“What happened in Urzud?” I asked. I knew the name, of course. The Cursed City. The Jewel of the Wastes. Said to be the birthplace of the orcs, the resting place of their legendary Blue Knife. Aurora snorted as I recounted to her and her sister what little I knew of the place.
“‘Blue Knife?’ Well, orcs never were much on imagination. And Urzud was the birthplace of more than just orcs. Hobgoblins, goblins, ogres, bugbears…” She ticked them off on her fingers.
“Trolls,” Silva said. The word came out rimed in ice.
I had to sit back, as her small fists clenched, the red stone on her bracer flaring a deep and ugly red.
“Nasty beasts, those,” Varis said. Apparently, the siren’s voice had carried over the conversation at the table.
“Nearly takes a miracle to kill one of them,” Gilliam said. “Found that out the hard way, when one dug its way out of a landslide. Thing ate half the horses before we put enough arrows in it to drive it off.”
“Fire,” Varis said. “That’s what we always used, when one of those things would clamber down from the Peaks. Don’t really want to be near when the thing goes up, though. Puts off a smell that’d make an orc turn tail and run. And the screams. Ixion’s toenails, you never heard such a —“
“Vatu!” Silva had leapt to her feet. “Vatu!” she said again, stamping her foot. “Stop. You will speak of it no more!” Her voice trembled, and she blinked, her eyes looking like molten silver as she tried to hold back the tears. She wiped at them, angrily, as they began to track down her cheeks, and she stormed from the room.
It seemed as though she took all the flame’s heat with her as she left.
Gilliam opened his mouth, several times before the words finally came.
“I don’t know what she’s so upset about. She should be happy there are that many fewer of those terrors in the world.”
I saw no blur of movement, did not even feel any disturbance in the air, but in the space it takes to blink — not even to draw breath— Aurora vanished and reappeared across the table from the warrior, driving the dragonstone-bejeweled knife into the table nearly to the hilt. She’d missed his arm by a hair’s breadth, the knife pinning his sleeve in place.
“I did not have to miss,” she hissed. “Keep talking, and I will do the same to your tongue.”
* * * * *
We spent some few uneasy hours asleep on makeshift pallets around the hearth. My own sleep was haunted by hulking trolls, lit from behind by the eerie shadowlight of the blackflame. Each occasion that I awakened, Sera, too, was awake.
“Were Saiorse here, she could weave dream wards around us,” she whispered. “I saw how she worked it, but I have not the talent for it. It takes a delicate hand. Her novice, that girl we met in Krakatos, I think she would be very good at it.”
Katarin, the girl from Eltan’s Spring. What would have happened to her, I wondered, had we not freed her and the others from beneath Mistamere? Would she have awakened to her Power in the same manner? What if she had come into her Power in anger, rather than concern? Supposing Gilliam had killed the weavers, rather than their shepherds, in the Black Tower…
Her hand worked its way into mine. “You think too much,” she said. “Calm your thoughts. Get some rest.”
“You can see my thoughts?”
She smiled. “See them? No. You think of me, that I can feel.” Here she paused.
“What is it?”
“You do not think of me like Macha did.”
“No,” I said. “No, I should hope not.”
“You are a person, Sera, not a possession. Not something to be kept, like a… a horse.”
“Or a sword?”
“Or a sword,” I confirmed.
She rolled over, onto her back, held a length of the silvery lead up at arm’s length. I could feel… unease. Turmoil. Her thoughts were like a dark, storm-chopped sea.
“I have lived for so long at the end of this, I do not know of any other way to live,” she murmured.
“What would you have done, had you stayed at your village?”
“All I had ever done was watch the goats” she said.
“Was that so bad?” I asked.
She shook her head. “It passed the days, until father would have married me off to one or another of his crofter’s sons.” She gave a short laugh, a low chuckle, and the swirling, churning of her thoughts eased. “I suppose I should be grateful to Macha, for taking me away from that. I would have three or four children by now, no doubt with another on the way.”
“Is that such a bad fate?”
“Good or bad,” she sighed. “It would just be another kind of leash.”