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Authors: James Erich

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance

Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire (5 page)

BOOK: Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire
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Mivikh was a small fishing village on the other side of the lake. The fisherman had told them he would drop them off there.

Donegh shook his head. “No.” “Are you traveling to one of the other lake villages, then?”

The priest’s dogged persistence was beginning to irritate the young man. “Does it matter?”

“Oh no, no,” the priest said, quickly, attempting to laugh off the question. “Not at all. Forgive me for prying. But I wasn’t certain if you were aware that much of the eastern kingdom has been cut off. If you intend to travel to Harleh or beyond, I’m afraid you might be disappointed.”

Donegh decided to feign ignorance. “What do you mean by ‘cut off’?”

“A mysterious malady has afflicted Harleh. The entire valley has become engulfed in a malignant vapor of some kind, one that renders any person who tries to enter the valley unconscious within moments! And unfortunately there is no way around the valley without venturing into the untamed forests to the south.”

“A malady?” Donegh asked. “Is it a sickness?”

 

“No one knows, my boy! A sickness, a poison mist—”

 

“Magic?”

The priest laughed and shook his head dismissively. “A spell that surrounds an entire valley? I doubt such a thing is possible.”

“On my way from the capital,” Donegh said, “I had to pass through the Dead Forest.”

“Awful place. I’m glad to hear you made it through safely.”

Donegh’s arm still throbbed where the creature had gouged him, but he kept that information to himself. “What I’m saying is, that place is full of ancient magic, festering in the land and the water. Could something like that have happened in Harleh?”

“I’ve been to Harleh in my youth. A bit flat and open for my tastes—I prefer the beautiful forests around Lake Zovya —but still quite lovely. The basin of the valley is a great plain with rolling hills and lush vegetation. I never saw any hint of the foul residue that taints the Dead Forest.”

Donegh wasn’t thoroughly convinced. What if there had been something lying under the surface, which only now had broken through? But there was little point in arguing about it, when he knew less than the priest did. “Might I ask
your
destination, Father?”

The man hesitated just a moment before smiling and answering, “Our emperor, in his wisdom, has sent his soldiers to the edge of the valley to assess the situation. You may have noticed them passing through the city a few days ago.” When Donegh didn’t comment, Father Gednon continued, “And I have been granted the honor of joining them to administer to their spiritual needs.”

Donegh doubted that it was much of an honor. Father Gednon didn’t seem like the kind of man who felt compelled to visit a war zone for any reason. More likely, the priest had done something to annoy his superiors. Administering to the spiritual needs of the soldiers was also a flimsy excuse. It was obvious the Church was concerned about whatever was going on at Harleh, and they had sent someone to seek out more information.

Father Gednon was a spy.
But all this had given Donegh an idea. His initial plan had been to disappear back into the forest after leaving Mivikh, avoiding the soldiers entirely as he found his own path into the valley. But now he had an opportunity to find out more about the situation before stumbling in blindly. As the assistant to a
caedan
, he would be able to ask questions without raising eyebrows.

“It just occurred to me, Father, that you plan to cross the swamp on your own and likewise travel through several leagues of forest after that.”

Father Gednon looked uncomfortable. “Yes, well… we do as duty compels.”

“I had planned on journeying to Worlen,” Donegh lied. “I have an uncle there—a blacksmith—who promised to take me on as an apprentice.”

“Oh dear. I was afraid it would be something like that.”

“Now I’m not afraid of traveling through the southern forests, if that’s what I have to do to get around the valley,” Donegh went on in the friendly, disarming tone he put on to manipulate people, “but it’s occurred to me that two would be safer for this stretch of the journey than one. I’ve heard terrible stories about that swamp.”

If the priest noticed anything odd about the youth’s sudden friendliness, he didn’t remark upon it. Donegh sensed that the man was immensely relieved. It probably never occurred to him, as it would have to Donegh, that accepting a total stranger as a traveling companion was a good way to end up being robbed or murdered.
Caedan
were quite used to being treated deferentially at all times.

“Why, yes,” Father Gednon said with a broad smile. “That strikes me as an excellent suggestion!”

S
AEL
saw a faint lightening of the bluish sky through the uneven glass panes of his windows and realized he and Koreh had been up all night. He groaned and pressed his face against Koreh’s bare shoulder, muttering into it, “It’s dawn.”

Koreh laughed and kissed the top of his blond head. He was lying on his back in Sael’s enormous bed, naked, with the similarly naked Dekan of Harleh snuggled up in the crook of his arm. “I don’t think I could manage another round, anyway. You’ve exhausted me.”

“I’ve been craving it ever since you left,” Sael said a bit defensively, not sure if he was being accused of something.

“I know. So have I.”

Sael knew the Taaweh would come for Koreh soon. The two young men had only been given the night together. If he thought it was possible for his body to cooperate, Sael might beg for one last bout of lovemaking, but he was learning his energy wasn’t inexhaustible any more than Koreh’s was.

“Have you missed me?” Sael asked, regretting it as soon as the words were out of his mouth. No doubt Koreh would think he was being childish.

But Koreh’s response was surprisingly gentle. He lifted Sael’s face with his right hand and raised his own head so their mouths could meet in a tender kiss. Breaking away, he said softly, “Of course I have, you idiot. I think about you all the time.”

Sael knew Koreh used mild insults as terms of affection, so he didn’t fret about being called an idiot. But he raised himself up on one arm as Koreh’s head fell back against the pillow. He gazed down into Koreh’s crystal-clear blue eyes. “I hate to think about anything but how beautiful you are right now and how good it feels to hold you again. But have you learned anything about what the Taaweh are planning?”

Koreh shook his head. “I have no idea. They don’t tell me anything. Nothing like that, anyway. They’ve been
teaching
me things….”

“What kinds of things?”

Koreh slipped out from underneath Sael and climbed out of the bed. Sael hated to lose the touch of their bodies pressed together, but he comforted himself with the sight of Koreh standing fully exposed before him, the almost girlish softness of his pale, flawless skin made masculine by taut, well-defined muscles. Nowhere in Harleh or güKhemed had Sael ever seen a man so beautiful.

Koreh went to the large windows and drew the thick, red velvet curtains, reducing the light in the room to the single candle on Sael’s bedstand. Then Koreh returned to the bedside and blew the candle out. The room went dark.

“Why did you do that?” Sael asked with a nervous laugh. “I can’t see a thing.”
“Hold still.”

Sael did as he was commanded, and a moment later, he felt Koreh’s fingers under his chin, gently tilting his face upward.

“Close your eyes,” Koreh said.

Sael then felt a gentle kiss on each of his eyelids, and Koreh said, “Open them now.”

When Sael opened his eyes, the room was brighter, everything illuminated faintly by a blue-gray light, as if the Eye of Druma was in the night sky, fully open. But that was impossible. Sael glanced at the windows again and saw the curtains were still drawn. Not that Druma had shone through the cloud cover since the battle at any rate. “What have you done?”

Koreh laughed and reached for the dark shadow robe he’d draped over a chair when he undressed earlier. “They taught me how to grant someone the same vision they gave me when you and Geilin and I were in Mat’zovya.” He slipped the robe over his head and shrugged. “It’s not a very powerful spell, but it can be useful. Perhaps it will aid you at some point.”

Sael supposed being able to see when others were blind might prove useful at that. “Thank you. But do you have to go already?”

“He gave me until dawn. If I wait any longer, he’ll probably pop in here to fetch me. The Taaweh don’t understand the concept of being embarrassed. I don’t have any privacy in Gyishya, not even to relieve myself.”

Sael smiled, but he could already feel the ache growing in his chest. Koreh hesitated just a moment before he confessed, “I love you.” “And I love you.”

Koreh bent down to give Sael a long, lingering kiss. Then he straightened up, and in a flutter of cloth and shadow, he was gone.

K
OREH
didn’t really know where he

was supposed to go. But he knew the Taaweh would find him, as they always did, and he hadn’t wanted his last private moments with Sael to be spoiled by visitors.

On a whim, he visited the castle garden where he and Geilin had once talked in the days before the battle. At this time of day, the garden was empty, so Koreh found the bench he’d sat on then and settled down to wait.

The garden had changed, he observed. Bathed in blue light from the small patch of sky that showed above the castle walls, everything naturally looked different than it had in bright-yellow daylight. But the light that bathed the valley not only sheltered everything from the all-seeing Eyes of the Stronni; it also fed the trees and plants to keep them alive. More than that, the plants in the valley were flourishing. The flowers in the garden were enormous now—some as large as Koreh’s outstretched hand— and the trees had grown several feet higher than Koreh remembered.

“It is time to go,” a voice said nearby.

Koreh looked up to see one of the Taaweh approaching. This one was female and dressed in a black shadow robe. He didn’t recognize her, but he’d long ago given up trying to remember faces. He rarely saw the same person more than two or three times.

Koreh stood, and realizing how tired he was, said, “I’d really like to sleep for a while.”

“As you like.”

Koreh dared to hope for a moment that she would allow him to return to Sael’s warm bed, but then he felt himself falling and darkness swept up to engulf him. When he emerged on the other side, he and the Taaweh were standing in the chamber he’d been given in Gyishya’s underground warrens.

It was a cave of sorts, with walls of stone and massive tree roots, but very clean and tidy. A never-ending stream of yellow-green glowbugs crawled along trails across the walls like phosphorescent garlands and milled about in alcoves, casting a dim light into the room. The bugs had made Koreh cringe at first, but he’d grown accustomed to them. They never ventured from the walls, and with his enhanced vision, he found the illumination they provided more than adequate.

He had a bed there that consisted of a hollow space between two tree roots carpeted with soft moss. He’d spent so many years sleeping in the forest that he found it perfectly comfortable. Fresh water cascaded down one wall—one that didn’t have colonies of glowbugs wandering across it—and in one alcove a small hole led down to an underground stream. On his first day there, Koreh had asked what it was for, and his guide had told him, “That is for your bodily excretions.” Koreh had been amused by that, particularly when he imagined how many shades of red Sael would have turned if he’d been there.

“You may sleep until evening,” the woman told him. “Then you will be taken to the mountains.”

“The mountains?” Koreh had never dared violate the taboo about venturing into the mountains. The Stronni resided there, and humans who climbed the foothills were never seen again.

The Taaweh nodded. “The Eye of Druma will be obscured tonight. And it is time for you to see where the Stronni have imprisoned the Iinu Shavi.”

The Iinu Shavi was… well, Koreh didn’t really know. She was both strikingly beautiful and immensely powerful. It was possible she was the queen of the Taaweh—her name meant something akin to “great lady”—but the only thing Koreh knew about her was that she had succumbed to an act of treachery by the Stronni a thousand years ago, and now lay in a deep magical sleep. Yet somehow she still spoke to her people—and sometimes to Koreh— in dreams.

“Why are we going to see her?” Koreh asked. Even without the Eye watching them, a foray into the land of the Stronni seemed foolhardy.

“Because it is what must happen,” the woman replied.

 

And before Koreh could ask anything further, she vanished.

 

Chapter 4

 

T
HE
Eye of Atnu was just dropping below the treetops when Donegh declared, “We’ll stop here for the night.”

Father Gednon looked relieved. An encounter with a large poisonous serpent in the swamp they’d passed through after leaving Mivikh had rattled him. Even though Donegh had dispatched the snake with a deftly tossed throwing knife, the priest was still shaken. He was starting at every unexplained sound. That was why Donegh had decided it would be better to let the man rest before a comforting fire, rather than travel through the forest in the dark.

BOOK: Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire
13.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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