Authors: Sharon Lee,Steve Miller
Baen Books by
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
ISBN 10: 1-4165-9153-2
Cover art by Tom Kidd
First printing, April 2009
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lee, Sharon, 1952–
Longeye / Sharon Lee & Steve Miller.
I. Miller, Steve, 1950 July 31- II. Title.
Pages by Joy Freeman (www.pagesbyjoy.com)
Printed in the United States of America
The door had vanished, lost with the walls in a swirling malignancy of mist.
He stopped, striving to hold himself utterly still, ignoring the beguiling movement of the mist, waiting for the path to show itself.
There was always a path. One needed only to recognize it.
About him, the mist grew thicker, peppered with flares of unattached
. Very like the
In fact, extremely like the
He laughed, softly. The trap had a certain amusing audacity to it. Who would dare to use the artifact against the artificer? And she had surprised him, had Zaldore, his erstwhile co-conspirator in the downfall of the Bookkeeper Queen. He had expected treachery . . . eventually. That she acted now, and with such boldness, argued that she considered her potential gain to outweigh any cost that might fall due, should her stratagem fail.
As he had quite decided to take her life for this little pleasantry—which she certainly must have supposed he would do—that made for a fascinating contemplation of the stakes.
Perhaps he would question her, before he drained her of power and watched her die.
First, however—there was the matter of the trap.
It was, he allowed, a clever trick; derivative, of course, but clever.
Zaldore could not continue to expend
at this rate for many days, so plainly, she expected him to succumb—to
—quickly. In that much, at least, he would certainly disappoint her. Learning the trick and turning it—as he no doubt would—that might consume some time. It was possible that Zaldore's
would fail before he had fairly won free—though he hoped not. He had always disliked a win by default.
Had the mist thickened? Surely not. The path had yet to appear, which was worrisome, or not. If the trap were constructed like unto the
, then time, along with all other natural forces, would be subverted. He might equally have stood here debating with himself for nine thousand nights or a single heartbeat.
"I am Altimere," he said conversationally to the mist, "of the Elder Fey." It was well that he recalled his name; and well that the mist—so very like the substance that formed the
—should hear it.
He focused his attention, teasing out a careful strand of mist. Why should Zaldore not see to the comfort of a guest, he thought whimsically, as he worked the substance into the shape he desired. And if this use of her power discommoded her, then she was not the philosopher her trap would have him believe her to be.
The texture of the mist was . . . not entirely pleasant. Sticky, and . . . warm, it initially resisted his will, then surrendered, as of course it must. He applied the smallest touch of
, and the mist-woven shape solidified into a chair.
Altimere smiled. He leaned back comfortably, and crossed his legs. A chair worthy of a guest, to be sure.
He closed his eyes against the swirling uncertainty about him, and released his will to probe the boundaries of the trap, so to discover its weaknesses.
They mean you no harm, Ranger
, the tree said, perhaps intending it for comfort.
Across the green, the house—built of wood, dead, dry, and without virtue—the house
rippling off of it in waves, like heat; slashed with brilliant bars of color.
Meri stopped beneath the wide branches of the elder elitch, and closed his eye—a useless protest; the assault upon his other senses continued, like an aurora, he thought, danced with knives.
"I cannot go into that," he said, his voice flat with fear.
Ranger, they mean you no harm
, the voice of the elitch insisted softly inside his head, like a grandsire soothing a fractious sprout.
"A branch shaken loose by the wind wounds what it strikes, regardless of the tree's intent."
You are supple enough to bend, and strong enough to stand.
Trees, Meri reminded himself, like any grandsire, had a store of proverbs from which to choose during arguments with wrongheaded younglings. He winced as a particularly brilliant blade of power smote him. His meager
responded, rising like spring sap, blindly seeking to meld.
Meri gagged, and gasped, drinking down green-scented air. Slowly, counting as if he were in fact the merest sprout, he brought his base instincts under control, shivering as his
retreated to pool at the base of his spine. A roaring sounded in his ears, not unlike the voice of the ocean, and it seemed that the colors of the Newmen auras dimmed somewhat, as if seen through spray. When he licked his lips, he tasted salt.
, he thought, not for the trees, but for himself.
What in the name of root and branch am I doing here?
That at least was easily answered. He had not . . . quite . . . gone mad, coming unprotected and alone into this place. No, no. He was here because his cousin Sian, whom he supposed to care for his interests because there was no one else to do so, had bid him go, to care for the trees. He was Wood Wise, and a Ranger; and he could no more refuse a charge to care for the trees than he could refuse to breathe. So here he stood, perhaps a little mad, after all, alone among Newmen, the very same beings who had tortured him, and who had brought Faldana to her death.
Not the very same beings, Ranger
, the voice of the elitch sounded in the depths of his mind.
Merely the same sort.
"Well enough," he muttered gracelessly. "The same sort."
He sighed, opening his eye as the door in the power-full house swung wide. A Newoman stepped into the twilight, her auburn hair blazing in the sun's last rays. She stood a moment just outside the door, a stocky, capable figure outlined in a blare of glory, her head tipped to one side, as if listening.
"Master Vanglelauf?" Her voice was calm, perfectly audible over the roar of the ocean in his ears.
Meri took a deep breath and stepped forward, out of the comforting shadow of tree branch, into the open green.
Seen closer, the woman's face was square, her eyes a soft blue. The resemblance to Sam Moore, who had at Sian's word guided him to this place, was striking. Despite the brilliance of her aura, she exuded a nearly treelike tranquility.
Halfway between the trees and the house, safely out of easy reach of the Newoman's hand, Meri stopped and bowed.
"I am Meripen Vanglelauf, sent by the Engenium's word, in aid of the trees."
She smiled and returned his bow.
"I am Elizabeth Moore. Be welcome among us, Meripen Vanglelauf," she said, gravely, and gave him a sideways smile. "My son admires you already, and gives us to understand that our kind hosts, the trees, do the same."
"Jamie Moore is a likely sprout," he said, which had the double advantage of being both politic and true. "The nest he built for my comfort is everything that I could want."
"It pleases me to hear you say so," Elizabeth Moore murmured, and looked about her as one just discovering her environment.
"What a very pleasant evening!" She turned back to him with a broad smile. "I wonder, Ranger, if you would indulge me by speaking with a few of us out here under the sky. It is
too fine to huddle within walls."
Meri blinked, and bowed again, to cover what must surely have been his too-obvious relief.
"I would be pleased indeed to speak with persons of merit, and share the evening breeze with them."
Elizabeth Moore laughed. "Very courtly," she said, and gave him a roguish wink. "Make yourself comfortable on yon bench and I'll just fetch the others out."
She turned, light as a flutterwisp, and was gone, leaving Meri to return beneath branch. He sank onto the bench with a heartfelt sigh of relief. His hands were shaking; he pressed palms against thighs to steady them.
They mean you no harm, Ranger
, the tree commented, which was the third time. Meri shivered and bowed his head.
"So it would seem," he murmured.
Becca came awake with the feeling that someone had spoken her name. The room was filled with green shadows, as if her couch were tucked inside a tree's lush canopy. The shadows moved about her, rustling, admitting a long spear of butter-yellow light, giving her a glimpse of a tapestry ocean, a low table a-glitter with glass, a rug done in leaf brown, gold, and crimson.
It was not a room she knew.
She reclined half-seated against sloping pillows. When she tried to move, she found her limbs dead weights; the light blanket binding her to the couch as effectively as any rope.
Memory followed her tardily into wakefulness, the weight of a collar in her hand, the realization that there was but one way to make certain of her freedom; the stretch for the knife—
"Rebecca Beauvelley," a clear voice murmured, "do you wake?"
"You know that I must," she said into the shadows, and spoke the name that came to her tongue, "Sian."
"Must I?" The green dimness beyond the low table parted like curtains for the Engenium in her sharkskin leggings and wide-sleeved shirt. "Now how would that be?"
"Did you not put the sleep on me?" Becca asked bitterly. "Of course it is you who calls me out."
"She does," another voice said, this one high as birdsong, "have you there, Cousin."
"One point only, though I believe she may think I hold the game." Sian came to the edge of the couch where Rebecca lay bound and dropped to one knee beside it.
"You have broken the geas that bound you, and stand a free woman."
"Stand?" Rebecca asked. Hidden yet inside the green shadows, the bird-voiced woman trilled a laugh.
"You are not," Sian said over her shoulder, "helping."
"Nay, nay! What aid might I lend to one so disadvantaged?"
Sian bent her attention to Becca. "Give me your word that you will not attempt to harm yourself and I will release the bonds upon you."
, Becca thought, and moved her head from side to side against the pillows. Trapped, bound, and in thrall to a Fey. If only she had been quicker with the knife, or taken one leaf more of the kindly duainfey . . . Becca swallowed, and moved her head again. She had learned something from her bondage to Altimere: She would not participate in her own entrapment. Not this time. Let them expend their precious
to bind her. They would get no aid from her.
"What," she asked, "do you want?"
The shadows lightened, melting away as a Fey woman in a hyacinth-colored robe stepped to the Engenium's side. Her hair was long, rippling in broad bands of gold, crimson, brown, and black, braided with stones, shells, leaves, and flowers. A dozen rings adorned the long white fingers that rested on Sian's shoulder.
"I am Diathen the Queen," she said in her high, musical voice. "I would learn what you know of Altimere's plans and designs regarding myself and the Vaitura, if you will tell me." She sank gracefully onto a stool that hadn't been there a moment before and smoothed her robe over her knees.
"Sian," she said. "Please release Miss Beauvelley to her own will."
The Engenium doubted the wisdom of that; Becca saw her hesitate, then felt a slight sparkle of energy along her limbs. Freed, she pushed the coverlet away one-handed, and slipped her legs over the side of the couch, sitting up to face Diathen the Queen, whom Altimere had called "upstart," bookkeeper, and worse.
"Altimere wishes to depose you," Becca said baldly, which was perhaps not how one ought to address a Queen, and
not how one ought to address a High Fey. "He wants to lower the
and bring . . . my people . . . under Fey dominion. As is," she finished bitterly, "your right and privilege."
"Acquit me," the Queen murmured. "I dominate but indifferently, as Altimere and his allies have doubtless taught you. And to throw down the
is not something that I, in my bookkeeper's soul, can find equitable."