They had found a horse for him, not an easy task. The Dalrei tended to be smallish people, quick and wiry, and their mounts were much the same. In winter, though, they traded with the men of Brennin in the land where the High Kingdom ran into the Plain near the Latham, and there were always one or two larger mounts in every tribe, used usually for carrying goods from camp to camp. Riding the placid-tempered grey they had given him, and with Ivor’s younger son, Tabor, as a guide, Dave had come out at dawn with Levon and the hunters to watch an eltor chase.
His arms were in pretty rough shape, but Tore had to be just as bad, or worse, and he was hunting; so Dave figured he could manage to ride a horse and watch.
Tabor, skinny and tanned dark brown, rode a chestnut pony beside him. He wore his hair tied back like Tore and most of the Riders, but it wasn’t really long enough for that, and the tied part stuck up on the back of his head like a tree stump. Dave remembered himself at fourteen and found an uncharacteristic empathy for the kid beside him. Tabor talked a lot—in fact, he hadn’t shut up since they’d ridden out—but Dave was interested and didn’t mind, for once.
“We used to carry our houses with us when we moved,” Tabor was saying as they jogged along. Up front, Levon was setting an easy pace eastward into the rising sun. Tore was beside him and there seemed to be about twenty other riders. It was a glorious, mild summer morning.
“They weren’t houses like we have now, of course,” Tabor went on. “We made them of eltor skin and poles, so they were easy to carry.”
“We have things like that in my world, too,” Dave said. “Why did you change?”
“Revor did it,” Tabor explained.
The boy looked pained, as if appalled to discover that the fame of this Revor hadn’t reached Toronto yet. Fourteen was a funny age, Dave thought, suppressing a grin. He was surprised at how cheerful he felt.
“Revor is our brightest hero,” Tabor explained reverently. “He saved the High King in battle during the Bael Rangat, by riding through Daniloth, and was rewarded with the land of the Plain for the Dalrei forever. After that,” Tabor went on, earnestly, “Revor called a great gathering of all the Dalrei at Celidon, the mid-Plain, and said that if this was now our land, we should have some mark of ourselves upon it. So the camps were built in those days, that our tribes might have true homes to come to as they followed the eltor about the Plain.”
“How far back?” Dave asked.
“Oh, forever and ever,” Tabor replied, waving a hand.
“Forever and Revor?” said Dave, surprising himself. Tabor looked blank for a second, then giggled. He was a good kid, Dave decided. The ponytail was hilarious, though.
“The camps have been rebuilt many times since then,” Tabor resumed his lecture. He was taking his guide duties seriously. “We always cut wood when we are near a forest—except Pendaran, of course—and we carry it to the next camp when we move. Sometimes the camps have been completely destroyed. There are fires when the Plain is dry.”
Dave nodded; it made sense. “And I guess you have to clear out the damage the weather and animals do in between times, anyway.”
“Weather, yes,” Tabor said. “But never the animals. The shamans were given a spell as a gift from Gwen Ystrat. Nothing wild ever enters the camps.”
That, Dave still had problems with. He remembered the old, blind shaman, Gereint, being led into the Chieftain’s house the morning before. Gereint had trained his sightless eye sockets right on him. Dave had met the look as best he could—a staring duel with a blind man—but when Gereint had turned away, expressionless, he’d felt like crying out, “What did you see, damn you?”
The whole thing unnerved him. It had been the only bad moment, though. Ivor, the Chieftain, a small, leathery guy with crinkly eyes and a considered way of speaking, had been all right.
“If Silvercloak was going to Paras Derval,” he’d said, “then that is where he’ll be. I will send word of you with the auberei to Celidon, and a party of us will guide you south to Brennin. It will be a good thing for some of our younger men to make that journey, and I have tidings for Ailell, the High King.”
“The urgach?” a voice had said then from by the door, and Dave had turned to see Liane again, Ivor’s brown-haired daughter.
Levon had laughed. “Father,” he’d said, “we may as well make her part of the tribal council. She’s going to listen anyhow.”
Ivor had looked displeased and proud, both. It was at that point that Dave had decided he liked the Chieftain.
“Liane,” Ivor had said, “doesn’t your mother need you?”
“She said I was in her way.”
“How can you be in her way? We have guests, there must be things for you to do,” Ivor had said.bemusedly.
“I break dishes,” Liane had explained. “Is it the urgach?”
Dave had laughed aloud, then flushed at the look she’d given him.
“Yes,” Ivor had said. But then he added, looking levelly at Liane, “My daughter, you are being indulged because I dislike chastising my children before guests, but you go too far. It ill becomes you to listen at doors. It is the action of a spoiled child, not a woman.”
Liane’s flippant manner had disappeared completely. She paled, and her lip trembled. “I’m sorry,” she had gasped, and spinning on her heel, had fled the home.
“She hates missing things,” Levon had said, stating the obvious.
“There they are.”
Tabor was pointing southeast, and Dave, squinting into the sun, saw the eltor moving northward across their path. He had been expecting buffalo, he now realized, for what he saw made him catch his breath, in sudden understanding of why the Dalrei spoke not of a herd, but of a swift of eltor.
They were like antelope: graceful, many-horned, sleek, and very, very fast. Most were colored in shadings of brown, but one or two were purest white. The speed of their sweep across the plain was dazzling. There had to be five hundred of them, moving like wind over the grass, their heads carried high, arrogant and beautiful, the hair of their manes lifting back in the wind of their running.
“A small swift,” Tabor said. The kid was trying to be cool, but Dave could hear the excitement in his voice, even as he felt his own heartbeat accelerate. God, they were beautiful. The Riders around him, in response to Levon’s concise command, picked up speed and changed approach slightly to intersect the swift at an angle.
“Come!” Tabor said, as their slower mounts fell behind. “I know where he will have them do it.” He cut away sharply northward, and Dave followed. In a moment they crested a small knoll in the otherwise level sweep of the prairie; turning back, Dave saw the eltor swift and the hunters converge, and he watched the Dalrei hunt, as Tabor told him of the Law.
An eltor could be killed by knife blade only. Nothing else. Any other killing meant death or exile to the man who did so. Such, for twelve hundred years, had been the Law inscribed on the parchments at Celidon.
More: one eltor to one man, and one chance only for the hunter. A doe could be killed, but at risk, for a bearing doe’s death meant execution or exile again.
This, Dave learned, was what had happened to Tore’s father. Ivor had exiled him, having no other mercy to grant, for in the preservation of the great eltor swifts lay the preservation of the Dalrei themselves. Dave nodded to hear it; somehow, out here on the Plain under that high sky, harsh, clear laws seemed to fit. It was not a world shaped for nuance or subtlety.
Then Tabor drew silent, for one by one, in response to Levon’s gesture, the hunters of the third tribe set out after their prey. Dave saw the first of them, low and melded to his flying horse, intersect the edge of the racing swift. The man picked his target, slid into place beside it; then Dave, his jaw dropping, saw the hunter leap from horse to eltor, dagger flashing, and, with a succinct slash, sever the beast’s jugular. The eltor fell, the weight of the Dalrei pulling it away from the body of the swift. The hunter disengaged from the falling beast, hit the ground himself at frightening speed, rolled, and was up, his dagger raised in red triumph.
Levon raised his own blade in response, but most of the other men were already flying alongside the swift. Dave saw the next man kill with a short, deadly throw. His eltor fell, almost in its tracks. Another hunter, riding with unbelievable skill, held to his mount with his legs only, leaning far out over the back of a madly racing eltor, to stab from horseback and bring down his beast.
“Uh-oh,” Tabor said sharply. “Navon’s trying to be fancy.” Shifting his glance, Dave saw that one of the boys he’d guarded the night before was showing off on his first hunt. Riding his horse while standing up, Navon smoothly cut in close to one of the eltor. Taking careful aim, he threw from his standing position—and missed. The flung blade whipped just over the neck of the prey and fell harmlessly.
“Idiot!” Tabor exclaimed, as Navon slumped down on his mount. Even at a distance Dave could see the young Rider’s dejection. “It was a good try,” he offered. “No,” Tabor snapped, his eyes never leaving the hunters. “He shouldn’t be doing that on his first hunt, especially when Levon has trusted him by taking only twenty for seventeen. Now if anyone else is unlucky…”
Turning back to the hunt, Dave picked out the other new Rider. Barth, on a brown stallion, went in with cool efficiency, picked out his eltor and, wasting no time, pulled alongside, leaped from his horse, and stabbing, as the first hunter had done, brought his beast down.
“Good,” Tabor muttered, a little grudgingly. “He did well. See, he even pulled it down to the outside, away from the others. The leap is the surest way, though you can get hurt doing it.”
And sure enough, though Barth rose holding a dagger aloft, it was in his left hand, and his right hung down at his side. Levon saluted him back. Dave turned to Tabor to ask a question, but was stopped cold by the stricken expression on his companion’s face.
“Please,” Tabor whispered, almost a prayer. “Let it be soon. Oh, Davor, if Gereint doesn’t name me this summer, I will die of shame!” Dave couldn’t think of a single thing to say. So, after a moment, he just asked his question. “Does Levon go in, too, or will he just watch?”
Tabor collected himself. “He only kills if the others have failed, then he must make up the numbers himself. It is a shameful thing, though, if the leader must kill, which is why most tribes take many more hunters than they need.” There was pride in Tabor’s voice again. “It is a thing of great honor to take only a few extra Riders, or none, though no one does that. The third tribe is known now over all the Plain for how bold we are on the hunt. I wish, though, that Levon had been more careful with two new ones today. My father would have—oh, no!”
Dave saw it, too. The eltor picked out by the fifteenth Rider stumbled, just as the hunter threw, and the blade hit an antler only and glanced away. The eltor recovered and raced off, head high, its mane blown gracefully back.
Tabor was suddenly very still, and after a quick calculation Dave realized why: no one else could miss. Levon had cut it very fine.
The sixteenth hunter, an older man, had already peeled off from the small group remaining. Dave saw that the Riders who had already killed were racing along on the far side of the swift. They had turned the eltor so the beasts were now running back south along the other side of the knoll. All the kills, he realized, would be close together. It was an efficient process, well judged. If no one else missed.
The sixteenth hunter played no games. In fast, his blade high, he picked a slower animal, leaped, and stabbed, pulling it clear. He rose, dagger lifted.
“A fat one,” Tabor said, trying to mask his tension. “Gereint’ll want that one tonight.”
The seventeenth man killed, too, throwing from almost directly over top of his eltor. He made it look easy.
“Tore won’t miss,” Dave heard Tabor say, and saw the now familiar shiftless figure whip past their knoll.
Tore singled out an eltor, raced south with it for several strides, then threw with arrogant assurance. The eltor dropped, almost at their feet. Tore saluted briefly, then sped off to join the other Riders on the far side of the swift. Seeing that throw, Dave remembered the urgach falling two nights before. He felt like cheering for Tore, but there was one more to go, and he could feel Tabor’s anxiety.
“Cechtar’s very good,” the boy breathed. Dave saw a big man on a chestnut horse leave Levon’s side—the leader was alone now, just below them. Cechtar galloped confidently towards the racing swift that the others were steering past the knoll. His knife was drawn already, and the man’s carriage on his horse was solid and reassuring.
Then the horse hit a tummock of grass and stumbled. Cechtar kept his seat, but the damage was done—the knife, prematurely upraised, had flown from his hand to fall harmlessly short of the nearest animal.
Hardly breathing, Dave turned to see what Levon would do. Beside him, Tabor was moaning in an agony of distress. “Oh no, oh no,” he repeated. “We are shamed. It’s a disgrace for all three Riders, and Levon especially for misjudging. There’s nothing he can do. I feel sick!”
“He has to kill now?”
“Yes, and he will. But it doesn’t make any difference, there’s nothing he can—oh!”
Tabor stopped, for Levon, moving his horse forward very deliberately, had shouted a command to Tore and the others. Watching, Dave saw the hunters race to turn the eltor yet again, so that after a wide arc had been described, the swift, a quarter of a mile away now, were flying back north, five hundred strong on the east side of the knoll.
“What’s he doing?” Dave asked softly.
“I don’t know, I don’t understand. Unless…” Levon began to ride slowly eastward, but after a few strides he turned his horse to stand motionless, square in the path of the swift.
“What the hell?” Dave breathed.
“Oh, Levon, no!” Tabor screamed suddenly. The boy clutched Dave’s arm, his face white with terrified understanding. “He’s trying Revor’s Kill. He’s going to kill himself!”
Dave felt his own rush of fear hit, as he grasped what Levon was trying to do. It was impossible, though; it was insanity. Was the hunt leader committing suicide out of shame?
In frozen silence they watched from the knoll as the massed swift, slightly wedge-shaped behind a huge lead animal, raced over the grass towards the still figure of Tabor’s yellow-haired brother. The other hunters, too, Dave was dimly aware, had stopped riding. The only sound was the rapidly growing thunder of the onrushing eltor.
Unable to take his eyes away from the hunt leader, Dave saw Levon, moving without haste, dismount to stand in front of his horse. The eltor were very close now, flying; the sound of the drumming hooves filled the air.
The horse was utterly still. That, too, Dave registered, then he saw Levon unhurriedly draw his blade.
The lead eltor was fifty yards away.
Levon raised his arm and, without pausing, the whole thing one seamless motion, threw.
The blade hit the giant animal directly between the eyes; it broke stride, staggered, then fell at Levon’s feet. Right at Levon’s feet.
His fists clenched tightly with raw emotion, Dave saw the other animals instantly scythe out away from the fallen leader and form two smaller swifts, one angling east, one west, dividing in a cloud of dust precisely at the point where the fallen eltor lay.
Where Levon, his yellow hair blowing free, stood quietly stroking his horse’s muzzle, having stolen in that moment, with an act of incandescent gallantry, great honor for his people from the teeth of shame. As a leader should.
Dave became aware that he was shouting wildly, that Tabor, tears in his eyes, was hugging him fiercely and pounding his sore shoulders, and that he had an arm around the boy and was hugging him back. It was not, it never had been the sort of thing he did, but it was all right now, it was more than all right.
Ivor was astonished at the fury he felt. A rage such as this he could not remember. Levon had almost died, he told himself, that was why. A foolhardy piece of bravado, it had been. Ivor should have insisted on twenty-five Riders. He, Ivor, was still Chieftain of the third tribe.
And that vehement thought gave him pause. Was it only fear for Levon that sparked his anger? After all, it was over now; Levon was fine, he was better than fine. The whole tribe was afire with what he had done. Revor’s Kill. Levon’s reputation was made; his deed would dominate the midwinter gathering of the nine tribes at Celidon. His name would soon be ringing the length of the Plain.
I feel old, Ivor realized. I’m jealous. I’ve got a son who can do Revor’s Kill. What did that make him? Was he just Levon’s father now, the last part of his name?
Which led to another thought: did all fathers feel this way when their sons became men? Men of achievement, of names that eclipsed the father’s? Was there always the sting of envy to temper the burst of pride? Had Banor felt that way when twenty-year-old Ivor had made his first speech at Celidon and earned the praise of all the elders for the wisdom of his words?
Probably, he thought, remembering his father with love. Probably he had, and, Ivor realized, it didn’t matter. It really didn’t. It was part of the way of things, part of the procession all men made towards the knowing hour.
If he had a virtue, Ivor reflected, something of his nature he wanted his sons to have, it was tolerance. He smiled wryly. It would be ironic if that tolerance could not be extended to himself.
Which reminded him. His sons; and his daughter. He had to have a talk with Liane. Feelingly decidedly better, Ivor went looking for his middle child.
Revor’s Kill. Oh, by Ceinwen’s bow, he was proud!
The Feast of the New Hunters started formally at sundown, the tribe gathering in the huge central area of the camp, from where the smell of slowly roasting game had been wafting all afternoon. Truly, this would be a celebration: two new Riders and Levon’s deed that morning. A feat that had obliterated the failures before. No one, not even Gereint, could remember the last time it had been done. “Not since Revor himself!” one of the hunters had shouted, a little drunkenly.
All the hunters from the morning were a little drunk; they had started early, Dave among them, on the clear, harsh liquor the Dalrei brewed. The mood of mingled relief and euphoria on the ride home had been completely infectious and Dave had let himself go with it. There didn’t seem to be any reason to hold back.
Through it all, drinking round for round with them, Levon seemed almost unaffected by what he had done. Looking for it, Dave could find no arrogance, no hidden sense of superiority in Ivor’s older son. It had to be there, he thought, suspicious, as he always was. But looking one more time at Levon as he walked between him and Ivor to the feast—he was guest of honor, it seemed—Dave found himself reluctantly changing his mind. Is a horse arrogant or superior? He didn’t think so. Proud, yes; there was great pride in the bay stallion that had stood so still with Levon that morning, but it wasn’t a pride that diminished anything or anyone else. It was simply part of what the stallion was.
Levon was like that, Dave decided.
It was one of his last really coherent thoughts, for with the sunset the feast began. The eltor meat was superlative; broiled slowly over open fires, seasoned with spices he didn’t recognize, it was better than anything he’d ever tasted in his life. When the sizzling slices of meat started to go around, the drinking among the tribesmen got quite serious as well.
Dave was seldom drunk; he didn’t like surrendering the edge of control, but he was in a strange space that evening, a whole other country. A whole other world, even. He didn’t hold back.
Sitting by Ivor’s side, he suddenly realized that he hadn’t seen Tore since the hunt. Looking around the firelit pandemonium, he finally spotted the dark man standing by himself, off on the edge of the circle of light cast by the fires.
Dave rose, not too steadily. Ivor raised an inquiring eyebrow. “It’s Tore,” Dave mumbled. “Why’s he on his own? Shouldn’t be. He should be here. Hell, we… we killed an urgach together, me and him.” Ivor nodded, as if the stumbling discourse had been lucid explanation.
“Truly,” the Chieftain said quietly. Turning to his daughter, who was serving him just then, he added, “Liane, will you go and bring Tore to sit by me?”
“Can’t,” Liane said. “Sorry. Have to go get ready for the dancing.” And she was gone, quick, mercurial, into the confused shadows. Ivor, Dave saw, did not look happy.
He strode off to fetch Tore himself. Stupid girl, he thought, with some anger, she’s avoiding him because his father was exiled and she’s chief’s daughter.
He came up to Tore in the half-dark, just beyond the cast glow of the many fires. The other man, chewing on an eltor haunch, merely grunted a hello. That was okay. Didn’t need to talk; talkers bugged Dave anyhow.
They stood awhile in silence. It was cooler beyond the fires; the wind felt easy, refreshing. It sobered him a little.
“How do you feel?” he asked finally.
“Better,” Tore said. And after a moment, “Your shoulder?”
“Better,” Dave replied. When you didn’t say a lot, he thought, you said the important things. In the shadows with Tore, he felt no real desire to go back to the center of the clearing. It was better here, feeling the wind. You could see the stars, too. You couldn’t in the firelight; or in Toronto, either, he thought.
On impulse he turned around. There it was. Tore turned to look with him. Together they gazed at the white magnificence of Rangat.
“There’s someone under there?” Dave asked softly.
“Yes,” said Tore briefly. “Bound.”
“Loren told us.”
“He cannot die.”
Which was not comforting. “Who is he?” Dave asked with some diffidence.
For a moment Tore was silent, then: “We do not name him by his name. In Brennin they do, I am told, and in Cathal, but it is the Dalrei who dwell under the shadow of Rangat. When we speak of him, it is as Maugrim, the Unraveller.”
Dave shivered, though it wasn’t cold. The Mountain was shining in the moonlight, its peak so high he had to tilt his head back to take it in. He wrestled then with a difficult thought.
“It’s so great,” he said. “So tremendous. Why’d they put him under something so beautiful? Now every time you look at it, you have to think about…” He trailed off. Words were too tough, sometimes. Most of the time.
Tore was looking at him with sharp understanding, though. “That,” he said softly, “is why they did it.” And he turned back to the lights.
Turning with him, Dave saw that some of the fires were being put out, leaving a ring of flame, around which the Dalrei were gathering. He looked at Tore.
“Dancing,” his companion said. “The women and boys.”
And a moment later Dave saw a number of young girls enter the ring of fire and begin an intricate, weaving dance to a tune laid down by two old men with curiously shaped stringed instruments. It was pretty, he supposed, but dancing wasn’t really his thing. His eyes wandered away, and he spotted the old shaman, Gereint. Gereint was holding a piece of meat in each hand, one light, one dark. He was taking turns biting from each. Dave snorted and nudged Tore to look.
Tore laughed, too, softly. “He should be fat,” he said. “I don’t know why he isn’t.” Dave grinned. Just then Navon, still looking sheepish about his failure that morning, came by with a flask. Dave and Tore each drank, then watched the new Rider walk off. Still a boy, Dave thought, but he’s a hunter now.
“He’ll be all right,” Tore murmured. “I think he learned his lesson this morning.”
“He wouldn’t be around to have learned it if you didn’t use a knife as well as you do. That,” Dave said for the first time, “was some throw the other night.”
“I wouldn’t have been around to throw it if you hadn’t saved my life,” Tore said. Then after a moment he grinned, his teeth white in the darkness. “We did all right back there.”
“Damn right,” said Dave, grinning back.
The young girls had gone, to cheerful applause. A larger operation began now, with the older boys joining a number of the women. Dave saw Tabor move to the center of the circle, and after a moment he realized that they were dancing the morning’s hunt. The music was louder now, more compelling. Another man had joined the two musicians.
They danced it all, with stylized, ritual gestures. The women, their hair loose and flowing, were the eltor, and the boys mimed the Riders they would one day be. It was beautifully done, even to the individual quirks and traits of the hunters. Dave recognized the characteristic head tilt of the second Rider in the boy who imitated him. There was enthusiastic applause for that, then there was laughter as another boy danced Navon’s flashy failure. It was indulgent laughter, though, and even the other two misses were greeted with only brief regret, because everyone knew what was coming.
Tabor had untied his hair for this. He looked older, more assured—or was it just the role, Dave wondered, as he saw Ivor’s younger son dance, with palpable pride and surprisingly graceful restraint, his older brother’s kill.
Seeing it again in the dance, Dave cheered as loudly as everyone else when the young woman dancing the lead eltor fell at Tabor’s feet, and all the other women streamed around him, turning at the edge of the circle defined by the fires to form a whirling kaleidoscope of movement about the still figure of Tabor dan Ivor. It was well done, Dave thought, really well done. A head taller than everyone there, he could see it all. When Tabor glanced at him across the massed people in between, Dave gave him a high, clenched-fist gesture of approval. He saw Tabor, despite his role, flush with pleasure. Good kid. Solid.
When it ended, the crowd grew restive again; the dancing seemed to be over. Dave looked at Tore and mimed a drinking motion. Tore shook his head and pointed.
Looking back, Dave saw that Liane had entered the circle of fire.
She was dressed in red and had done something to her face; her color was high and striking. She wore golden jewelry on each arm and about her throat; it glinted and flashed in the firelight as she moved, and it seemed to Dave as if she had suddenly become a creature of flame herself.
The crowd grew quiet as she waited. Then Liane, instead of dancing, spoke. “We have cause to celebrate,” she sang out. “The kill of Levon dan Ivor will be told at Celidon this winter, and for many winters after.” There was a roar of approval; Liane let it die down. “That kill,” she said, “may not be the brightest deed we have reason to honor tonight.” The crowd hushed in perplexity. “There was another act of courage done,” Liane continued, “a darker one, in the night wood, and it should be known and celebrated by all of the third tribe.”
What? Dave thought. Uh-oh.
It was all he had time for. “Bring forth Tore dan Sorcha,” cried Liane, “and with him Davor, our guest, that we may honor them!”
“Here they are!” a high voice cried from behind Dave, and suddenly goddamn Tabor was pushing him forward, and Levon, smiling broadly, had Tore by the arm, and the two sons of Ivor led them through the parting crowd to stand beside the Chieftain.
With excruciating self-consciousness, Dave stood exposed in the light of the fires, and heard Liane continue in the rapt silence.
“You do not know,” she cried to the tribe, “of what I speak, so I will dance it for you.” Oh, God, Dave thought. He was, he knew, beet-red. “Let us do them honor,” Liane said, more softly, “and let Tore dan Sorcha no more be named Outcast in this tribe, for know you that these two killed an urgach in Faelinn Grove two nights ago.”
They hadn’t known, Dave realized, wishing he could find a place to disappear, knowing Tore felt the same. From the electric response of the tribe, it was clear that they hadn’t had a clue.
Then the music began, and gradually his color receded, for no one was looking at him anymore: Liane was dancing between the fires.
She was doing it all, he marveled, spellbound, doing it all herself. The two sleeping boys in the wood, Tore, himself, the very texture, the mood of Faelinn Grove at night—and then somehow, unbelievably, whether it was alcohol or firelight or some alchemy of art, he saw the urgach again, huge, terrifying, swinging its giant sword.
But there was only a girl in the ring of fire, only a girl and her shadow, dancing, miming, becoming the scene she shaped, offering it to all of them. He saw his own instinctive leap, then Tore’s, the urgach’s brutal blow that had sent Tore smashing into a tree…
She had it dead-on, he realized, astonished. Then he smiled, even through his wonder and stirring pride: of course, she’d listened in while they told Ivor. He felt like laughing suddenly, like crying, like some kind, any kind of articulation of emotion as he watched Liane dance his own desperate parry of the urgach’s sword, and then, finally, Tore’s hurled dagger—she was Tore, she was the blade, and then the toppling, like a mighty tree, of the beast. She was all of it, entire, and she wasn’t a stupid girl after all.
Ivor saw the urgach sway and fall, and then the dancer was herself again, Liane, and she was whirling between the fires, her bare feet flying, jewelry flashing on her arms, moving so fast her hair, short as it was, lifted behind her as she exploded in a wild celebration of dance, of the deed in the night wood, of this night, and the next, and the days, all of them, of everything there was before the hour came that knew your name.
With a lump in his throat he saw her slow, the motion winding down until she stopped, her hands across her breasts, her head lowered, motionless, the still point between the fires; between the stars, it seemed to him.
A moment the third tribe was still with her, then there came an explosion of cheering that must have rocketed beyond the camp, Ivor thought, beyond the lights of men, far out into the wide dark of the night plain.
He looked for Leith in that moment, and saw her standing among the women on the other side of the fires. No tears for her; she was not that sort of woman. But he knew her well enough after so many years to read the expression on her face. Let the tribe think the Chieftain’s wife cool, efficient, unruffled; he knew better. He grinned at her, and laughed when she flushed and looked away, as if unmasked.
The tribe was still buzzing with the catharsis of the dance and the killing that had led to it. Even in this, Liane had been wilful, for he was not at all sure this was how he would have chosen to tell them of the urgach, and it was his place to decide. It couldn’t be kept hidden, for the auberei would have to take word on their ride to Celidon tomorrow, but once more, it seemed, his middle child had gone her own way.
How could he be angry, though, after this? It was always so hard, Ivor found, to stay angry with Liane. Leith was better at it. Mothers and daughters; there was less indulgence there.
She had judged it rightly, though, he thought, watching her walk over to Tore and the stranger and kiss them both. Seeing Tore redden, Ivor decided that not the least cause for joy this night might be the reclaiming of the outcast by this tribe. And then Gereint rose.
It was remarkable how tuned the tribe was to him. As soon as the blind shaman moved forward into the space between the fires, some collective thread of instinct alerted even the most intoxicated hunter. Gereint never had to gesture or wait for silence.
He’d looked silly before, Ivor reflected, watching the shaman move unassisted between the flames. Not anymore. However he might look with eltor juice dripping from his chin, when Gereint rose in the night to address the tribe, his voice was the voice of power.
He spoke for Ceinwen and Cernan, for the night wind and the dawn wind, all the unseen world. The hollowed sockets of his eyes gave testimony. He had paid the price.
“Cernan came to me with the greyness of dawn,” Gereint said quietly. Cernan, thought Ivor, god of the wild things, of wood and plain, Lord of the eltor, brother and twin to Ceinwen of the Bow.
“I saw him clear,” Gereint went on. “The horns upon his head, seven-tined for a King, the dark flash of his eyes, the majesty of him.” A sound like wind in tall grass swept through the tribe.
“He spoke a name to me,” Gereint said. “A thing that has never happened in all my days. Cernan named to me this morning Tabor dan Ivor, and called him to his fast.”
Tabor. And not just named by the shaman after a dream. Summoned by the god himself. A thrill of awe touched Ivor like a ghostly finger in the dark. For a moment he felt as if he were alone on the Plain. There was a shadow with him, only a shadow, but it was the god. Cernan knew his name; Tabor dan Ivor, he had called.
The Chieftain was brought unceremoniously back to the reality of the camp by the high scream of a woman. Liane, of course. He knew without looking. Flying across the ring, almost knocking over the shaman in her haste, she sped to Tabor’s side, no longer a red spirit of dance and flame, only a quicksilver, coltish girl fiercely hugging her brother. Levon was there, too, Ivor saw; more quietly, but as fast, his open face flashing a broad smile of delight. The three of them together. Fair and brown and brown. His.
So Tabor was in Faelinn tomorrow. At that thought, he looked over and saw Tore gazing at him. He received a smile and a reassuring nod from the dark man, and then, with surprise and pleasure, another from giant Davor, who had been so lucky for them. Tabor would be guarded in the wood.
He looked for Leith again across the ring of fire. And with a twist in his heart, Ivor saw how beautiful she was, how very beautiful still, and then he saw the tears in her eyes. Youngest child, he thought, a mother and her youngest. He had a sudden overwhelming sense of the wonder, the strangeness, the deep, deep richness of things. It filled him, it expanded within his breast. He couldn’t hold it in, it was so much, so very much.
Moving within the ring to a music of his own, Ivor, the Chieftain, not so old after all, not so very, danced his joy for his children, all of them.