Tabor, at least, was no baby. Ivor’s son, Levon’s brother, he knew where to lie in the wood at night. He was sheltered and hidden and could move easily at need. Tore approved.
He and Davor were in Faelinn Grove again. Their guest had, surprisingly, elected to delay his journey south in order to watch over the boy with him. Tabor, Tore thought, had made a strong impression. It wasn’t unusual: he liked the boy himself. Characteristically, Tore gave no thought to the possibility that he himself might be another reason for Dave’s reluctance to leave.
Tore had other things to think about. In fact, he had been of two minds about being accompanied that night. He had been looking forward to solitude and dark since the festival. Too much had happened there, and too quickly. Too many people had come over to embrace him after Liane’s dance. And in the night, long after the fires had burned down, Kerrin dal Ragin had slipped into the room Levon had insisted he take in the camp. Levon had been smiling when they talked, and when Kerrin appeared in the doorway, Tore had belatedly understood why. Kerrin was very pretty, and much talked about among the hunters; her giggling, scented arrival was not the sort of thing an outcast grew accustomed to.
It had been very nice, more than that, in fact. But what had followed her arrival in his bed did not admit of leisure or tranquillity to let him reflect on all that had occurred.
He’d needed to be alone, but Davor’s company was the next best thing. The big man was inclined to silence himself, and Tore could sense that the stranger had things of his own to think about. In any case, they were there to guard Tabor, and he’d not have wanted to meet another urgach alone. The Chieftain had given Davor an axe—the best weapon for one of his size, without training in the sword.
So, weapons to hand this time, the two of them had settled down against a pair of trees close to where Tabor lay. It was a mild easy night. Tore, outcast no longer, it seemed, let his mind go back, past Kerrin’s fair, silken hair, past the naming of Tabor by the god, the tumult of the tribe’s response to what he and Davor had done, to the still point, the heart of everything, the moment for which he needed the dark and solitude.
Liane had kissed him when her dance was done.
Fingering the haft of his axe, enjoying the balanced, solid feel of it, Dave realized that he even liked the name they had given him.
Davor. It sounded far more formidable than Dave. Davor of the Axe. Axewielder. Davor dan Ivor—
Which stopped him. From that thought he could feel himself backing away; it was too exposed to even let it surface inside.
Beside him, Tore sat quietly, his dark eyes hidden; he seemed lost in reverie. Well, Dave thought, I guess he won’t be an outcast anymore, not after last night.
Which took him back. His, too, had been a tiring night. Three girls, no less, had made their way through Ivor’s doorway to the room where Dave slept. Or didn’t, after all, sleep.
God, he remembered thinking at one point, I’ll bet there’s a lot of kids born nine months after one of these feasts. A good life, he decided, being a Rider of the Dalrei, of the third tribe, of the children of Ivor—He sat up abruptly. Tore glanced at him, but made no comment. You have a father, Dave told himself sternly. And a mother and brother. You’re a law student in Toronto, and a basketball player, for God’s sake.
“In that order?” he remembered Kim Ford teasing, the first time they’d met; or had Kevin Laine put it the other way around? He couldn’t remember. Already the time before the crossing seemed astonishingly remote. The Dalrei were real, Martyniuk thought. This axe, the wood, Tore—his kind of person. And there was more.
His mind looped back again to the night before, and this time it zeroed in on the thing that mattered much more than it should, more, he knew, than he could allow it to. Still, it did. He leaned back against the tree again, going with the memory.
Liane had kissed him when her dance was done.
They heard it at the same time: something crashing loudly through the trees. Tore, child of night and woods, knew immediately—only someone who wanted to be heard would make so much noise. He didn’t bother moving.
Dave, however, felt his heart lurch with apprehension. “What the hell is that?” he whispered fiercely, grabbing for his axe.
“Her brother, I think,” Tore said, inadvisedly, and felt himself go crimson in the dark.
Even Dave, far from a perceptive man, could hardly miss that one. When Levon finally emerged through the trees, he found the two of them sitting in an awkward silence.
“I couldn’t sleep,” he offered apologetically. “I thought I might watch with you. Not that you need me, but…”
There was truly no guile, no hauteur in Levon. The man who had just done Revor’s Kill, who would one day lead the tribe, was sheepishly requesting their indulgence.
“Sure,” Dave said. “He’s your brother. Come sit down.”
Tore managed a short nod. His heartbeat was slowing, though, and after a time he decided he didn’t really mind if Davor knew. I’ve never had a friend, he thought suddenly. This is the sort of thing you talk to friends about.
It was all right that Levon had come; Levon was unlike anyone else. And he had done something the morning before that Tore was not sure he would have dared to try. The realization was a hard one for a proud man, and a different person might have hated Levon for it. Tore, however, measured out his respect in terms of such things. Two friends, he thought, I have two friends here.
Though he could only speak of her to one of them.
That one was having problems. Tore’s slip had registered, and Dave felt a need to walk the implications out. He rose. “I’m going to check on him,” he said. “Right back.”
He didn’t do much thinking, though. This wasn’t the sort of situation Dave Martyniuk could handle, so he ducked it. He carried the axe, careful not to make a noise with it; he tried to move as quietly as Tore did in the wood. It’s not even a situation, he told himself abruptly. I’m leaving tomorrow.
He had spoken aloud. A night bird whirred suddenly from a branch overhead, startling him.
He came to the place where Tabor was hidden—and well hidden, too. It had taken Tore almost an hour to find him. Even looking straight at the spot, Dave could barely make out the shape of the boy in the hollow he’d chosen. Tabor would be asleep, Tore had explained earlier. The shaman had made a drink that would ensure this, and open the mind to receive what might come to wake him.
Good kid, Dave thought. He’d never had a younger brother, wondered how he would have behaved toward one. A lot better than Vince did, the bitter thought came. A hell of a lot better than Vincent.
A moment longer he watched Tabor’s hollow, then, assured there was no danger to be seen, he turned away. Not quite ready to rejoin the other two, Dave took an angled route back through the grove.
He hadn’t seen the glade before. He almost stumbled into it, checked himself barely in time. Then he crouched down, as silently as he could.
There was a small pool, glittering silver in the moonlight. The grass, too, was tinted silver, it seemed dewy and fragrant, new somehow. And there was a stag, a full-grown buck, drinking from the pool.
Dave found he was holding his breath, keeping his body utterly still. The moonlit scene was so beautiful, so serene, it seemed to be a gift, a bestowing. He was leaving tomorrow, riding south to Paras Derval, the first stage of the road home. He would never be here again, see anything like this.
Should I not weep? he thought, aware that even such a question was a world away from the normal workings of his mind. But he was, he was a world away.
And then, as the hairs rose up on the back of his neck, Dave became aware that there was someone else beside the glade.
He knew before he even looked, which is what caused the awe: her presence had been made manifest in ways he scarcely comprehended. The very air, the moonlight, now reflected it.
Turning, in silence and dread, Dave saw a woman with a bow standing partway around the glade from where he crouched in darkness. She was clad in green, all in green, and her hair was the same silver as the moonlight. Very tall she was, queenly, and he could not have said if she was young or old, or the color of her eyes, because there was a light in her face that made him avert his face, abashed and afraid.
It happened very quickly. A second bird flew suddenly, flapping its wings loudly, from a tree. The stag raised its head in momentary alarm, a magnificent creature, a king of the wood. Out of the corner of his eye—for he dared not look directly—Dave saw the woman string an arrow to her bow. A moment, a bare pulsation of time, slipped past as the frieze held: the stag with its head high, poised to flee, the moonlight on the glade, on the water, the huntress with her bow.
Then the arrow was loosed and it found the long, exposed throat of the stag.
Dave hurt for the beast, for blood on that silvered grass, for the crumpled fall of a thing so noble.
What happened next tore a gasp of wonder from the core of his being. Where the dead stag lay, a shimmer appeared in the glade, a sheen of moonlight it seemed at first; then it darkened, took shape and then substance, and finally Dave saw another stag, identical, stand unafraid, unwounded, majestic, beside the body of the slain one. A moment it stood thus, then the great horns were lowered in homage to the huntress, and it was gone from the glade.
It was a thing of too much moonlit power, too much transcendency; there was an ache within him, an appalled awareness of his own—
“Stand! For I would see you before you die.”
Of his own mortality.
With trembling limbs, Dave Martyniuk rose to stand before the goddess with her bow. He saw, without surprise, the arrow leveled on his heart, knew with certainty that he would not rise to bow to her once that shaft was in his breast.
A curious, other-worldly calm descended upon Dave as he moved into the moonlight. He dropped the axe before his feet; it glittered on the grass.
“Look at me.”
Drawing a deep breath, Dave raised his eyes and looked, as best he could, upon the shining of her face. She was beautiful, he saw, more beautiful than hope.
“No man of Fionavar,” the goddess said, “may see Ceinwen hunt.”
It gave him an out, but it was cheap, shallow, demeaning. He didn’t want it.
“Goddess,” he heard himself say, wondering at his own calm, “it was not intentional, but if there is a price to be paid, I will pay it.”
A wind stirred the grass. “There is another answer you could have made, Dave Martyniuk,” Ceinwen said.
Dave was silent.
An owl suddenly burst from the tree behind him, cutting like a shadow across the crescent of the moon and away. The third one, a corner of his mind said.
Then he heard the bowstring sing. I am dead, he had time, amazingly, to think, before the arrow thudded into the tree inches above his head.
His heart was sore. There was so much. He could feel the quivering of the long shaft; the feathers touched his hair.
“Not all need die,” Green Ceinwen said. “Courage will be needed. You have sworn to pay a price to me, though, and one day I will claim it. Remember.”
Dave sank to his knees; his legs would not bear him up before her any longer. There was such a glory in her face, in the shining of her hair.
“One thing more,” he heard her say. He dared not look up. “She is not for you.”
So his very heart lay open, and how should it be otherwise? But this, this he had decided for himself; he wanted her to know. He reached for the power of speech, a long way.
“No,” he said. “I know. She’s Tore’s.”
And the goddess laughed. “Has she no other choice?” Ceinwen said mockingly, and disappeared.
Dave, on his knees, lowered his head into his hands. His whole body began to shake violently. He was still like that when Tore and Levon came looking for him.
When Tabor woke, he was ready. There was no disorientation. He was in Faelinn, and fasting, and he was awake because it was time. He looked about, opening himself, prepared to receive what had come, his secret name, the ambit of his soul.
At which point, disorientation did set in. He was still in Faelinn, still in his hollow, even, but the wood had changed. Surely there had been no cleared space before him; he would never have chosen such a place, there was no such place near this hollow.
Then he saw that the night sky had a strange color to it, and with a tremor of fear he understood that he was still asleep, he was dreaming, and would find his animal in the strange country of this dream. It was not usual, he knew; usually you woke to see your totem. Mastering fear as best he could, Tabor waited. It came from the sky.
Not a bird. No hawk or eagle—he had hoped, they all did—nor even an owl. No, his heart working strangely, Tabor realized then that the clearing was needed for the creature to land.
She did, so lightly the grass seemed scarcely to be supporting her. Lying very still, Tabor confronted his animal. With an effort, then, a very great effort, he stretched himself out, mind and soul, to the impossible creature that had come for him. It did not exist, this exquisite thing that stood gazing calmly back at him in the strangely hued night. It did not exist, but it would, he knew, as he felt her enter him, become a part of him as he of her, and he learned her name even as he learned what it was the god had summoned him to find and be found by.
For a last moment, the very last, the youngest child of Ivor heard, as if someone else were speaking, a part of himself whisper, “An eagle would have been enough.”
It was true. It would have been more than enough, but it was not so. Standing very still before him, the creature appeared to understand his thought. He felt her then, gently, in his mind. Do not reject me, he heard as from within, while her great, astonishing eyes never left his own. We will have only each other at the last.
He understood. It was in his mind, and then in his heart also. It was very deep; he hadn’t known he went so deep. In response he stretched forth a hand. The creature lowered her head, and Tabor touched the offered horn.
“Imraith-Nimphais,” he said, remembered saying, before the universe went dark.
“Hola!” cried Ivor joyously. “See who comes! Let there be rejoicing, for see, the Weaver sends a new Rider to us.”
But as Tabor drew nearer, Ivor could see that it had been a difficult fast. He had found his animal—such was written in every movement he made—but he had clearly gone a long way. It was not unusual, it was good, even. A sign of a deeper merger with the totem.
It was only when Tabor walked up close to him that Ivor felt the first touch of apprehension.
No boy came back from a true fast looking quite the same; they were boys no longer, it had to show in their faces. But what he saw in his son’s eyes chilled Ivor to the core, even in the morning sunshine of the camp.
No one else seemed to notice; the tumult of welcome resounded as it always did, louder even, for the son of the Chieftain who had been called by the god.
Called to what, Ivor was thinking, as he walked beside his youngest child towards Gereint’s house. Called to what?
He smiled, though, to mask his concern, and saw that Tabor did so as well; with his mouth only, not the eyes, and Ivor could feel a muscle jumping spasmodically where he gripped his son’s arm.
Arriving at Gereint’s door he knocked, and the two of them entered. It was dark inside, as always, and the noise from without faded to a distant murmur of anticipation.
Steadily, but with some care, Tabor walked forward and knelt before the shaman. Gereint touched him affectionately on the shoulder. Then Tabor lifted his head.
Even in the darkness Ivor saw Gereint’s harshly checked motion of shock. He and Tabor faced each other, for what seemed a very long time.
At length Gereint spoke, but not the words of ritual. “This does not exist,” the shaman said. Ivor clenched his fists.
Tabor said, “Not yet.”
“It is a true finding,” Gereint went on, as if he hadn’t heard. “But there is no such animal. You have encompassed it?”
“I think so,” Tabor said, and in his voice now was utter weariness. “I tried. I think I did.”
“I think so, too,” Gereint said, and there was wonder in his voice. “It is a very great thing Tabor dan Ivor.”
Tabor made a gesture of deprecation; it seemed to drain what reserves of endurance he had left. “It just came,” he said, and toppled sideways to his father’s feet.
As he knelt to cradle his unconscious son, Ivor heard the shaman say in his voice of ritual, “His hour knows his name.” And then, differently, “May all the powers of the Plain defend him.”
“From what?” Ivor asked, knowing he should not.
Gereint swung to face him. “This one I would tell you if I could, old friend, but truly I do not know. He went so far the sky was changed.”
Ivor swallowed. “Is it good?” he asked the shaman, who was supposed to know such things. “Is it good, Gereint?”
After too long a silence Gereint only repeated, “It is a very great thing,” which was not what he needed to hear. Ivor looked down at Tabor, almost weightless in his arms. He saw the tanned skin, straight nose, unlined brow of youth, the unruly shock of brown hair, not long enough to tie properly, too long to wear loose—it always seemed to be that way with Tabor, he thought.
“Oh, my son,” Ivor murmured, and then again, rocking him back and forth as he always used to, not so many years ago.