Authors: Michelle Sagara
Tags: #General, #Epic, #Fiction, #Romance, #Fantasy
But when the door was open, the howl of the wind suddenly stopped, and Kaylin saw a glimpse of crackling fire in an old, stone hearth before Evanton unceremoniously shoved her out of the way. The door shut, and on
side, she could see both its hinges and its frame.
They seemed to be standing in a squat cottage of some type. Or they would have been, if cottages had been made of solid stone.
“Sorry,” Evanton said, pulling the hood of his dripping robe from his face. “But I can’t even hear myself think in all that noise.”
As his robes were still recognizably the same dark blue, Kaylin assumed they were still within the space he referred to as the garden. She pushed her hair out of her face; she would have to wait to pin it back, because the wind hadn’t returned the stick it had yanked out.
“We’ll try the tea again,” Evanton told her, peeling his sleeves off his arms. “This time, I
even condescend to drink some of it.”
When they were seated around a small—and miraculously uncluttered—table, two solid mugs between them, Kaylin said, “Water, earth and air.”
Evanton raised a white brow, and then nodded. “Yes. The elements of this particular storm.” He added, after a pause, “It’s good to know you’re still observant.”
“That’s generally considered my job.”
“Yes. Well. It’s generally considered the
of most of the residents of Elani Street to find true love, define fate and tell the future.”
Kaylin almost choked on her tea, and Evanton graced her with a wry, and somewhat bitter smile. “They do, however, construct elaborate fantasies for people with more money than brains, which takes some creativity.”
“You were eavesdropping,” she said, when she found her voice again.
“If you don’t
people to hear you, speak quietly, Private.”
“Yes, Evanton.” She shoved hair out of her eyes again, and he handed her a towel. It was the same color as his robe, and while she was curious about how it—and the mugs and the kettle—had arrived in this place, she didn’t ask. Had he been in a better mood, she would have. The towel, she accepted with gratitude; wiping her wet hands on anything she was currently wearing was just moving water around. She knew this because she’d tried a few times.
“How’s Grethan doing?”
Evanton raised a brow, but the severe lines of his face relaxed a bit. Which didn’t really change the multitude of wrinkles; it just rearranged them. “He’s doing well. Better than I’d expected, and I will thank you not to repeat that.”
“Well enough that I won’t let him get lost in the garden, if that’s your concern.”
She knew that he’d taken other apprentices, and she knew that they hadn’t worked out; he’d said as much. What she’d never explicitly asked was what happened to the ones that didn’t. Knowledge about this space was very hard to come by. Not even the Eternal Emperor could force his way in.
Which he probably hated.
She hesitated, and then nodded. The truth was, she liked this old man and always had. She trusted him. She didn’t enjoy today’s mood, but only an idiot would; she also expected it to pass. “So…what’s happened in the garden?”
“What do you think has happened?”
Grimacing, she said, “I recognize this. I have a Dragon as a teacher. You, however, aren’t responsible to the Eternal Emperor for my marks and comprehension, so you don’t get to play that game with me.”
He chuckled then, and to her surprise, he did take a sip of the tea. He didn’t appear to enjoy it, so stability of a kind was preserved in the universe. “It wasn’t that kind of question. Although to be fair, Grethan would now be cowering behind you if I’d asked him the same thing.”
enjoy the tea, relaxed a bit. Since her life didn’t depend on her answer, and since she’d been thinking of nothing else since she’d stepped through the damn door—with the single exception of the
reserved for loss of her hair stick—she said, “The elements here are alive. I’d say that at least three of them are upset. I can’t tell if it’s anger or panic,” she added. “Because I can’t really hear their voices.”
“But the fire’s not there.”
“No. Fire has always been a bit unusual in that regard. The fire,” he added, pointing to the hearth, “is
and a damn good thing, too. You might tell it a story or two—that seemed to work well the last time.”
“Evanton, did I mention I’m on duty?”
“At least once. Possibly twice. I admit I was slightly distracted, and I may not have been paying enough attention.”
“And if I believe that, you’ve got a love potion to sell me.”
“At a very, very good price, I might add.” He brought his mug to his mouth, and then lowered it again without taking a sip.
“Does this happen often?”
“But it’s happened before.”
When Evanton was monosyllabic, it was not a good sign. “Can I ask when?”
“You can ask.”
“You know far more about this garden than anyone who isn’t a Keeper, or who isn’t trying to learn how to be one, has a right to know.”
“And you’re not about to add to that.”
“Actually, I would very dearly love not to add to that, but I am, in fact, about to do just that. What you actually
about the garden is not my problem. That you understand that this is significant, however, is.”
“That would be the question,” he replied.
“I haven’t done anything recently. Honest.”
“No. You probably haven’t. But something is happening in the city, and the elements feel it. They’re not,” he added, “very happy about it, either.”
“No kidding. Why do you think it has anything to do with me?”
“Because,” he replied, lifting his hands, “if you take the time to observe some of the visual phenomena, it’s not entirely random. The elements are
Given the lack of any obvious visibility in the driving sheets of rain, Kaylin thought this comment unfair. Given Evanton’s mood, Kaylin chose not to point this out. While she was struggling to stop herself from doing so, Evanton’s hands began to glow.
Out of the light that surrounded them, a single complicated image coalesced on the tabletop, between their cups. It was golden in color, and it wasn’t a picture. It was a word.
An old word. Kaylin’s eyes widened as she looked at it.
“Yes,” he said, as her glance strayed to her sleeves, or rather, to her arms. “It’s written in the same language as the marks you bear.”
Those marks ran the length of her arms, her inner thighs and most of her back; they now also trailed up her spine and into her hair. She had toyed with the idea of shaving her head to see exactly how far up they went, but she’d never gotten around to it. Her hair was her one vanity. Or at least, she thought ruefully, her one
Something about the lines of the word were familiar, although Kaylin was pretty certain she’d never seen it before. She wasn’t in the office, and she had no mirror; she couldn’t exactly call up records to check.
“You know what this means,” Evanton said, anyway.
She shook her head. “No, actually, I—” And then she stopped, as the niggling sense of familiarity coalesced. “Ravellon.”
He closed his eyes.
The silence lasted a few minutes, broken by the sound people made—or Kaylin did, at any rate—when drinking liquid that was just shy of scalding. Eventually, she set the cup down. “You recognize the name.”
“Yes. I would not have recognized it, however, from this rune.”
“You can read them?”
“I have never made them my study; I am old, yes, but not
She lifted her cup, watching him, and after a moment, he snorted. “I can, as you must know, read some of the Old Tongue. This, however, was not familiar to me.”
“You don’t know the history of Elantra?”
“I know the history of the city very well,” he replied. His voice was the type of curt that could make you bleed.
Since Kaylin had lived for most of her twenty-odd years in ignorance of this history, she shrugged.
“I know what once stood at the heart of the fiefs.” He lifted a veined and wrinkled hand in her direction. “And before you ask, no, I don’t have any idea what’s there now. It’s slightly farther afield than I’m generally prepared to go at my age. But yes, I know it was once called Ravellon by the Barrani.”
“And the Dragons,” Kaylin pointed out.
“At the moment, my interactions with the Eternal Emperor’s Court are exactly none. The one exception to my very firm rule, you already know, and no exception would have been made had I not been indisposed.”
While she technically served the Emperor’s law, the law was a distinct entity. That the Emperor held himself above those laws was a given; he didn’t, however, require Kaylin to do the same. Of course, if he contravened those laws and she spoke up, she’d be a pile of ash.
Evanton contravened those laws by simply existing, as far as Kaylin could tell. For practical reasons, reducing Evanton to a pile of smoldering ash was not in the Emperor’s cards, and if she’d had to bet, she’d bet that the Emperor wasn’t entirely happy about it, either. The elemental garden, with Evanton as its Keeper, was literally a different world—with unfortunate placement: it demonstrably existed within the boundaries of the Empire, and the Dragon Emperor claimed
in the Empire as his personal hoard, the single exception being the fiefs.
Dragons were very, very precise about their hoards. Kaylin didn’t understand all the nuances of what, to her mind, boiled down to
mine, mine, mine,
but she was assured that they existed. By, of course, other Dragons.
The store, however, could not be moved. And if it ceased to exist, the elemental wilderness contained behind one rickety door at the end of a dim and incredibly cluttered hall, would break free and return to the world from which it had been extracted. Which would pretty much end most of the lives that Kaylin cared about, although to be fair, it would probably end the other ones, as well.
The Emperor, therefore, overlooked this thumbing-of-nose at his ownership and his authority.
Evanton’s reluctance to talk with Dragons made sense. Their reluctance to speak with him, she understood less well.
He opened his mouth, and snapped it shut again. He still had all his teeth. “
” he said, after a long pause, “is a Barrani word.”
“I don’t think so,” she began.
the Old Tongue, then. Can we agree on that?”
Since he probably knew more than she did, she nodded.
“But you recognized the rune
“I don’t know. Don’t look at me like that, Evanton. I honestly don’t. I’m not even your student—why would I try to make
life more difficult?”
“Good point. I should apologize for my temper. I won’t, but I should. It has been a very, very trying day.”
“Why is it only the three elements? Why not all four?”
“Fire in the natural world is contained, for the most part. If we were living over a volcano, and the elements felt this kind of flux, fire would be in the mix, as well. We’re not, thank the gods.” He paused, and then said, “I don’t have to tell you that none of this should leave this garden, do I?”
“It probably doesn’t hurt.” Pause. “Can I tell Severn?”
“You may tell your Corporal, yes. He’s as quiet as the dead. Well, the dead with the decency to stay buried, at any rate.” He looked, now, at his hands. “Ravellon.” He shook his head, and then stared across the table at her.
“Don’t even think it,” she replied.
He did not, however, snap back. Instead, in a much quieter voice, he said, “The fief of Ravellon—if it’s even a fief at all—is impassible.”
“But, Kaylin—something is stirring in the fiefs. Something is twisting in the heart of the city.”
“Be prepared, girl. What you see in that rune is not the word itself, not as spoken. But it disturbs me. Ravellon, like Elantra, was meant to be a geographical marker, not a true name.”
“It’s not. A true name.”
“As you say.”
Severn took one look at Kaylin’s very wet and bedraggled face, and turned away.
“If you’re laughing, you’re dead,” she told him. The passage back through the garden had been about as much fun as the passage to the small stone building; her boots were in her hands. Evanton was willing to put up with the rivulets dripping from every square inch of her body; he was not, however, willing to put up with the mud she would have otherwise tracked down the hall.
“It pains me to agree with anyone today,” Evanton added, “but even so, I concur.” Crossing the threshold of the door had returned dry clothing to Evanton, but his hair and his beard were plastered to his face. “And now, you both have your patrol. I have work. Where did Grethan disappear to?” he added, in a tone of voice that made Kaylin cringe on behalf of the unfortunately absent apprentice.
“Billington decided to pay a visit to Margot,” Severn replied, in as neutral a voice as he ever used. “Grethan saw him pass by and decided to investigate.” He glanced at Kaylin, who glanced at her boots and her very wet surcoat.
“Figures,” she said, heading for the door. “Did he take his goons with him, or was it just the usual courtesy call?”
“Until there’s actually an incident,” Severn told her, following in her wake, “we can leave out the name-calling.” He nodded in Evanton’s direction.
“What? Evanton’s called them far worse.”
“I,” Evanton told her, “have no professional interest in Billington.”
“Hopefully, neither do we today,” she replied with a grimace. She pushed his door open, sat heavily on his steps and worked wet feet into equally wet boots. She could swear she heard squelching.
It was not as loud, however, as the sound of shattering glass. She swore under her breath, tying laces with speed that should have rubbed her fingers raw. Thank gods for calluses.