Authors: E.M. Sinclair
Tags: #epic, #fantasy, #adventure, #dragons, #magical
‘You spoke well
Tika sighed. ‘Please. I
am not really a lady and I’d much prefer you just called me
The Bear nodded slowly.
‘A strange name to me – Tika?’
‘It was given to me by
the Dragons.’ Her chin came up. ‘It means small one in their
The Bear’s mouth
twitched and she glared at him.
‘Take no notice of
father.’ Essa’s purple teeth seemed even brighter in the lamplight.
‘He likes nothing better than to drive you mad with his
An enormous hand rested
on Essa’s head and The Bear growled at her. ‘This is my son
Menagol,’ he said.
Tika studied the man’s
face. Identical to Essa’s, the light blue eyes, the broad nose,
wide mouth and thick eyebrows. His hair was in dozens of short
braids where Essa’s was cut quite short. But then he smiled. Tika
swallowed. His teeth were stained a brilliant crimson making it
seem as though he had a mouthful of fresh blood.
‘Are you twins?’ she
surprised by the question. ‘For sure. Most Bears are
Tika looked back to
where Theap and Sket were sharing a jug of something she hoped was
tea. ‘Is Theap a twin then?’
‘Yes.’ The Bear’s
rumble was soft. ‘His sister died in the womb as his mother died,
moments after Theap had emerged from her body. He was my son from
Tika heard the note of
pride in The Bear’s tone when he spoke of Theap, as when he spoke
of his own two children.
‘Theap’s mother ailed
during her pregnancy,’ he went on. ‘Her husband died of a fall some
time before the babes were ready to be born. He will be mage
trained this year, late though he’s left it.’
Menagol gave a ghastly
red smile. ‘He’s still resisting that idea father.’
The Bear winked at
Tika, unseen by his son. ‘And you will be married this winter,’ he
Menagol scowled while
his sister chuckled.
‘I am in service to the
Dark,’ she said quickly before any such fate could be suggested for
The Bear gave a shout
of laughter and clouted both his offspring on their skulls. Such an
affectionate blow, Tika reflected, would probably leave her
unconscious for days. The Bear peered around the room.
‘Where’s your mother
‘I think I saw her when
I came in – she was talking to Kija,’ Tika replied.
Just then, Shea and
Kerris arrived, Kerris wearing trousers and shirt to her obvious
glee. She headed straight for Essa and pirouetted in front of the
‘A lady found these for
me. Don’t you think they’re good?’
Before Essa could
answer, Kerris was swept onto The Bear’s lap. Tika saw Shea’s eyes
widen and moved closer to her.
‘What’s wrong?’ she
‘We’ve never been
allowed to sit on people,’ Shea whispered back.
Tika had thought her
life as a slave child had been about as bad as it got. But she
could remember having scrapes and bruises kissed better, and the
comfort of someone’s arms and lap when scary stories were told
before bedtime. Over Shea’s shoulder she saw Essa and Menagol,
their pale eyes watching them, clearly having heard Shea’s words.
They looked more alike than ever, brows drawn down to form a single
line above those eyes.
Tika heard a burst of
laughter and saw Sket settled with General Whilk, Theap and Shield
Master Garrol, exchanging tall tales no doubt. The small woman
who’d greeted her arrived, a thoughtful frown on her face. The
frown was replaced by a scowl.
‘Does no one in this
family remember their manners?’ She gestured at Tika and at
Gossamer Tewk, who had worked her way half round the painted wall.
‘Have you been offered tea or food? Of course you
Tika was astonished to
see Essa and Menagol climbing to their feet and rushing to collect
cups and plates from various tables. Emas folded her arms and
waited while her children offered round cakes and bowls of tea to
Tika and Shea.
‘Are those my honey
cakes Emas?’ The Bear growled.
An entire plateful of
cakes was taken into his custody which he then proceeded to share
with a laughing Kerris and a slightly more wary Shea.
‘These are wonderful,’
Tika mumbled through sticky crumbs.
Emas’s frown vanished.
She drew Tika to a couch. ‘I have been with Kija,’ she said without
preamble. Tika waited. ‘I gave her one of my cushions.’
Emas blushed and Tika
wondered why ever Kija wanted a cushion. Emas reached behind Tika
and held out a cushion for Tika to look at.
‘Kija said it
sparkled.’ A small finger traced the lines of gold
Tika smiled. ‘Dragons
collect sparkles.’ She looked into pale blue eyes exactly the same
shade and shape as Essa’s and Menagol’s. ‘Anything that sparkles –
coloured stones, rain drops, bits of metal, and snow. They collect
them in their Treasuries. They love them for their bright glitter
not for any value you or I might place on them.’
Emas sat back and
tucked her feet underneath her. ‘I showed her how I sew the
pictures and she was very interested. So I gave her one. She seemed
to find the idea of a gift something unusual.’
Tika finished a third
cake and sucked honey off her fingers before she
‘Kija would not
understand the idea of a gift. The people we met in Malesh, they
gave me some new clothes – trousers and shirts, that one of the
women sewed. Just for me.’ She met Emas’s eyes. ‘I’d never had a
gift given to me before. It is an odd feeling.’ She put her plate
aside. ‘I’ll go and see her for a minute Lady Emas, and
Theap saw Tika leave
the room and looked across to where Emas still curled on the couch.
Excusing himself, he went over and perched beside her. He leaned
forward, a finger as small and slender as Emas’s own, wiping tears
from beneath her eyes.
‘What is it,
She caught his hand in
both of hers. ‘They don’t know what gifts are Theap,’ she
whispered. ‘Someone gave Tika her first gift only recently. The
golden Dragon didn’t even understand what a gift was.’
Theap reached for his
foster mother, hugging her gently. Then he held her
‘Then we’ll have to
change that, won’t we mama?’
A movement behind them
made them both glance round. Gossamer Tewk spread her hands in an
embarrassed gesture. ‘I wasn’t prying, I’ve been following the
pictures and I truly didn’t realise you were there.’
‘Join us.’ Emas freed
her hands from Theap’s and extended one to Gossamer.
came round to the front of the couch. ‘The painting,’ she said. ‘It
astonishes me. I’ve never seen anything like it.’
‘It is the history of
our Tribe.’ Emas tugged until Gossamer had to sit or appear rude.
‘My brother, The Bear’s mage Lemos, is supposed to understand it
all, but he’s never really been as interested in it as me or
Theap.’ She unselfconsciously rubbed her wet cheeks. ‘Theap will
explain some of it if you wish.’
‘I would like that but
I didn’t mean to disturb you.’
‘Oh nonsense.’ Emas
stroked Gossamer’s hand. ‘I was just being silly. Did you know,
that girl Tika had never had a present given her? And the Dragons
have no idea what the giving of a gift might mean?’ Her eyes
brimmed with fresh tears and Gossamer frowned.
‘I shouldn’t think
those two girls know either,’ she said.
‘Who are those
children?’ asked Theap.
‘Didn’t you know? They are the daughters of the Imperatrix, the
ruler, of Kelshan. Their elder sister hanged herself a few days
Both Theap and Emas
gaped at her in horror.
‘Let me explain some of
Tika had found Kija
still beside the veranda. She sat on the edge as Emas had earlier
but she leaned into Kija’s shoulder.
‘I was speaking with
Lady Emas.’ Tika used mind speech. She had already seen the
cushion, tiny under Kija’s arm, but she waited for Kija to tell her
‘She gave me this.’ As
though it was something immensely valuable and fragile, she handed
the cushion to Tika.
Tika held it on her
knees, seeing the village picked out in grey and black, the white
moonlight and the golden stars.
‘It’s very beautiful,’
she said at last.
‘She gave it to me,’
Kija repeated. ‘A gift. For me.’ A great finger tracked the line of
a snowy mountain. ‘It is of no use, yet it is beautiful as you say.
And the lady made it with her sewing and she gave it to me, asking
nothing in return. I shall treasure it.’
Tika handed the cushion
‘It isn’t just because
the lady gave me this,’ Kija said, tucking the cushion carefully
between her arm and her chest. ‘But I like these Bear people. I met
others too yesterday – a very nice man. He said he was a Mad Goat
but I’m not sure about that. I think I would like more time here
Tika. I did not know there was so much for me still to
Sword Master Favrian
and Shield Master Garrol returned to Karmazen very soon after the
meeting ended in The Bear’s den. Garrol told Sergeant Essa to stay
with the strangers, partly to allow her time to catch up with her
family and all the village gossip. Various squads were already
escorting batches of the Kelshan guards out of the mountains. They
marched them away, knowing supplies would be waiting for them at
prearranged points. Favrian did not want any of the surrendered
Kelshans to learn of the Dark gateways.
Most of the horses had
begun to recover in the three days since the fighting at Ghost
Falls. Jemin remained in the Bear village for now, waiting for a
few of his guards to recover fully. His engineers were more morose
than usual. He’d been told that Rose had slipped, but from their
grim faces he suspected the engineer had lost his mind rather than
It was Gold Wing who
spoke to Tika of Dog’s badly shattered leg. Tika had healed her
easily, but inwardly she worried that healing seemed to be so
effortless now. Too effortless. It was peaceful here, within the
embrace of the mountains, and Tika had time to reflect on many
recent events and try to fit them into a pattern that made sense.
Onion and Darrick were present with Gold Wing when Tika mended
Dog’s smashed leg. They had watched in such silent amazement that
Tika fled in embarrassment to find Farn and escape once again on
his back into the sky.
In the Karmazen Palace,
Favrian and Garrol went straight to the First Daughter’s rooms.
They saw no change in the woman who still lay unmoving and unaware.
Later, they joined Corman and Gan in Chindar’s rooms and Favrian
reported on the defeat of the Kelshans. Then he continued with
Tika’s report on what she’d felt in the Kelshan Citadel, ending
with her accusations. His last remarks concerned Ferag’s unexpected
appearance. Faces turned to Gan, who had so recently spent time in
‘It interests me that
Tika said the ghosts offered to protect her and the others. Then
the ghosts are torn from Kelshan and arrive in the Realm of Death.
You say that Ferag felt they were proud of having done so, even at
the cost of their own total dissolution?’
‘I am presuming they
have passed to the full death,’ Gan continued. ‘But they must have
been aware of that being the likely outcome. The ghosts may not
have stopped the Crazed One, but they did slow his advance. Perhaps
Ferag could ask if any of the ghosts who choose to stay in her
Realm would be willing to play a part in the defence of this
Garrol scratched his
chin. ‘I know little of the Death Realm,’ he said, almost
apologetically. ‘If ghosts stay there by choice, do you think they
would offer their help to us? I think if I was a ghost, I might
well resent those still in the living world.’
Gan laughed. ‘I know
what you mean, Shield Master. But I spoke with a lot of those in
Ferag’s Realm. Many of them are very bored but can’t quite decide
to ask for the full death or rebirth. Those may well be interested
in such an opportunity to play a final part in something which
affects the living.’
‘Go out in glory, you
mean?’ Garrol grunted. ‘Some of the recruits have that sort of view
of their service. We either knock such silliness out of them or
send them home to their villages.’
‘But the ghosts have
nothing to lose,’ Gan argued.
‘Do they not? They
still have an existence of sorts, their individuality, their
memories. We are not sure if the Crazed One might not take their
souls for his own twisted use.’ Corman spoke quietly, his eyes
fixed on Gan. ‘I will speak honestly Gan Jal Sarl. We have no idea
at all just why Ferag offered you the half death and the chance to
return, bodily, to this world. She has her whims and caprices, but
never, never, has she given half death to any who are not of the
Dark blood. Other deaths she collects and removes to her Realm,
where they may choose absorption into Mother Dark, rebirth to this
world, or the pale existence of the ghost.’