. We didn’t ask to be the jailers for the Six Worlds. And I reject the proposition that we have to sully our honor and endanger our people on the whim of the Wise.”
There was a small silence. The guys in the kayaks were making good time; at this rate, assuming they were following the coast, they’d be in Cape Elizabeth in time for a late lunch.
“Will you be calling the Wise, then, Katie, and giving them your decision?” Mr. Ignat’ sounded only politely interested.
I turned my head and smiled at him.
“No. And I won’t be telling them that the prisoners are gone, either.”
And I won’t spoil Aesgyr’s surprise
, I added silently. He’d trusted me with his secret; he’d trusted me, so I gathered from his information, to be a woman of honor.
Well. At least I was a woman who knew how to keep her mouth shut.
“The Wise,” I told Mr. Ignat’ out loud, “can go fish.”
Mr. Ignat’ laughed, and wrapped me in a downright exuberant hug.
“Excellent!” he said. “Oh,
, Pirate Kate!”