But in that very calm, that impassive acceptance, Dave found a steadfastness of his own. Without moving a muscle, Levon seemed to be growing, to be willing himself to grow large enough to match, to overmatch the terror in the sky and on the wind. And somehow in that moment Dave had a flashing image of Ivor doing the selfsame thing, two days' ride back north, under the very shadow of that grasping hand. He looked for Tore and found the dark man gazing back at him, and in Tore's eyes Dave saw not the stern resistance of Levon, but a fierce, bright, passionate defiance, a bitter hatred of what that hand meant, but not fear.
Your hour knows your name, Dave Martyniuk thought, and then, in that moment of apocalypse, had another thought: I love these people. The realization hit him, for Dave was what he was, almost as hard as the Mountain had. Struggling to regain his inner balance, he realized that Levon was speaking, quelling the babble of voices around him.
"We do not go back. My father will be caring for the tribe. They will go to Celidon, all the tribes will. And so will we, after Davor is with Silvercloak. Two days ago Gereint said that something was coming. This is it. We go south as fast as we can to Brennin, and there," said Levon, "I will take counsel with the High King."
Even as he spoke, Ailell dan Art was dying in Paras Derval. When Levon finished, not another word was said. The Dalrei regrouped and began riding, very fast now and all together. They rode henceforth with a hard, unyielding intensity, turning their backs on their tribe without a demur to follow Levon, though every one of them knew, even as they galloped, that if there was war with Maugrim, it would be fought on the Plain.
It was that alert tension that gave them warning, though in the end it would not be enough to save them.
Tore it was who, late in the afternoon, sped a distance ahead; bending sideways in his saddle, he rode low to the ground for a time before wheeling back to Levon's side. The Wood was close again, on their right. "We are coming to trouble," Tore said shortly. "There is a party of svart alfar not far ahead of us."
"How many?" Levon asked calmly, signaling a halt.
Levon nodded. "We can beat them, but there will be losses. They know we are here, of course."
"If they have eyes," Tore agreed. "We are very exposed."
"Very well. We are close to Adein, but I do not want a fight now. It will waste us some time, but we are going to flank around them and cross both rivers farther east."
"I don't think we can, Levon," Tore murmured.
"Why?" Levon had gone very still.
Dave turned east with Levon to where Tore was pointing, and after a moment he, too, saw the dark mass moving over the grass, low, about a mile away, and coming nearer.
"What are they?" he asked, his voice tight.
"Wolves," Levon snapped. "Very many." He drew his sword. "We can't go around-they will slow us by the rivers for the svarts. We must fight through south before they reach us." He raised his voice. "We fight on the gallop, my friends. Kill and ride, no lingering. When you reach Adein, you cross. We can outrun them on the other side." He paused, then: "I said before there would be war. It seems that we are to fight the first battle of our people. Let the servants of Maugrim now learn to fear the Dalrei again, as they did when Revor rode!"
With an answering shout, the Riders, Dave among them, loosed their weapons and sprang into gallop. His heart thudding, Dave followed Levon over a low tummock. On the other side he could see the river glistening less than a mile away. But in their path stood the svart alfar, and as soon as the Dalrei crested the rise a shower of arrows was launched towards them. A moment later, Dave saw a Rider fall beside him, blood flowering from his breast.
A rage came over Dave then. Kicking his horse to greater speed, he crashed, with Tore and Levon on either side, into the line of svarts. Leaning in the saddle, he whistled the great axe down to cleave one of the ugly, dark green creatures where it stood. Lightheaded with fury, he pulled the axe clear and turned to swing it again.
"No!" Tore screamed. "Kill and ride! Come on!" The wolves, Dave saw in a flying glance, were less than half a mile away. Wheeling hard, he thundered with the others towards the Adein. They were through, it seemed. One man dead, two others nursing wounds, but the river was close now and once across they would be safe.
They would have been. They should have been. It was only sheerest, bitterest bad luck that the band of svarts that had ambushed Brendel and the lios alfar were there waiting.
They were, though, and there were almost a hundred of them left to rise from the shallows of Adein and block the path of the Dalrei. So with the wolves on their flank, and svarts before and behind, Levon was forced into a standing fight.
Under that red sun the Children of Peace fought their first battle in a thousand years. With courage fueled by rage they fought on their land, launching arrows of their own, angling their horses in jagged lethal movements, scything with swords soon red with blood.
"Revor!" Dave heard Levon scream, and the very name seemed to cow the massed forces of the Dark. Only for a moment, though, and there were so many. In the chaos of the melee, Dave saw face after face of the nightmare svarts appear before him with lifted swords and razor teeth bared, and in a frenzy of battle fury he raised and lowered the axe again and again. All he could do was fight, and so he did. He scarcely knew how many svarts had died under his iron, but then, pulling the axe free from a mashed skull, Dave saw that the wolves had come, and he suddenly understood that death was here, by the Adein River on the Plain. Death, at the hands of these loathsome creatures, death for Levon, for Tore...
"No!" Dave Martyniuk cried then, his voice a mighty bellow over the battle sounds, as inspiration blasted him. "To the Wood! Come on!"
And punching Levon's shoulder, he reined his own horse so that it reared high above the encircling enemy. On the way down he swung the axe once on either side of the descending hooves, and on each side he killed. For a moment the svarts hesitated, and using the moment, Dave kicked his horse again and pounded into them, the axe sweeping red, once, and again, and again; then suddenly he was clear, as their ranks broke before him, and he cut sharply away west. West, where Pendaran lay, brooding and unforgiving, where none of them, man or svart alfar or even the giant, twisted wolves of Galadan, dared go.
Three of them did dare, though. Looking back, Dave saw Levon and Tore knife through the gap his rush had carved and follow him in a flat-out race west, with the wolves at their heels and arrows falling about them in the growing dark.
Three only, no more, though not for lack of courage. The rest were dead. Nor had there been a scanting of gallant bravery in any one of the Dalrei who died that day, seventeen of them, by Adein where it runs into Llewenmere by Pendaran Wood.
They were devoured by the svart alfar as the sun went down. The dead always were. It was not the same as if it were the lios they had killed, of course, but blood was blood, and the red joy of killing was thick within them all that night. After, the two groups them, so happily come together, made a pile of bones, clean-picked and otherwise, and started in, letting the wolves join them now, on their own dead. Blood was blood.
There was a lake on their left, dark waters glimpsed through a lattice of trees as they whipped by. Dave had a fleeting image of hurtful beauty, but the wolves were close behind and they could not linger. At full tilt they hurtled into the outreaches of the forest, leaping a fallen branch, dodging sudden trees, not slacking pace at all, until at last Dave became aware that the wolves were no longer chasing them.
The twisting half-trail they followed became rougher, forcing them to slow, and then it was merely an illusion, not really a path. The three of them stopped, breathing with harsh effort amid the lengthening shadows of trees.
No one spoke. Levon's face, Dave saw, was like stone again, but not as before. This he recognized: not the steadfastness of resolution, but a rigid control locking the muscles, the heart, against the pain inside. You held it in, Dave thought, had always thought. It didn't belong to anyone else. He couldn't look at Levon's face very long, though; it twisted him somehow, on top of everything else.
Turning to Tore, he saw something different. "You're bleeding," he said, looking at the blood welling from the dark man's thigh. "Get down, let's have a look."
He, of course, hadn't a clue what to do. It was Levon, glad of the need for action, who tore his sleeping roll into strips and made a tourniquet for the wound, which was messy but, after cleaning, could be seen to be shallow.
By the time Levon finished, it was dark, and they had all been deeply conscious for some moments of something pulsing in the woods around them. Nor was there anything remotely vague about it: what they sensed was anger, and it could be heard in the sound of the leaves, felt in the vibrations of the earth beneath their feet. They were in Pendaran, and men, and the Wood did not forgive.
"We can't stay here!" Tore said abruptly. It sounded loud in the dark; for the first time, Dave heard strain in his voice.
"Can you walk?" Levon asked.
"I will," said Tore grimly. "I would rather be on my feet and moving when we meet whatever is sent for us." The leaves were louder now, and there seemed-or was that imagination?-to be a rhythm to their sound.
"We will leave the horses, then," Levon said. "They will be all right. I agree with you-I don't think we can lie down tonight. We will walk south, until we meet what-"
"Until we're out!" Dave said strongly. "Come on, both of you. Levon, you said before, this place isn't evil."
"It doesn't have to be, to kill us," said Tore. "Listen." It was not imagination; there was a pattern to the sound of the leaves.
"Would you prefer," Dave snapped, "to go back and try to make nice to the wolves?"
"He's right, Tore," Levon said. In the dark, only his long yellow hair could be seen. Tore, in black, was almost invisible. "And Davor," Levon went on, in a different voice, "you wove something very bright back there. I don't think any man in the tribe could have forced that opening. Whatever happens after, you saved our lives then."
"I just swung the thing," Dave muttered. At which Tore, astonishingly, laughed aloud. For a moment the listening trees were stilled. No mortal had laughed in Pendaran for a millennium. "You are," said Tore dan Sorcha, "as bad as me, as bad as him. Not one of us can deal with praise. Is your face red right now, my friend?"
Of course it was, for God's sake. "What do you think?" he mumbled. Then, feeling the ridiculousness of it, hearing Levon's snort of amus.e.m.e.nt, Dave felt something let go inside, tension, fear, grief, all of them, and he laughed with his friends in the Wood where no man went.
It lasted for some time; they were all young, had fought their first battle, seen comrades slaughtered beside them. There was a cutting edge of hysteria to the moment.
Levon took them past it. "Tore is right," he said finally. "We are alike. In this, and in other ways. Before we leave this place, there is a thing I want to do. Friends of mine have died today. It would be good to have two new brothers. Will you mingle blood with me?"
"I have no brothers," Tore said softly. "It would be good."
Dave's heart was racing. "For sure," he said.
And so the ritual was enacted in the Wood. Tore made the incisions with his blade and they touched their wrists, each to each, in the dark. No one spoke. After, Levon made bandages, then they freed the horses, took their gear and weapons, and set forth together south through the forest, Tore leading, Levon last, Dave between his brothers.
As it happened, they had done more than they knew. They had been watched, and Pendaran understood these things, bindings wrought of blood. It did not assuage the anger or the hate, for she was forever lost who should never have died; but though these three had still to be slain, they could be spared madness before the end. So it was decided as they walked, oblivious to the meaning of the whispering around them, wrapped in it, though, as in a net of sound.
For Tore, nothing had ever been so difficult or shaken him so deeply as that progression. Over and above the horrors of the slaughter by Adein, the deep terror of being in Pendaran, there was another thing for him: he was a night mover, a woods person, this was his milieu, and all he had to do was lead his companions south.
Yet he could not.
Roots appeared, inexplicably, for him to stumble over, fallen branches blocked paths, other trails simply ended without apparent cause. Once, he almost fell.
South, that's all! he snarled to himself, oblivious in his concentration to the aching of his leg. It was no good, though-every trail that seemed to hold promise soon turned, against all sense or reason, to the west. Are the trees moving? he asked himself once, and pulled sharply away from the implications of that. Or am I just being incredibly stupid?
For whichever cause, supernatural or psychological, after a little while it was clear to him that hard as he might try-cutting right through a thicket once-to keep them on the eastern edges of the Great Wood, they were being drawn, slowly, very patiently, but quite inescapably, westward into the heart of the forest.
It was not, of course, his fault at all. None of what happened was. Pendaran had had a thousand years to shape the paths and patterns of its response to intrusions such as theirs.
It is well, the trees whispered to the spirits of the Wood.
Very well, the deiena replied.
Leaves, leaves, Tore heard. Leaves and wind.
For Dave that night walk was very different. He was not of Fionavar, knew no legends of the Wood to appal, beyond the story Levon had told the day before, and that was more sorrowful than frightening. With Tore before and Levon behind, he felt quite certain that they were going as they should. He was blissfully unaware of Tore's desperate maneuverings ahead of him, and after a time he grew accustomed to, even sedated by, the murmurings all around them.
So sedated, that he had been walking alone, due west, for about ten minutes before he realized it.
"Tore!" he cried, as sudden fear swept over him. "Levon!" There was, of course, no reply. He was utterly alone in Pendaran Wood at night.
Had it been any other night, they would have died.
Not badly, for the forest would do this much honor to their exchange of blood, but their deaths had been quite certain from the moment they had ridden past haunted Llewenmere into the trees. One man alone had walked in Pendaran and come out alive since Maugrim, whom the powers called Sathain, had been bound. All others had died, badly, screaming before the end. Pity was not a thing the Wood could feel.
Any other night. But away south of them in another wood, this was Paul Schafer's third night on the Summer Tree.
Even as the three intruders were being delicately separated from each other, the focus of Pendaran was torn utterly away from them by something impossible and humbling, even for the ancient, nameless powers of the Wood.
A red moon rose in the sky.
In the forest it was as if a fire had started. Every power and spirit of the wild magic, of tree and flower or beast, even the dark, oldest ones that seldom woke and that all the others feared, the powers of night and the dancing ones of dawn, those of music and those who moved in deadly silence, all of them began a mad rush away, away, to the sacred grove, for they had to be there before that moon was high enough to shed her light upon the glade.
Dave heard the whispering of the leaves stop. It frightened him, everything did now. But then there came a swift sense of release, as if he were no longer being watched. In the next instant he felt a great sweep, as of wind but not wind, as something rushed over him, through him, hurtling away to the north.
Understanding nothing, only that the Wood seemed to be simply a wood now, the trees merely trees, Dave turned to the east, and he saw the full moon resting, red and stupefying, atop the highest trees.
Such was the nature of the Mother's power that even Dave Martyniuk, alone and lost, unspeakably far from home and a world he somewhat comprehended, could look upon that moon and take heart from it. Even Dave could see it for an answer to the challenge of the Mountain.
Not release, only an answer, for that red moon meant war as much as anything ever could. It meant blood and war, but not a hopeless conflict now, not with Dana's intercession overhead, higher than even Rangat's fires could be made to climb.
All this was inchoate, confused, struggling for some inner articulation in Dave that never quite came together; the sense was there, though, the intuitive awareness that the Lord of the Dark might be free, but he would not be unopposed. It was thus with most of those across Fionavar who saw that symbol in the heavens: the Mother works, has always worked, along the tracings of the blood so that we know things of her we do not realize we know. In very great awe, hope stirring in his heart, Dave looked into the eastern sky, and the thought that came to him with absolute incongruity was that his father would have liked to see this thing.
For three days Tabor had not opened his eyes. When the Mountain unleashed its terror, he only stirred on his bed and murmured words that his mother, watching, could not understand. She adjusted the cloth on his forehead and the blankets over him, unable to do more.
She had to leave him for a while after that, for Ivor had given orders, swift and controlled, to quell the panic caused by the laughter riding on the wind. They were starting east for Celidon at first light tomorrow. They were too alone here, too exposed, under the very palm, it seemed, of the hand that hung above Rangat.
Even through the loud tumult of preparation, with the camp a barely contained whirlwind of chaos, Tabor slept.
Nor did the rising of a red full moon on new moon night cause him to wake, though all the tribe stopped what they were doing, wonder shining in their eyes, to see it swing up above the Plain.
"This gives us time," Gereint said, when Ivor s.n.a.t.c.hed a minute to talk with him. The work continued at night, by the strange moonlight. "He will not move quickly now, I think."
"Nor will we," Ivor said. "It is going to take us time to get there. I want us out by dawn."
"I'll be ready," the old shaman said. "Just put me on a horse and point it the right way."
Ivor felt a surge of affection for Gereint. The shaman had been white-haired and wrinkled for so long he seemed to be timeless. He wasn't, though, and the rapid journey of the coming days would be a hardship for him.
As so often, Gereint seemed to read his mind. "I never thought," he said, very low, "I would live so long. Those who died before this day may be the fortunate ones."
"Maybe so," Ivor said soberly. "There will be war."
"And have we any Revors or Colans, any Ra-Termaines or Seithrs among us? Have we Amairgen or Lisen?" Gereint asked painfully.
"We shall have to find them," Ivor said simply. He laid a hand on the shaman's shoulder. "I must go. Tomorrow."
"Tomorrow. But see to Tabor."
Ivor had planned to supervise the last stages of the wagon loading, but instead he detailed Cechtar to that and went to sit quietly by his son.
Two hours later Tabor woke, though not truly. He rose up from his bed, but Ivor checked his cry of joy, for he saw that his son was wrapped in a waking trance, and it was known to be dangerous to disturb such a thing.
Tabor dressed, quickly and in silence, and left the house. Outside the camp was finally still, asleep in troubled antic.i.p.ation of grey dawn. The moon was very high, almost overhead.
It was, in fact, now high enough. West of them a dance of light was beginning in the clearing of the sacred grove, while the gathered powers of Pendaran watched.
Walking very quickly, Tabor went around to the stockade, found his horse, and mounted. Lifting the gate, he rode out and began to gallop west.
Ivor, running to his own horse, leaped astride, bareback, and followed. Alone on the Plain, father and son rode towards the Great Wood, and Ivor, watching the straight back and easy riding of his youngest child, felt his heart grow sore.
Tabor had gone far indeed. It seemed he had farther yet to go. The Weaver shelter him, Ivor prayed, looking north to the now quiescent glory of Rangat.
More than an hour they rode, ghosts on the night plain, before the massive presence of Pendaran loomed ahead of them, and then Ivor prayed again: Let him not go into it. Let it not be there, for I love him.
Does that count for anything, he wondered; striving to master the deep fear the Wood always aroused in him.