Fiction by Linda Nagata

Cover artist Sarah Adams

Cover art copyright © 2013 by Mythic Island Press LLC

The Wild

An origin myth and a tale of high fantasy.

Generations past, the people lived in an Edenic land, but disaster forced them to seek a new home on a wild continent that never before knew a human presence. The Wild is inhabited by spirits of wind, stream, forest, and mist, but these beings care nothing for the people, and some are cruel and hostile. The most powerful of these is Siddel, a spirit of storm and thunder who committed an abomination when he created the arowl—mad, ravening beasts endowed with an unquenchable hunger that drives them to hunt the people. Bennek is a young warrior who leaves behind the relative safety of the Protected Lands to venture north with his brother and his cousin, on a quest to find an ancestral spirit that most people believe departed the world long ago. As Bennek and his kin make their way north, other forces are stirring. The fate of both the people, and the Wild itself, may soon be decided.

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The following text is an excerpt from THE WILD by Linda Nagata. Copyright © 2011 by Linda Nagata. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or republished without permission in writing from the author.

Prelude: Summer Thunder

A faint, menacing rumble of faraway thunder rolled through the mist. Lanyon Kyramanthes heard it and turned sharply in the saddle. Behind her the mist had transformed a line of riders into fading silhouettes. Again the thunder rumbled, growling down their trail. Her horse snorted, pulling hard to the right—and her doubt vanished. "We are going the wrong way!"

She reined in her horse, determined not to stray another step. "Jahallon!" she called out. "War Father."

He rode at the head of the column. She could not even see him until he came cantering back along the line. As he pulled his horse up he eyed the tiny, warm bundle of her newborn daughter asleep in a carrier against her chest. Her son, who was already one and a half years in the world, was farther back in the line, in the doting care of those women who served as Jahallon's couriers. "Lanyon, do you need to stop?"

To the casual eye, Jahallon could seem an ordinary man—his broad shoulders might draw notice, or the odd coppery color of his clipped hair; otherwise he appeared as any warrior in his prime—but this was only the surface of things, the thin skin of creation. Jahallon-the-Undying was bound to a deeper place. Time could not catch him in its current. Alone among the people he could not grow old and he could not die, yet he was loved, not feared, and his willful descendants felt easy enough in his company that they did not hesitate to speak their minds.

"War Father, we have strayed in the mist! I know it. We are going the wrong way."

And after all, Jahallon didn't know this land. He'd never visited the Citadel of the Snow Chanter, even though the bitter history that had kept him away was long since crumbled to dust. On this, his first journey into the heart of Samokea, he relied on a senior captain to guide the column, but Lanyon could see he had his own doubts. "You're listening to Siddél's thunder?" he asked her.

"Why does it lie behind us? Should we believe the monster has gone south to trouble Habaddon? Or is it more likely Siddél cleaves to custom, growling and threatening from the escarpment of the Tiyat-kel where no arrows can reach him? He can be heard there almost every afternoon from the ramparts of the Citadel. But that is not all. My horse remembers her home. She fights to turn north . . . or what I think is north. I'm certain we're not going north now. We have lost our way."

The riders behind were coming up one by one, gathering around them, while those who were ahead stopped and looked back.

Jahallon too looked back the way they had come, glaring into the mist as if he could part it merely by the fierceness of his gaze. His age and his long experience had given him a disturbing prescience so that he could foretell an outcome from the least clues, whether on the battlefield or in the hearts of his people. He had also an unrelenting temper.

Fixing his gaze on Lanyon he asked, "Did you summon this mist?"

"No! Why must you think ill of me? Édan is my husband and it was always my intention to return to him."

"You should not have left the Citadel without telling him, when he was gone to war and you with child."

"I have already said I was wrong. I cannot undo it."

How foolish she felt now!

Not so, then, when the cold stone of the Citadel had seemed impervious to the spring. Where was the trickling snowmelt? The glint of new leaves and delicate flowers? The shy face of the sun, lost and found again behind roving clouds? After Édan had gone, such a longing came over her to return for a time to the bright forests of Habaddon, and to visit her friends there, and truly, she meant to stay only a little while. So when a company of couriers set out, she took her son and went with them.

But the campaign dragged on past all expectation. Spring edged into summer and no company could be spared to escort her back to the Citadel. When the army finally did return Lanyon was so close to term the midwives wouldn't let her undertake the ride. So her daughter wasn't born in the land of Samokea as she should have been, but in Habaddon. Now the infant was twenty-three days old, and though Édan had been back at the Citadel of the Snow Chanter for twice that time, he had not come south to see his daughter, nor sent any word.

"I cannot undo it!" Lanyon said again. "And I am returning to him now—or I would if this mist did not hinder us and set us on false paths."

Jahallon nodded. "I loathe this blind wandering." Then he lifted his gaze, to address the riders gathered around them. "Let us find a place to raise the tents. We will go no farther until this mist gives way."

Leaving her tiny daughter in the care of the other women, Lanyon took her son walking, letting him play and clamber in the wet grass. She made sure to smile at his antics, even though her thoughts were dark, haunted by Jahallon's question, Did you summon this mist? She had not. She did not know how, but she too wondered at the nature of the mist. It was an unseasonable fog, persisting in defiance of the summer sun, and its effect was to resist her return to the Citadel.

Édan, Édan.

She called to him silently, but Samokea was a vast land and he was too far away to hear.

The mist though, listened.

It rolled slowly, turning, drawing itself into the shape of a diaphanous woman adrift above the grass. Gray was her hair, her skin, her eyes. She was one of the Inyomere that were the spirits of the Wild. And to Lanyon she said, "Why do you call to him? He doesn't want you to come."

Lanyon picked up her son and held him close. "Did Édan send you to hinder me?"

The Inyomere of the mist drifted nearer, her hair billowing in wide, soft clouds. "I have heard his lamentations and the prayers he whispers in the night. He says, 'Do not let her come home to me. Do not let her come home. Better for her if she is lost in the Wild. Do not let her come home.'"

Lanyon shook her head, astonished at such tidings. Yet the Inyomere did not ever lie. "Why would he speak thus? What does he intend?"

The mist looked bemused. It was not her way—nor was it the way of most of her kin—to ask why or what was to come. She was of the petty Inyomere: minor spirits of forest and meadow, stream and pool, the thickets, and the summer rain. Time and purpose were of little consequence to her. Only a few among the greater Inyomere could be troubled by such things.

The Inyomere of the mist stooped even lower. She peered at Lanyon's son. He clung to his mother, as silent and still as a wild thing hiding in the grass, but his wide eyes did not turn away from the soft gaze of the mist. She smiled. "When I look on him I remember his far mother the Snow Chanter. His blood remembers her. She has given to him the will of the Inyomere."

"He is so much like his father," Lanyon whispered.

"Heed me, little sister. Do not go to Édan. He does not want you."

"That is something he must tell me himself, Blessed One. I beg you to relent. Unveil the sun and let us ride on."

"Come what may?" she asked softly.

"Come what may," Lanyon agreed.

So in her rich voice the mist called for a wind to come, a breeze that hissed through the grass, and under its caress she turned and twisted, slowly fading from Lanyon's sight.

The cloud-wrapped peaks of the Tiyat-kel stood revealed. The tents were packed. The company set out again and this time Siddél's rumbling thunder was where it should be, on their right hand, which was east. That day passed, and on the next they expected to reach the Citadel of the Snow Chanter by evening. But in late afternoon, as they rode through a grassy vale, there arose from the western forest a sound that put every rider on guard: the dreadful baying and wailing of hunting arowl.

At first the hue and cry of the arowl pack was far away, but very soon it drew nearer. The baby began to cry and she would not be comforted. Even so young, she knew their peril. All along the column bows were uncased and spears were made ready for yet another battle in the Long War that had been fought generation by generation, almost since the people first set foot on the Wild's southern shore. No one went unarmed. Lanyon held her own bow with arrow nocked, her arm crooked around her daughter to offer what solace she could while she watched the distant trees for any sign of movement.

The arowl were abominations, mad beasts conjured into life by the wrath of the Inyomere Siddél, who had made them to prey on the people. Siddél believed the people had come to the Wild by treachery, and that it was the will of the One who wakened the Inyomere that they should be destroyed, or driven back into the sea.

The howls of the arowl rent the air. The baby was screaming. A sharp command from Jahallon cut past the clamor and the warriors at either end of the column rode in to form defensive wings. Lanyon thought she saw shadows darting beneath the trees, but before she could be sure, the pack's bloodthirsty baying abruptly transformed to notes of fear and wails of terror. Bestial screeches resounded through the groves. A panicked barking was snuffed beneath a distant rumble of galloping hooves. Seven or eight youths among the Habaddon men set heel to horse, lunging toward the trees but the captain bellowed at them to stop and get back into line. The distant hoof beats faded along with the last cries of the pack, leaving only the sound of wind soughing through the branches of the tallest trees.

Before they had gone another mile Édan came. He rode out of the forest with a hundred or more of his warriors around him, the tips of their spears bloody in the sunlight. The Habaddon men reined in their horses and cheered. They called out to their Samokeän allies in raucous greeting and in moments the two companies blended into one. Édan went first to see his son, hugging him, before handing him back to the woman who watched him. Next he went to Jahallon. They clasped hands and clapped shoulders, and Édan said, "You have long been welcome in my home, Far Father. At last you have come."

"Go to her," Jahallon urged him. "She has brought you a great gift."

Lanyon had climbed down from her horse. She had taken her daughter from the chest carrier, cradling the baby in her arms as Édan approached. He saw her on the ground and he too slipped from the saddle. He walked to her, leading his horse. He was dressed in boots and a dark gray riding coat, with his sword in a back sling and his heavy black hair confined in a braid as was the custom of Samokeän men.

She had expected to see some cold expression on his face. Anger maybe; or contempt in his dark eyes. What she saw instead was a strange mingling of joy and grief. She glanced down at the baby. Then she held the infant out to him. "I have brought our daughter home."

The baby started to cry as Édan took her, but he spoke to her softly and she was soothed. He kissed her forehead. Then he looked at Lanyon. "Let us go home."

Édan wanted her to ride with him on his horse. So she climbed up first, with the baby safe again in the carrier. Édan sat behind her.

His people had not approved of their marriage. They mistrusted Lanyon's affinity with the Inyomere. That was an irony, for all the Samokeäns were descended from one or another of the many children of the Inyomere Tayeraisa who was called the Snow Chanter.

Long ago, when the people had first begun to explore the northern lands, Tayeraisa had met the warrior Samoket, who was the last of Jahallon's sons. Tayeraisa the Snow Chanter had been unique among the Inyomere. Curious and willful, it had pleased her to change herself to be as a woman of the people, and to take Samoket as her husband. Together they built the Citadel, and they brought forty-two children into the world, before death finally took Samoket away—and from the hour of his passing the Snow Chanter was not seen again.

But among their descendants many shared somewhat in the magic of the Inyomere. So it was with Édan. He was the sorcerer-chieftain of Samokea, armed with a magic far greater than any Lanyon could command. And still his people complained she had too much of the Inyomere in her, and this was why the spirits sought her out when they scorned other people. Yet this affinity was the root of Édan's affection. It fascinated him that he could speak with her mind-to-mind as the Inyomere spoke to one another. It was a connection that had captivated him from the first hour they met, when he was seventeen and she only eleven.

Many times Jahallon had warned her that such a fascination was no substitute for love, but at sixteen it had seemed enough. She seduced Édan and by the time Jahallon allowed them to marry she was three months pregnant. Now she was nineteen, and the time for making choices was long past.

For some time they rode in silence. Édan held her close, and the baby slept. But Lanyon could not pretend there was peace between them, and at last she asked what was foremost in her mind. "Were you so angry? That you hoped I would not come home?"

"I was never angry."

"No?" His denial provoked her temper. She quoted to him the words of the mist. "Don't let her come home. Better for her if she is lost in the Wild."

His breathing quickened. She felt the hammering of his heart. Finally he said, "I would not have tried to stop you, if you had taken our children away south to the safety of Hallah."

"Édan!" She twisted around to face him, while the baby protested her temper in soft bleats. "How could you think such a thing? That I would abandon the Long War and yield what my father and my brothers—all my family, and yours—have died to defend? If this is what you think of me—"

"Hush, hush." He kissed her at the corner of her mouth. "Say no more on it. I am chastened."

She turned away from him, facing forward again. Her lips brushed her daughter's warm, sweet-smelling scalp, a kiss of comfort for both of them. "Did you want me to take them away?"

He answered with a catch in his voice. "It was for you to decide."

"It was never a choice."

"Then you are braver than I am."

She heard grief in his voice. It made her fearful. Édan had grown up on the battlefield; he was not easily shaken. "Édan, what has happened to you? Was it this last campaign? Jahallon said it was hard fought; that many of your warriors fell."

His arms tightened around her. "It was the last battle. It almost broke us. It was the worst I've ever seen. Worse than the winter your father and your brothers were killed."

"Tell me. I am not afraid."

"We were at Nendaganon. We had come to the very rim of a great arowl pit and it came to us we should set it afire—set all the pits ablaze!—and put an end to Siddél's stronghold. But that was a mistake.

"The fire drove forth the half-formed arowl . . . thousands of them. Lanyon, they were horrible to look on, skinless, ravening, mad as are all their kind for the blood of the people, but with no fear of death. I could not instill any fear in them, or beguile them, or confuse them in any way. They refused to hear my voice and accepted no command. Two-hundred-twelve men were lost to them, and it would have been more, but these arowl were flawed and unfinished. Their lives withered quickly. Those we did not slay soon died on their own."

She turned again to look at him, too stunned at first to speak. Then she whispered, "Jahallon said nothing of this horror. I did not know."

"He doesn't understand how strong you are."

"I'm sorry I wasn't there when you returned."

Again he kissed her. "I knew you would come home." He looked east, to the cloud-shrouded peaks of the Tiyat-kel where the taunting voice of Siddél rumbled in tired threat. "All that we do, you and I, we do for the good of the people, no matter the cost."

No matter the cost?

"Is there something you're not telling me? Some deeper meaning behind your words? Say it now, so I don't have to be afraid."

"No," he said softly, soothingly. "There's nothing more to say. We are born to war, but for this hour at least, let us be at peace."