Vagrants book 2 circles.., p.1

Vagrants: Book 2 Circles of Light series, page 1

 

Vagrants: Book 2 Circles of Light series
 



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Vagrants: Book 2 Circles of Light series


  Vagrants

  (Circles Of Light - Book Two)

  E.M. Sinclair

  Copyright 2006 by E.M. Sinclair

  Smashwords Edition

  In Memory Of

  F.K. 1880-1970

  M.H.I. 1920-2006

  For John and Ben, with love always

  Cover Painting - ‘Ashta’ by Bethan Town-Jones

  Cover Design by David Dempsey

  Chapter One

  Nolli was installed in what had been a guardroom beside the great gateway. Beds were brought, and wall hangings, and pillows, and with a fire in the hearth it was comfortable and warm. It also meant that the Wise One was easily available to any who wished to speak to her and with the door open, she missed nothing of what went on in the hall. Fenj’s chosen place was in the curve of the wall opposite Nolli’s room, and Lorak had taken over a much smaller guardroom close by. He announced it would be his temporary workroom and Gan stifled a groan at the news.

  The few of Rhaki’s fighters who had survived worked alongside the Guards. It was clear to Gan and his officers that fear rather than loyalty or devotion had commanded them. The fighters were offered the chance of proving whether they could eventually become full members of the Guards.

  The servants of the stronghold had taken a very short time to become devoted to the new regime. They too had been governed by fear but the unfailing kindness and respect shown them by all of Emla’s party had quickly won them over. Emla stayed several more days in the stronghold, a lot of that time closeted with Nolli. But she and Kemti had taken their leave with Soran and most of the Guards save for the two bands remaining at the stronghold.

  Emla’s parting from Tika and Farn was made easier by the knowledge that when Farn was strong enough to begin the long journey to the south, they would stop at Gaharn for a few days with the Golden Lady.

  Although not soul bonded, Jeela and Dessi had become very attached to each other and the Delver girl had gone on a hunting flight along with Ashta and Brin. Kija’s eyes flared angrily when she realised what her small daughter had done but she said nothing on their return.

  As Farn slept less, he ventured outside the destroyed gateway, usually with Gan or Sket. There he stretched his wings and, more carefully, his neck, breathing the bitingly cold air. Lorak’s herbs seemed to be helping him although he complained loudly at the unpleasant taste.

  A few hours after Emla’s departure, Tika and Mim were in Nolli’s room. Mim had ripped the sleeves from his shirts, making sleeveless tunics, and his arms glittered with tiny gold scales. He had been asking Nolli about the Delvers’ way of life.

  ‘I noticed in your gardens, most of your tools are made of bone or wood but your cooking pots are metal, and I saw you used knives. Do your people work the metal or do you trade?’

  ‘In our central settlement of Asat there are smiths. They provide all the metal work we need. There are seams of ore within the mountain so we do not trade.’ Nolli frowned, not entirely sure of Mim’s reason for such questions. ‘We make knives for everyday use and a certain small number of arrowheads but we forge no weapons such as spears or swords.’

  Mim tilted his head to one side. ‘Why not?’

  ‘Delvers do not make war. We keep ourselves safe within the Domain. We do not fight,’ she repeated.

  Tika sat back against a pillow, understanding where Mim’s thoughts led. He leaned forward, his turquoise eyes with the strange vertical pupils, intent on Nolli.

  ‘So my people thought,’ he said softly. ‘And I am all that remains of a whole Nagum village.’

  Nolli sucked her lips over her naked gums. Mim nodded.

  ‘I refused to use a sword when Gan would teach me. And he asked me then, how had Nagum beliefs protected my village. I do not believe force to be the right way Nolli but I believe it is right to know how to fight – to protect or defend.’

  Nolli was silent for a long while. ‘My people would not fight when the invaders took our lands. We retreated into the Domain and here we have lived safely ever since. Should we now learn to fight then Mim? And who do we take up arms against?’

  Mim thought before he asked: ‘If you saw Dessi threatened by a sword, would you merely watch her die?’

  Nolli stared at him. He shook his head.

  ‘These questions go round in my head Nolli. It seems that force is the only thing some people understand – the threat of force keeping them in order. Then that force needs to become stronger, and so on and on it goes.’

  ‘I begin to see your dilemma Mim. So you perhaps think that hiding ourselves away from the world was wrong?’

  ‘Not wrong Nolli, but it was an avoidance rather than an answer.’

  ‘And you, Tika? You believe force is right?’

  ‘No, I do not believe that, anymore than Mim does. But I know, better than Mim, that it is necessary. I will never be a slave again – so I will fight.’

  ‘Dessi has seen great changes coming, in her dreams. She sees Delvers Outside once more. Perhaps some of those will choose to fight.’ The ancient one closed her eyes for a moment. ‘I will think on what you say and then I will talk with the Elders.’

  Leaving Nolli’s room, the two wandered to the edge of the gateway, looking out at the darkening sky. It was clear of snow clouds at least, but icy cold. Tika shivered, hugging herself.

  ‘Why aren’t you cold anymore Mim? Remember how you complained of even the slightest chill?’

  He laughed. ‘It is something to do with the Dragon blood. Somehow I can adjust to different temperatures to a certain extent.’ He stretched his arms, the scales rippling as he moved. ‘I’m glad though – I did hate feeling so cold!’

  They moved back inside the great hall.

  ‘How long until you have to leave?’ Mim asked softly.

  ‘I think it will be sooner rather than later. I would prefer Farn to rest many more days, but something warns me we must move soon.’

  ‘Why is it so necessary to chase after Rhaki and destroy him? He is no longer the Guardian. Could he not be left in the South Lands, to play his games if the humans there allow him?’

  Tika slowed as they approached the long dining table where Guards were filling the benches.

  ‘Nolli says he has become something different – as we have changed. He has learned too much of the ways of the ancient users of power and he has twisted that knowledge. He is a danger now, but he could become an even more terrifying threat to all of us if he is left to his own devices. So,’ she shrugged and moved on towards the table. ‘He must be destroyed.’

  As soon as Emla reached her great House again, she sent a messenger into Gaharn asking that a Gathering be summoned within three days. She visited those wounded Guards still in her House and spoke briefly to Yash. They had ridden hard on the return from the north, despite the unceasing snow and bitter winds.

  Emla retreated to her private quarters exhausted, to find Shan had readied a bath and prepared a tray of tea and hot pastries.

  ‘What would I do without you Shan?’ she groaned, as her chapped fingers fumbled with her shirt buttons. ‘But leave me now. Go and have a bath yourself and, if you are not falling asleep after that, come back to me.

  Shan turned to the door. ‘My Lady?’

  ‘Yes?’

  ‘These clothes are comfortable. Would you allow me to wear trousers here? At least sometimes,’ she added quickly.

  ‘Of course you may. I think I will myself. Warmer and less entangling than skirts.’ Emla grinned at her maid. ‘Perhaps you are more my bodyguard than my personal maid now?’

  Shan blushed but said nothing.

  ‘Go on. Soak away the aches – at least some o
f them – as I hope to do!’

  Next morning, Emla summoned Soran, now the Chief of her Guards.

  ‘You look better after a decent night’s rest Soran.’ She smiled as he saluted her. ‘Sit down, this is an informal talk.’

  He seated himself and remarked: ‘You too look rested Lady.’

  ‘And a lot cleaner no doubt!’ she agreed. ‘Soran, Shan spoke to me last night. At first, I was surprised but on reflection I think she has a point.’

  Soran waited.

  ‘She said that having used a blade, and seeing Tika and myself fighting with blades, she would like permission to take training.’

  Soran’s eyebrows rose, then lowered in a frown as he thought. ‘Lord Gan began training Lady Tika. I see no reason why women should not learn the ways of the blade. I know that all the People, male and female, are taught the basic routines in their childhood.’

  ‘I want no trouble from the Guards over this Soran.’ Emla studied him. ‘I suspect some of the other women of my household will want to learn when once they see Shan training. At the same time, I want you and your officers to make no concessions because they are female. I’ve heard you shout at recruits – I expect there will be occasions to shout at Shan and any others who join her.’ Emla stood and Soran also rose. ‘If you would arrange a timetable for exercises perhaps? I suggest a few hours both morning and evening, leaving Shan free to attend to her duties to me. Oh yes,’ she smiled wryly. ‘Shan will find it hard – as she must.’

  Soran nodded, saluted the Lady and left as Kemti arrived. Kemti was wearing the usual robe and looked askance at Emla in her trousers, boots and shirt. As she came round the desk, he looked even more surprised that she still wore her sword.

  ‘Times seem to be about to change,’ he suggested.

  ‘No, Kemti, times have already changed.’

  The household was astir before dawn on the third day after Emla’s return to Gaharn. At least the snow had stopped falling as Emla set out for the city with Kemti and Shan and a full escort of Guards led by Soran. A pale, watery sun had just cleared the horizon as they arrived at the Asataria. An officer in the darker blue cloak of the City Guards snapped to attention.

  ‘Welcome Lady. The Gathering awaits your presence.’

  They marched through the long stone corridors until they reached the big double doors to the Gathering Chamber. Two sentries saluted and swung the doors inward. As Emla entered, the doors clicked shut behind her. The muted conversation buzzing through the assembled Juniors, Seniors and Discipline Seniors fell silent as all eyes turned to Emla.

  She unhooked her cloak, dropping it on to the end of a bench as she walked to the centre of the Chamber. A quick hum rose and died away as comments flew upon the Lady’s apparel. She wore a dusty gold shirt tucked into slightly darker trousers, brown knee boots and a sword hung at her brown belt. Her dark hair swung in a heavy braid down her back as she halted at the outside edge of the mosaic circle. Emla moved round the circle until she was facing the Gathered People. Quietly, but her voice reaching all her audience, she told of what had happened since she had last stood there. Told of the Delvers and their Wise One, of Rhaki’s disappearance, and of the deaths of Bark and Iska.

  She paused and Discipline Senior Harak said: ‘So the Balance is restored. Problem solved.’

  Emla spoke over the murmur of agreement.

  ‘No Harak. The Balance is restored – for now, but Rhaki must be found. The bonded one, Tika, will travel to the South Lands where we believe he has gone, and she will destroy him.’ She looked round at the faces fixed in her direction. ‘The Delvers’ Wise One said Rhaki has discovered ancient knowledge.’ Pointing at the inlaid circle at her feet, she said: ‘These circles can be used to travel enormous distances. That is how he fled so far so quickly.’ She raised her voice over the increasing noise. ‘The Wise One has also said the Guardianship must be divided. She has named a Delver girl, Dessi, strong in the Power, to share the Guardianship with Mim, the Nagum boy of whom I spoke when last I addressed this Gathering.’

  Now voices were raised from the sections where the Seniors and Discipline Seniors were seated. The Juniors were silent, listening in astonishment. Emla spoke softly to a Junior sitting nearest her and he fled, returning with a pitcher of water and a goblet. By the time she had drunk half a gobletful, order was nearly restored.

  ‘By what right did you appoint these two, neither of them of the People and both scarcely of Junior age, to the Guardianship?’

  It was a white haired female Discipline Senior who called the demand. Emla stared up at her.

  ‘Ryla, I did not Name them. The Delver Wise One Named them and I concurred.’

  ‘How could you permit it?’ Another voice asked. Emla turned to the new questioner.

  ‘Fayet, our People have Named two Guardians, Kovas and Rhaki. The Balances were here when we first came to this land. Who had guarded them before we presumed to do so and who invited us to do so then?’

  The eyes of the Juniors switched from Emla to their elders, transfixed by this unprecedented argument.

  Discipline Senior Harak spoke again. ‘Do you tell us it was one of these – Delvers? – who had charge of the Balance before?’

  ‘I do not know. Their Wise One clearly has more knowledge of many of these things than we do. I did not ask her those questions but she is willing to talk to us. Her dreamers have warned her of great changes, and after the long Cycles her people have spent in self imposed isolation, she says she will now speak with us. You will have to go to her though, she is too ancient and frail to journey here.’ Emla added.

  Fayet snorted. ‘So now we are summoned by some hitherto unknown race to listen to their ramblings leagues from here?’

  Emla frowned. ‘The Wise One has offered to share her knowledge. I believe she would be saddened if this Gathering scorned her offer. But it would make no difference to the Delvers attempt to continue what they see now as a battle for the future.’ She looked slowly around the Chamber. ‘I will leave you as obviously there is much for you to – discuss.’ Her green eyes gleamed with something close to scorn. ‘If you decide to send a delegation to the north, I would be glad to send a guide from my Guards.’

  She retraced her steps, taking her cloak from a blushing Junior with a smile of thanks and left the Gathering. She crossed the stone-floored area outside to where Shan and Soran awaited her, as Kemti hurried from further down the corridor. He had slipped in to sit among the Seniors to hear Emla and he looked deeply troubled as he joined her. A serving man in dark green livery approached, bowing low to the Golden Lady.

  ‘The Discipline Senior Kera would speak with you, if you could spare her your time, Lady.’

  Emla nodded. ‘I will be in her rooms shortly.’

  The man bowed again and left.

  ‘Soran, come with me please. Shan and Riff also. The rest of you get some food. I will send when I am ready to leave.’

  ‘I know Kemti,’ she forestalled him. ‘Worse than we thought. Could you invite yourself to a meal with some of those – geniuses? See how many are open to change if you can in the brief time we will be here.’

  Kemti nodded, turning off into another corridor, leading to the Seniors’ common dining hall.

  ‘They did not believe you Lady?’ Soran asked quietly.

  ‘They didn’t want to believe me Soran. They are comfortable as they are. They fear change might make them less comfortable,’ she grinned at him. ‘As it surely will.’

  They had been climbing stairs as they spoke and another two turns brought them to

  a door made of light oak. The corridor ended just beyond the door and an alcoved window was set in the end wall. As Emla indicated that her three escorts should wait for her there, footsteps whispered on the stone floor behind them. Discipline Senior Kera rounded the corner and smiled, reaching her hand to catch Emla’s.

  ‘Come in, come in.’

  Kera threw her faded brown cloak at a hook on the wall, missed, and dro
pped herself into the chair behind her desk.

  ‘You’ve stirred them up this time and no mistake.’ Kera said, watching Emla retrieve the cloak and hang it, with her own, on the hook. Kera’s tone changed.

  ‘I was appalled at Iska’s death. And Bark! I don’t think anyone had spared him a thought in stars know how long. Doesn’t say much for us, does it Emla?’

  Emla sat in a chair between the desk and the hearth.

  ‘On the contrary. I think it perhaps says more than we would like.’

  There was a soft rap at the door and a maid brought in a tray with bowls of steaming broth and a covered basket of hot bread.

  ‘Thank you,’ Kera smiled. ‘Would you bring something for the Lady’s escort please?’

  Emla tore a crust from one of the rolls and chewed hungrily.

  ‘Kera, I can count on your support in this.’

  There was a faint query in her tone. Kera glared, her mouth too full to answer at once. She swallowed and coughed.

  ‘You should know you can Emla. It is clear that the Asataria is going to be divided in all directions, but there are those I can be sure will be prepared for change.’ She gave Emla a sharp look as she sipped some of the broth. ‘I think you will find quite a few of the oldest are more ready than the younger ones. Ryla for example, despite what you may have assumed just now, has been concerned at what she terms ‘our stagnation’ for quite a while. Whereas that fool Fayet and his cronies hate the very notion of change.’

  Kera tore off another chunk of bread.

  ‘How do these Delvers live under the mountains though?’

  ‘I only entered their Domain to see Iska and Bark laid to rest, but Tika and Mim described gardens and fields in caverns opening to the outer lands, where the Delvers seem to grow most crops. They also keep volu for milk and cheese, and lumen for wool. In the warmer seasons, they graze them on the slopes close to the entrances to the Domain.’

 
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