The blond man raised a hand in greeting and laughed. Yes. Yes, I am Sarle. I was Sarle. I might be Sarle again. And you are Arlin Gar-rick, my dear friend Rodyns son. Youve found us! Excellent. We were coming to find you. As soon as we felt you, we turned back. Welcome, Arlin. Welcome to my court!
The yoked, kneeling men jerked up their heads. Rafel felt himself stagger, seeing their faces. Felt the dark sickness, his constant companion, rise up in bile and disbelief to his throat. Cause there was Fernel Pintte, and the other Olken as travelled with him and Goose and Sarle Baden. No sign of the Doranen. The men yoked with them had red hair. Hed never seen a man with red hair before. But why were they yoked like that? What was going on?
Tugging at Gooses sleeve, he took another step closer. But Goose wouldnt budge. Turning, Rafel saw his friend was shaking like a wind-blown leaf, tears running from his terror-haunted eyes. Then Gooses knees gave way, and he dropped limbs akimbo to the patchy grass.
Goose, Goose, I cant stay here. Ive got to see.
So he left Goose behind, praying his friend would be safe, and crept a little further out of the trees. But the closer he got to Sarle Baden the more his belly churned. The more his blood bubbled, burning. Couldnt Arlin feel it? Why wasnt he running? And then he had to bend over, retching, cause he knew what this was. Hed nearly choked on it in Westwailing. Crossing the mountains. Crossing this land. The foul stench of Morgs blight, grown so thick now that if he had a knife he could cut it Arlin was staring down his nose at his fellow Doranen. Sarle, he said, his tone so dismissive. So arrogant. So b.l.o.o.d.y typically Arlin Garrick. What do you mean, your court? What Sarle Baden came out of his shabby tent, walking towards Arlin with both arms outstretched, a wide, welcoming smile warming his thin Doranen face.
Something was terribly wrong with his eyes.
Arlin fisted his hands on his hips. Sarle. I wont ask you again. What is the meaning of these ridiculous theatrics? The General Council Has no power in my court, Sarle said gently, and rested his hand on Arlins travel-stained shoulder. But as I say, you are welcome. Sarle has been a disappointment. Competent but not brilliant. Makeshift, you might say. One does what one can. And now you are come, Arlin. Oh, I am pleased. Its not a moment too soon.
Closer now, Rafel could see that Pintte and the other men werent just yoked, they were hobbled and gagged with wooden b.a.l.l.s in their mouths. Their eyes were wide with terror and most of them were weeping. Fernel Pintte was weeping.
For the first time in his life, Rafel felt sorry for the b.a.s.t.a.r.d.
Arlin shrugged off Sarle Badens hand. Lord Baden, clearly youre unwell. Too unwell to continue. You should return to Lur immediately. I will continue the search for Lost Dorana. I will Ah Dorana breathed Baden. A name to pierce this exiles heart. But I cannot go home. I am sundered, Arlin. I am forgotten of myself. The painit is unbearable. I amI am The Doranen mages face twisted. I am Sarle Baden. I was Sarle Baden. II He let out an animal howl, half agony, half madness. I am burning out this inferior creature. Oh, the depths to which my people are fallen. Arlin Rafel swallowed. I have to. I have to. Arlin, best you get away from him, he said, soft as he could. I dontI reckon he aint safe.
Irritated, Arlin turned his head. Shut up, you fool. Hes sick, thats all.
Yes, yes, I am sick, crooned Baden. His hand stroked Arlins filthy hair. But you can heal me, you beautiful boy. Youre strong. I can feel it. Perhaps youre the one Ive been searching for Arlin! Rafel said again, making his voice snap. On the grass behind him, Goose whimpered and moaned. Are you b.l.o.o.d.y blind? Look at his eyes! Barls tits, you fool, he aint Barl? whispered Sarle Baden. The bit.c.h, the s.l.u.t, the treacherous wh.o.r.e. His hand shifted from Arlins shoulder to the back of his neck, fingers curving. His teeth bared in a smile. Yes. Yes. No more Sarle. I shall be Arlin. And Arlin Garrick shall take me home.
No! Rafel shouted, as waves of blighting blackness boiled around Rodyn Garricks arrogant son. Arlinget away from him With the last of his strength he reached deep inside himself for the magic that wasnt Olken. That had burst from him in Westwailing. That had helped collapse waterspouts and hold a whirlpool at bay and sent three good, suffering men safely home.
Sarle Baden gasped. His hand fell away from Arlin. Shoving the younger mage aside he took a step forward. Another. His terrible eyes were wide with wonder. With rage. Head tipped to one side, he stepped closer again.
Do I know you, boy? he whispered. Little mage, have we met?
Snared by that burning gaze, like a bird caught in quicklime, Rafel blinked. You dont remember?
Baden reached out both hands. His touch was fire and ice. Rafel felt himself weeping. Felt his strength stolen. Could hardly breathe.
Baden could breathe. Eyes closed, he breathed in deeply and slowly. I do know you he murmured. I know your scent. It is familiar. I know the taste of your magic. I know His crazed eyes flew open. I know your father. Youre his son.
Behind him, yoked to helplessness, Pintte was yelling round the wooden gag in his mouth. In front of him Arlin was staring, at lasttoo latean awful suspicion dawning in his arrogant face. Rafel Sarle Baden was smiling. Rafel? Thats your name? Oh the power in you, Rafel. Have you any idea? Do you know what you are? What you could have been? What you will never be? I have been searching twenty lonely years for you He tried to speak. Tried to break free. Tried to drop dead on the spot.
Sarle Baden pulled him close until they rested brow to brow. Deep in his eyes a black flame leapt high.
Say goodbye, Rafel the Doranen whispered. Say goodbye, little mage He felt a battering of darkness. His heart pounding in terror. Revulsion and fury and grief and despair.
The sun went out. His heart stopped. The screams died in his throat. And then, a lifetime later, he opened his eyes. Looked around himself, a new man. Looked around himself.