Holding the Note

Posted on September 21, 2010

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This story is Part 22 of the series Fire and Water. It follows First Defense. To read from the beginning, please visit the Index Page.

* * *

The villagers stood just above the strand, whispering together. They wondered what sort of omen this might be, that so many seals lay on the sand, at the tide line, on the rocks, and more dipped and floated in the surf. The people had never seen such a gathering here, for the seals had their breeding grounds an hour or so to the north.

Lourlan was down there with them, speaking to them in a strange, guttural barking language.

There were birds, too. Gulls and cormorants, sea hawks and pelicans all dove and fluttered above, while others picked their way between the seals on the strand or crowded on the rocks with them.

Malen stood with the villagers, waiting for his wife to come and tell them what it all meant. The old priest Neb hovered at his side.

“The Old Ones are returning,” Neb said. “I know from the old texts, which predicted this day. But it’s not only that. I can feel it. There have been voices in the air, in the darkness, on the wind. The voices are telling me to remember.”

“We all feel it,” Malen said. “All creation hears these voices. Our very blood is remembering the time before the Old Ones came.”

“Yes,” Neb said. “If the voices are true, then the Old Ones have lied to us. They were never our gods. I’ve spent my life holding the false traditions of impostors.”

“They tricked the whole world,” Lourlan said, coming to join them. “Don’t condemn yourself, Neb.”

“What are they saying, Lourlan, your kin?” said Crigh, Coanh’s father.

“The Queen sent a Summoning a few hours ago,” she said. “Something is happening in the Deep. I fear Neb is right, that the Old Ones are returning.”

“Great cats are coming down out of the mountains, too,” Crigh said. “They haven’t bothered the sheep or the goats. They simply sit there yowling, or stalk back and forth at the edge of my farm, as if they’re waiting for something. Mountain cats don’t answer the Summoning of the Queen of the Deep, do they?”

Just then a great wind arose, whipping the sand of the strand into a small cyclone. When it died away, there was a tall, bald man standing before them. A golden, red-winged dragon landed beside the man. Lourlan heard the villagers gasp behind her. Malen took her hand.

“Do not fear, people of Lualor,” said the dragon. “This is Jal the Wanderer, the Traveler of Winds. I am Eron, Guardian of the Air. We are called here, just as you are, by the Queen of the Deep.”

Another dragon, blue-green, flew toward them out of the west, trailing a veil of sparkling mist from its wings over the sea. This dragon landed beside the first, and they greeted each other with a trumpeting call. The mist settled lightly on everything.

“I am Yryn,” the second dragon said, peering at Lourlan. “I bring an urgent message from the Queen of the Deep.”

Lourlan nodded, and Yryn explained how Aubele had woven the shield using the answering calls to her Summoning and the deep current of magic that was waking up. She told them of the imminent invasion of the Nurain, Neb’s Old Ones.

“How much time?” Jal asked.

“Moments,” Yryn said. “The Queen wishes you to take the shield into the sky, Jal the Wanderer, and encircle Vael with it while Zaghran and Findol Grey free Sulinor.”

“It will be done as the Lady desires,” Jal said.

He faced east and raised his arms. The winds grew stronger. They lifted the shield of mist and carried it toward the mountains. Every winged creature on the strand took to the sky. The birds flew east amidst a sudden chaos of shrieking and calling. The two dragons circled briefly overhead and followed.

Jal lowered his arms and approached Lourlan, Malen, and Crigh.

“Well met, parents of Findol Grey and Coanh Thunder,” he said. “I must be away with the shield, but I wanted to give you word of the courage of your sons.”

A few villagers yelped as a great red cat padded through their midst and came to stand beside Lourlan. As they watched, the cat’s form blurred and shifted into the form of a woman about Lourlan’s age.

“I am Varul,” she said. “My daughter Varala is with your sons. I have heard her voice in the Remembering. I have come to learn how we can help.”

“I’ve seen your daughter, too, Varul Storykeeper,” Jal said. “She is fierce. You should all be proud of your children.”

He looked toward the west and frowned.

“The Nurain approach,” he went on. “I must follow the shield. The same magic that your children have wakened in themselves is also in you, in everything. The shield will protect you while you remember your own magic. Farewell.”

He gathered the winds around him, and as they blew eastward, he vanished with them.

The sky filled with the passing Nurain ships. The people and creatures of the Coast watched them in silence. The harsh hum of the ships shook the sky, searching for them, for their lives, their purest essences, but it could not find them. The shield reflected the hum so that all the Nurain heard was their own noise.

When the ships moved away, Varul turned to Malen, Lourlan, and Crigh.

“My people and I will return to the mountains,” she said. “We will keep these stories and tell them until every rock speaks them. And should these Nurain ever set foot on Vael, we will hunt them.”

“I feel well-protected just by your words, Varul,” Crigh said, and she grinned. She assumed her cat form and raced toward the mountains.

“Well, we’re safe,” Lourlan said. “But now we have work to do. Our children have set things in motion, but we must help them bring Sulinor back.”

“How will we do that, when they’re so far away?” Malen said. He smiled at the glint in Lourlan’s eyes.

“We’ll do what our magic gives us to do.” She returned her husband’s smile.

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