Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 21
Kyri took a deep breath of the morning air, which once more brought that sparkling feeling into her, something beyond the freshness of an ordinary dawn. I wonder how I’ll manage to adapt to the ordinary world when we go back, she mused. Evanwyl will seem dull and grimy by comparison. Even Zarathanton may pall.
The three of them stood at the eastern gate of Sha Murnitenzei, looking at the rolling hills that led off into the golden haze of dawn, Poplock sitting comfortably on Tobimar’s shoulder. Next to them, Hiriista was adjusting a large backpack, jeweled bracelets and necklaces chiming as he did so.
Shade Danrall stood nearby, straight as a column; he was to escort them a short distance as he was going on patrol in that direction. Kyri gave him a narrow glance as he looked away. Something about him’s… different. She remembered their first encounter with the Shade; he had been stunned by their arrival, a bit nervous, instantly ordered away by Miri to run an errand. He’d shown up at the party, too, and been similarly nervous and diffident.
He seemed the same today. Even now, he was being a bit wide-eyed and nervous about escorting them when they’d already shown how formidable they were. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that he’s not nervous at all. That he’s completely focused on the situation and not in any way affected by it.
What was really maddening was that this whole situation rang a faint bell of memory and her brain was refusing to come up with the connection. Let it go. The connection will come in time, when you’re not trying to force it. And you may be imagining things.
“You’re not coming with us, Miri?” she asked. “I thought –”
“Yes, I’d planned on at least starting the journey with you, but last night, just as I was going to bed, I got a message that there’s something wrong near Sha Vomatenzei; sounds to me like something got over the wall and is skulking around the farms there.”
“Yes,” Tobimar said thoughtfully, “I suppose that the wall can’t do much to stop things that fly or are really good at climbing or jumping from surrounding trees.”
“Do not underestimate the Tenzei Kendron,” Hiriista said. “Powers are woven into it which prevent easy contact even by the denizens of the surrounding forest, and which discourage and confuse those which attempt to pass above or below it. It takes something of considerable power or skill, or both, to pass it.”
“Which unfortunately means that if something does make it over – or under – the Wall, it’s very dangerous,” Miri said regretfully. “So I’m heading off in the opposite direction. I’ll catch up to you as I can.”
They exchanged bows and Miri impulsively embraced them both; Kyri was startled but returned the hug; there was something inherently lovable about the little Light, and the strength in her arms reminded Kyri that she was no more delicate than Tobimar. “You be careful, Miri,” she said.
Miri looked startled, then smiled brilliantly. “I’m not used to people worrying about me! But I guess if anyone’s got a right to worry about me, it’s the people who crossed the Pass of Night. Okay, I’ll be careful. You too, Phoenix! And Tobimar! I don’t want to have to explain to Lady Shae how we lost our special visitors.”
“And a significant magewright,” Hiriista said dryly.
“And a most significant and beloved magewright,” she agreed with a laugh. “Goodbye!”
Miri skipped away, a casual-appearing gait that still somehow took her down the road back into town so quickly that it was only moments before she vanished from sight.
Hiriista gave a sigh and rattled the feathery spines on his neck; the sound gave her the impression of exasperated fondness. “And there she goes, bouncing like a hatchling. Sometimes I cannot grasp how she can manage her duties half as well as she does.”
“Magewright Hiriista!” Danrall said, a shocked tone in his voice. Yet… it still seems a bit off to me. “How –”
“Oh, pissh!” The mazakh dismissed the comment with a wave. “She’s hardly unaware of my opinion. Don’t worry yourself with the reputation of your superiors, they can well ward themselves.”
“O… of course, sir.” He bowed to them. “Are you ready to begin?”
“Lead on,” Kyri said.
“So,” Tobimar said as they began walking east along the road, “when exactly are we parting ways?”
“I would expect sometime after noon,” Danrall answered. “My patrol’s going to take me out to a particular cross-road that leads south to the Wall, then west along it to the Gate-Post where I’ll spend the night, then continue west about an equal distance until I turn north and join up with the road.
“Shade Ammini,” he continued, mentioning one of the other Shades, a broad dark-skinned young woman Kyri remembered from the Party, “will be leaving about now and going in the opposite direction, but she’ll turn north, then after she reaches Nightshine Rock she’ll go east and spend the night at Rimestump, then patrol east to Sentry Hill and return to the road at about the point where I’ll be leaving it.”
Kyri could envision the described paths easily in general terms – two rectangular loops, one to the south and one to the north of Murnitenzei. “So each patrol takes two days. You do this how often?”
“Dual patrol’s done at least once a week and sometimes twice. The Hues roll dice to determine which day, and sometimes whether it’ll be night or day patrols. That keeps anything from being able to be sure of our patrol timing. And of course the timing shifts if we run into something.”
“Does that happen often? Running into something inside the Wall?”
Danrall spread his hands uncertainly. “Well, it happens. Not very often, but … maybe two or three times a year here. I’d guess it’s about that often in the other cities. Twice a year we send a big patrol – all three Hues and four Shades – along the Necklace –”
Hiriista laughed, a hissing sound like a boiling kettle. “Yes, you did not hear that name before? That is the name many people use for the main road that circles Kaizatenzei, through all the Seven and to the One, because it is like a necklace with jewels spaced along it.”
Kyri smiled. “That does make sense. A nice image. So you send patrols along the Necklace twice a year – all the cities do this?”
“Yes. That way there’s a force to clean up anything that’s gotten through and is hiding in the parts between cities, bothering outlying villages but not rooted out by the normal patrols, that kind of thing.”
It sounded like they had a pretty good system in place to maintain the safety and peace. She presumed even the outlying villages had their own ordinary defenders, but the things outside the Wall would require something out of the ordinary. “That still seems like a fairly small force, having seen what lies outside your Wall – each city has one Color, three Hues, and seven Shades, right? So that would be for all seven – no, eight – cities, eighty-eight plus the seven Lights, ninety-five for the whole country?”
“It may seem small, but given our training and abilities, it is enough,” Danrall said with some pride.
“That must be impressive training,” Tobimar said.
“Oh, it is. We are taught…” he shook his head as though catching himself. “… but no, I can’t tell you. Secret, honestly. It is not safe, though.” He looked down, sadness clear on his face.
“You lose candidates in the training?”
Danrall hesitated, then nodded. “Over half… do not make it.”
Myrionar’s Name! Half of their carefully selected candidates die from the training? “You lost a friend or two, I guess.”
“Two. One of them was my best friend since I was three, so long that I couldn’t remember not being her friend. We were all so excited to be chosen, but I was scared too. Khasye kept my spirits up, gave me the confidence… and then…” He trailed off, and for a few moments they walked in silence.
“I’m sorry,” she said finally.
“Thank you. It was a couple of years ago… but it still hurts to remember it.”
“I don’t know that it ever stops hurting,” she said honestly, thinking of her parents and her brother and feeling anew the stab of loss and anger, “but I can tell you it does get better as time goes on.”
Danrall looked at her with new understanding. “You…?”
“My father, mother, and older brother. Yes.” And a lot of other people, not as close… but just as important.
They walked in silence for a while, and when conversation resumed it was about more mundane things – the types of animals and plants found in this region of Kaizatenzei, what they could expect along the road ahead, and so on. Finally, shortly after lunch, Danrall bowed to them and began walking south along a less well maintained, but still clear and reasonably level, path to the south.
“Finally!” Poplock said as the Shade disappeared from sight.
The rest of them laughed. “Ahh,” Hiriista said, rattling his crest in amusement, “it must truly be a challenge for you to be so silent at all times, Master Toad.”
“Sure ain’t easy, I’ll say that.” He looked over at the mazakh. “So, are people going to think we’re one of these patrols?”
Hiriista tilted his head quizzically. “In truth, I had not thought of that. But indeed they might; Tobimar and Phoenix are of a reasonable age to be Hues or Shades, and I have been known to accompany such patrols.”
“Does it matter?” Kyri asked. “My sworn duty is to protect and aid any in trouble anyway; even if we aren’t your Shades and Hues, we’ll still be willing to help anyone who needs our assistance.”
“My duties are much the same, as a magewright instructed by Lady Shae herself,” Hiriista admitted. “Then we may consider ourselves just such a patrol, in spirit if not in fact.”
“I’m betting that troubles are most common at the midpoints between the main cities,” Tobimar said. “Given what you’ve all mentioned about the way in which the cities grew and all.”
“You are correct, of course. And sometimes the problems are purely … internal. While none of us like to think of other people being capable of evil, it does still happen on occasion, especially farther away from the great cities.”
“Well,” Poplock said, “We’ll hear about it if we hear about it, I guess. In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of questions that I haven’t been able to ask!”
They all laughed. “I am sure you do, Master Toad,” Hiriista said, still chuckling like a clockwork whistle running down. “But the ones I think you are most interested in must wait until this evening.” He took in Kyri and Tobimar in his glance as well. “We will have much to discuss, I think.”
Was there something else in his voice… a warning?
“I’m sure we will,” she answered, feeling a new hint of caution and disquiet rising within her. “I’m sure we will.”