11

A MISSING PIECE RETURNED

On the ship Talon prowled his cabin and Berren had never seen a brow furrowed so deep. After he’d shot the warlock, whatever spell held the Hawks had been broken. They’d fought their way out, but now half the cohort were dead or badly hurt, and Tarn was in some sort of coma and no one could wake him. No one else had seen any sign of Saffran Kuy and his apprentice, and by the time Talon and the rest of his men had reached the beach, the little sloop had raised its anchor and was on its way back out to sea, taking with it the warlock and the slavers that survived.

Talon stopped for a moment to glare out of a porthole. They were back at sea themselves now, nosing their way out of the inlet towards the open ocean as fast as they could, but the sloop was smaller, lighter, faster and hours ahead of them. Short of a miracle, there was no chance they’d catch it. A little growl escaped his lips. ‘Are you sure it was him?’

Berren nodded. Talon had asked the same thing three times now.

Tarn lay prostrate on the bed. Talon’s other sergeants crowded into the corners of the room. The girl was there too, and she sat on the edge of the bed, watching everything with an air of distant contemplation. Berren found her calm unnerving, had done so ever since they’d left the camp. She had a name now: Gelisya. He tried to remember whether he’d ever heard of her in Deephaven. He thought not, but Talon knew her at once. Princess Gelisya, daughter to King Meridian of Tethis, and that troubled him every bit as much as discovering that the warlock was back. His thoughts were so loud that Berren could almost hear them. What were you doing there? Why were you with Kuy? What do I do with you now? Do I take you home as I should or do I. . do something else? Where is the trap in this? For surely it is there. .

The prince clenched his fists. ‘We are hired this season to deal with slavers in the Duchy of Forgenver. There have always been pirates plaguing the duke’s coast, but of late they have grown worse. The duke pays us to put an end to it.’ He sighed. ‘There are three ships involved and that sloop was one of them. I spent all bloody winter hunting them down. Bribes, threats, everything to find out where they were going to be. This is what I got and now we’ve lost her. We could have trapped their other ships in that channel, one after the other. Now we do it the hard way.’ He stared at Gelisya. ‘I have no idea what the duke’s going to think if he hears there is a warlock at work and the royal house of Tethis is entwined with them as well, so perhaps we just won’t tell him. But you,’ he pointed at Gelisya, ‘had better explain to me what you were doing there.’

Gelisya shook her head violently. She’d been largely silent since Berren had rescued her, and he was starting to wonder how much of a rescue it had been. I know who you are. She’d said it as though she’d been waiting for him. What if the warlock had lured them there? Was that possible? But if he had, what did he gain by it? It made no sense. Let himself be overrun and chased away? That wasn’t the Saffran Kuy that Berren remembered.

‘He took me,’ she said. ‘I want to go home.’

Talon turned to Berren. ‘What about you? You saw him. Thoughts?’

Berren shrugged. He looked at Gelisya. ‘She knows a lot more than she’s saying. She said Kuy told her Syannis was coming for her.’

Gelisya nodded. ‘He said you were coming as well. Both of you.’

‘So you knew we were coming, and so did he! He knew and yet. .’ Berren curled his toes. And yet Kuy let all this happen! Why?

‘Enough!’ Talon shook his head. ‘I’ve seen how the minds of warlocks work. I’ve no love for the new kings of Tethis; indeed I would happily see them burn and, given the torch, I would merrily light the fire. But I will say one thing for them, and that is that they would have no dealings with one such as Saffran Kuy. He knew we would come here?’ He nodded to Gelisya. ‘Then he has placed himself in our path to give us this gift, and I will not be used in such a way. The intent is obvious — he wishes to restart the old war. I will not allow it.’

Talon surveyed his men. ‘We sail for Tethis then, to return Princess Gelisya to her father. Whatever I think of Meridian, that is what is right. If Saffran Kuy wishes to make a war between us, he can do it when I’m damn well good and ready and when I’ve spent the time to pick our field of battle. I will disembark with one cohort. The rest of you will go directly on to Forgenver and report to the duke. You’ll tell him we have destroyed a slaver camp and freed some of his subjects — that, at least, is both true and will please him. You will say nothing of warlocks or of Princess Gelisya’s presence. If he asks the reason for my delay, you may as well tell him that I have tarried in Tethis and have not told you why. The truth is not to leave this room, not for anyone. I will tell the duke myself when I join you, but he will hear it all from me, not from rumours and whispers. Am I clear?’ Talon met the eyes of each of his men in turn; they nodded, then one by one they stood up and left. As Berren rose too, Talon shook his head. ‘Not you. Nor you, my lady.’ He looked at Berren and grinned warily. ‘Did you really shoot him?’

Berren nodded.

Talon turned to Gelisya. ‘Once again, my lady, what did Kuy tell you? Every word if you please.’

Gelisya pointed at Berren. ‘Master Kuy said he would come,’ she said quietly. ‘He said everything would be all right and you’d take me home. Only he said it would be Prince Syannis, not you.’

Talon snorted. ‘Be thankful it wasn’t, for Syannis would not have taken you home. He would take his warlock-given gift and had his war, whether the rest of us liked it or not.’ He glanced at Tarn and then looked back at her. ‘What did this?’

Gelisya shook her head. Berren sighed. ‘Saffran Kuy did it.’

‘I realise that. Can it be undone? Can he be saved?’

Now Gelisya nodded. She pointed at Berren. ‘You have to make a potion.’

Berren snorted. ‘Me? I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

‘Well one of us has to do it. You can’t just let him die.’

‘Then do it.’

‘But I don’t want to.’

‘Listen, I was in Saffran Kuy’s home in Deephaven for less than half a glass. I spent most of that watching a sword-monk try to kill him. Helping a sword-monk try to kill him. He never taught me anything except to be afraid. Certainly not anything about any potions.’

Gelisya pouted. ‘He taught you lots,’ she said. She slipped a hand under her shirt and pulled out a black stone held on a chain around her neck. ‘See? It is a teacher. It shows how to do things.’ She took it off and pressed it into Berren’s hand. ‘It has a piece of a person in it that remembers things for you. So now you can do it.’ She looked mournful for a moment, then closed Berren’s fingers over the stone. ‘I did tell you that we’d done lots and lots together. He shows you how to do things. I suppose I have to give him to you now. I don’t really want to because he’s my friend. But I suppose you want him back. He is yours after all.’

Berren started to say something, but his mouth fell open and he froze. He could feel a presence in the stone — more than that, it felt familiar. It felt comfortable, almost as though it fitted him, quite perfectly, like the missing piece of a puzzle.

Or was that simply what he wanted it to be? Just his imagination, and the stone was nothing but a stone? His fingers tightened around it. Visions flashed before his eyes — he was still sitting in Talon’s cabin, on the edge of the bed with Talon in front of him and Gelisya to one side and Tarn lying behind him, but he was somewhere else too, watching Saffran Kuy at work somewhere that wasn’t the House of Cats and Gulls but was colder, smaller, cramped and dark. The warlock was making potions. He was muttering to himself, and then he turned and seemed to look at Berren. Watch, little Gelisya! Watch closely! Stir slowly! Heat carefully! Are you wearing the stone? Then Kuy seemed to forget where he was again. He muttered to himself about this and that, idly throwing handfuls of powders into his cauldron without saying what they were.

The vision shifted. They were in the same place but on a different day and it was light outside now and Kuy was making something new. And then that faded too; another came and then another, faster and faster, until one clear memory began to emerge, hauling itself out of some far closet of the stone, shrugging off cobwebs and dusting itself down. Are you wearing it? Are you wearing the stone? Do you have him, tucked safe and warm around your soft throat, girl? Watch this one carefully careful. The need will be great. It will bring you a friend and it will bring you suspicion and it will bring you hate. More important than any of the others, yet you will use them all when their time comes. I have spoken to you of the first principle of knowledge: that we are beings of two parts. Every man, from the lowest worm to the highest king, has two souls. More important than the light of the sun, to know this, but to know is but a scratch. To understand, yes, to understand, now that is the heart beneath. What priests would exalt, I shall call the Useless Part, the one that departs for far-off ideals, for the Sun or the Moon or the Stars. Or Xibaiya or elsewhere. Delights to taste some other day. What remains we shall call the Useful Part. Mindless thoughtless fodder for the living, but useful, yes, for they are the energy we draw on to work the tiny miracles that fill our lives, consumed and eaten. But what if one were to hold its form and keep its empty aimless hunger? What shall we call such a creature? Dangerous, I name it, and most potent ally too. Ephemeral pet-things, but while they remain they hunger for a life they cannot have, and they will fight to own a new coat of flesh. Men, sometimes, lifeless although they still live. Walking the streets with empty faces as though their spirits have long departed but who have yet to understand that they are dead. Or who lie still and cannot be roused yet do not pass away. In the murky places of this wretched land you will find such as these. Or strong men filled with woes they cannot explain. The housewife sapped of energy by a mystery. Crippled souls who seem as though they must fight a constant battle merely to live, and so, indeed, they do. Now you will know the cure for both. Watch carefully, for I will show you a draught to cast aside these usurpers. They will be your friends, your allies, your servants and your soldiers. One day they will crush worlds for you, little girl.

Suddenly he turned and seemed to stare straight at Berren. Listening are you, little ungrateful Berren-piece? Watching us now? Because it is not done between us, yet here I sense your fate is close to mine once more. You will have a want for this one too, I feel it. I see pain in our futures. Savour it! Relish it! Let it soak you through your skin and run ebullient through your veins, for if you hear these words, you have regained that which I took and I have given you a gift by it.

He saw it all, with absolute clarity. Everything Kuy had done, every ingredient, every motion and every method. And he understood that these things Kuy described, they were the terrors he’d seen back among the slavers, the same nightmares that Kuy had called to him as he’d battled Tasahre. Most of all, he understood what lay inside Gelisya’s teaching stone. It was him. It was the piece of his soul that Kuy had taken in the House of Cats and Gulls. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I do.’

Talon frowned. ‘You do what?’

‘I do want it back.’

Gelisya sniffed. ‘Well then you have to do it.’

‘Do what?’ Talon was close to breaking.

Berren looked him in the eye. ‘She’s right. I do know how to save Tarn.’

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