A Triad Extended Scene
The end of Nerenyi’s chapter, cut from the final ms. for space. This bit would begin on p. 206 of the hardcover edition of Triad (p. 262 of the paperback), after a space break, and before the next chapter starts.
NERENYI HAD NOT been off the island for more than a threeday in two nines of years. She had come here with Liath, and met Gisela, and found a triad, and stayed. Now she was leaving, with Liath.
Staunch, gentle Korelan plied one oar while his eldest, Norsel, plied the other. Seated in the bow of the canvas-and-lath craft, watching the island recede into her past, Nerenyi saw only the back of him until, without a word, he and his son turned round at the halfway point to row facing forward. A custom of Hand boatfolk, to give departure and destination equal respect. Korelan tilted his head and gave an appreciative wink. They both remembered the pale Norther illuminator, green as an unripe fruit, trying to stand in a panic and topple them all into the waves. Now Liath sprawled in the stern, lost in thought, heedless of the swells—even calmed by them, as though back in her element.
When they beached the coracle, shielders rushed to escort them to shelter in the fortified remains of a shell-shingled village. Purlor One-Arm, their gruff leader, grilled them about conditions on the isle. Nerenyi told him the names of his lost, who’d set off without his permission, and told him how many islanders remained; he swore with exceptional creativity and threatened to round the Senanans up and ship them here to safety.
“Leave them be,” Nerenyi said. “Don’t let any more of your people go there. The islanders have chosen their way. Respect it, and leave them in peace.” She made no attempt to convince him that the siege left the islanders unscathed, that the mirages circling out to sea did not come anywhere near them. Perhaps he acquiesced because she didn’t seem an islander, with her dark skin and Heel accent; or perhaps, given that he’d denied similar pleas and demands before, he was just tired of losing good folk. He gave his word that no more shielders would cross to Senana. He might even make good on it.
That’s the least your death could buy, Gisela.
He took Liath for a veteran shielder, and asked what happened to her blade. She covered well, Nerenyi thought—she did have a blade, and had forgotten, and was disoriented to find she didn’t have it now—and said she’d lost it in a skirmish. When she declined to accept a replacement—Do I need one? her eyes asked Nerenyi, who shook her head—Purlor said, “Just as well. Your own post should assess your carelessness and determine if you deserve another.” He stood, preparing to dismiss them. “Which post did you say it was?”—though he knew full well she hadn’t said.
Nerenyi also rose, and Liath beside her. Purlor hadn’t noticed what Liath’s boots and leggings were made of, and Nerenyi’s coat covered the rest, but if Liath hesitated, if Liath was caught out in a lie, he’d start looking, and then he’d see. It would lead to questions that would drive Liath away for good—even drive her mad.
He would delay them. He might not let Nerenyi go at all, if Liath slipped away. Nerenyi could tell him that this was Pelkin n’Rolf’s granddaughter. Torrin n’Maeryn’s illuminator, a mage of the last triad of the old light. Liath n’Geara, a figure out of history, a legend returned from the lands-beyond. It would only make Liath more valuable to him. The shield could not reconnoitre. Not one of their own who’d gone out had ever come back. No one else could tell him what was out there. He would not release her until she’d given him the knowledge to defeat the attackers.
Does she have that knowledge? Nerenyi wondered. Could she tell us something that could end the siege? Lost in grief, she’d failed to consider the ramifications of Liath’s return. Maybe she should let the shield take Liath in hand. Maybe Purlor could get her to remember the important things. He was a decent man, though cast of iron. He wouldn’t hurt her, would he? She didn’t look like she could be hurt; she looked tougher than nails, and on the outside she was, annealed in the horrific fire of the Ennead’s tortures, weathered by the sea, hardened by whatever dangerous, alien lands she’d traveled. But not on the inside. Her mind swayed on the brink of a precipice. If Purlor pushed her, she’d go over. She would disappear — into night’s darkness or the darkness of her own mind. None of them would ever find out what she knew.
There was something terribly wrong with Liath — just as there had been when Nerenyi first met her. Nerenyi hadn’t known, then, and hadn’t helped. This time she knew. This time she knew in time to do something about it.
She opened her mouth. Truth was her affliction. She could not lie. There was no truth she could tell him about Liath that would stop this. What she could tell him was truths about himself. Small truths that would distract him, turn his attention on Nerenyi, perhaps annoy him enough to be rid of them. But if fear and desperation roused her, she would spew truths that could jeopardize his position. She could not be certain the truths would stop, once they started coming out. She had destroyed lives with such truths. She might destroy his command.
He was a good man. He was needed here.
She had to do something.
She drew breath.
“The Fist,” Liath replied, shocking Nerenyi and, apparently, herself. “Breida’s post.”
Grizzled Purlor, renowned among shielders, revered by his folk, drew up straight in respect. “Breida Shipseer,” he said. “If I can aid her through you, say the word. If not, go in safety, and deliver my blessing upon her shores.”
Liath, having no more notion than Nerenyi of shielder protocol, inclined her head, suggesting a bow without actually bowing.
It was the right response, or neutral enough not to be the wrong one. Purlor sent them on their way.
“Where are we going?” Liath asked, as they moved down through the river-delved granite terrain of the Hand, a recapitulation of their journey together half a lifetime ago, that last sweet summer before the world ended. They’d traded spoons and stones for horses in Ondree, and were making good speed, though soon they’d run out of food. Or Nerenyi would. Liath never seemed to get hungry. Nerenyi didn’t know how hard it would be to trade chores for meals. Folk gave them a wide berth, taking them both for shielders, perhaps, or just put off by the tall, stained, muscular Heelwoman and her scarred companion with the otherworldly aura.
Nerenyi was heartened to hear Liath ask questions. In asking some, she might begin, in the deeps of her tortured mind, to answer others. It was the seeker way.
“Across Maur Alna, however we can,” she replied, “then down into the Strong Leg. There’s a town in the shadow of the Blooded Mountains, below the Elfelirs.”
“The Sudden Mountains.”
“Yes.” Liath knew the geography of Eiden’s body like her own. Remembering that would help her. “The town’s called Gir Doegre, and it’s famous for its touches. It’s where touchcraft came to light a dozen years ago.”
“Earthcraft,” Liath said. Awe and love swept her face like a warm breeze. She seemed unaware of it.
“That’s an old name for it.”
“Imma was the first person I ever heard call it that.”
Nerenyi smiled. Gisela’s mother had been quite a woman. Sometimes memory could be gentle instead of barbed. “It developed its own name as it spread. There are touches in Gir Doegre who can talk to bonefolk. Or so it’s rumored. I plan to talk to them—and to the bonefolk myself, if I can. In the meantime, you can go see the head mender. Seekers speak highly of her—and she’s pledged to a seeker. Adaon n’Arai. He deduced the location of the Triennead holdings. I was mad with envy when I heard that.”
“There was a Triennead after all, then, just as you said.”
“Yes. They’ve been excavating the sites of the other two. The one in Sauglin’s a slag heap—”
“Sauglin,” Liath said, and for a moment it seemed that something was coming to her, something important—but whatever was rising subsided, and she said, with a wry twist of the mouth, “Dull lights and desperation and beer that tastes like cat spray.”
Nerenyi laughed aloud. Sauglin was where they had met, and yes, those had been its chief attributes at the time. “There was a reason untriaded mages went there looking for other lights. A Triennead holding was under that hill we camped on. Its power lingered, buried in the earth. Mages were drawn to it. Gir Doegre’s the same, except their holding is intact. Their codices were protected from time and the elements. I’d like to get a look at them. I was keeper of codices on Senana for six years, while the scholars were there. After a while, you know, you get tired of reading the same old things.”
Liath nodded, as though she knew that very well indeed, but Nerenyi did not bring attention to it by questioning. As they rode on, through valleys drenched in the sunset colors of harvestmid, past cottars marling the fields and foresters hauling firewood, she continued telling Liath all that had happened in the two nineyears she’d been gone, and thought, I’m as much a stranger here as she is. This shielded, tricolored land is new to me. I’ve been away for two nineyears, too, on my little island anchored out at sea.
Most folk never traveled more than three days’ ride from their homes. Most Head folk never saw the Toes, most Heel folk never saw the Arms. They carried all of Eiden in their bones and flesh, part of the land, aware of it without thinking. On a deep level, neither she nor Liath had ever been away; they’d brought Eiden with them, embedded in their spirits as deep as memory, as deep as grief. Wherever they were, that was where Eiden dwelled.
Once upon a time, she’d have berated herself for such mystic blather. But magecraft had taught her respect for the spirit’s wisdom, and visantry had taught her respect for the mind’s extent. Awareness reached beyond the conscious functioning of day to day. Liath had feared she was dreaming; Nerenyi wondered if they didn’t all live within a kind of dream, a weave of flesh and mind and spirit that was all of them, all mortal creatures, and Eiden and Sylfonwy and Morlyrien, and perhaps even the bonefolk, too, creating the very world they dwelled in. A great triad, of a sort. All joining in the wholeness of it in ways they could only begin to understand. Each gifted with her or his or its own thread of the weave, each a dream within the coalescent dream.
When dark came on, they laid blankets on drifts of fallen leaves just inside a hedged field and settled in for a fireless, empty-bellied night under the softly rounded half-moon. Liath would not lie down—she seemed to have a horror of it as profound as Nerenyi’s of being left alone—but she managed to pile leaves and blankets up against a low clump of hawthorn to make a backrest. Her movements had no stiffness, though a full day in the saddle should have left her half crippled, if she’d been at sea most of this time. “Land,” she said, with some relish, as she leaned back. “Good hard ground. There’s nothing like the feel of that under your butt.” Nonetheless, she sat with feet braced—and coat open, seeming unaffected by the cold. All clues, Nerenyi knew, but they did not cohere into a whole.
“If we ride hard, and cross the maur in good time, and I’m not too long about scrounging meals, we can make Gir Doegre in a few days,” Nerenyi said. “I can’t wait to see the Triennead holding.”
After a pause, Liath said, “I went to a holding, once, to seek a cure for what troubled me. I had no idea what I’d be getting into. It led me quite a journey. Truth be told, I don’t know if I’m game for another of those.”
I’m not dragging her with me for the company. Nerenyi gritted her teeth. I’m not talking her into this so that I don’t have to be alone. The menders’ holding was the only place Liath would find help. The runners would be no use, the scholars would be less. She needed practical folk with problem-solving minds. There was no evil Ennead there, no Darkmage to go seeking. I’m taking her to the right place. Not just a destination I’ve conjured at whim because I couldn’t bear to stay on that island with a haunt I couldn’t sense.
She stowed her doubts—that she didn’t know the mainland any better than Liath did, that she ought to let her intuit her own way to a cure, that in some unforeseeable way she might be leading her friend down a harder path than any she’d walked before. She said, “I can’t say where anything will lead. I haven’t been to Gir Doegre in person. But from everything I hear, the Strong Leg holding is a sound place, and Dabrena n’Arilde is a remarkable woman.”
Liath gave her a sharp look, then relaxed. “Dabrena, eh?” She chuckled. “Yes, that makes sense. She rallied the warders to divert the last Great Storm. I suppose she just kept on rallying them.”
“She made them into the menders. A gentler thing, to heal than to guard. To bring things together instead of pushing them apart.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Liath didn’t move, didn’t rise, but Nerenyi felt the battle begin in her again—the struggle to remember. Nerenyi fought a rising frustration that if allowed to bloom into anger would release words she could not take back. Liath bent her head, pressed her fists against her temples, groaned. Nerenyi said, “Easy, now. Easy. Don’t think on it too much. Don’t push your mind at it. Letting things come of themselves is the only way. If you force yourself on them, they flee.” She knew that she was talking as much to herself as to Liath.
Liath gave the harsh, weary nod of someone fighting to master chronic pain. “Tell me about this blue light of yours, then.”
She set about describing, as best she could, what visant powers could do, and what they couldn’t, and what they might be able to do if someone found the way. How her visant’s glow was different from her magelight, which she had felt only in the absence of it; what a lonely power it was, with no hope of ever joining with others’ in anything like a triad. They talked late into the night, until Nerenyi’s throat went hoarse. Only when Liath closed her eyes and failed to give response did Nerenyi curl into her leafy nest and surrender to the wash of sleep, reasonably assured that Liath would not disappear into the darkness.
Good night, Illuminator, she bade silently. Don’t let the questions bite.
She slept deeply, dreaming of Gisela, then became aware of a suffocating heaviness, fathoms of ocean closing over her, a weight of water pressing her unpassaged into lightless depths where even the bonefolk couldn’t find her, and thrashed free of it into misty dawn and a sheer, plummeting drop:
Gisela was dead.
In her dreams, Gisela lived; but Gisela was dead, and every waking would make it true again. She would step off this cliff each dawn for the rest of her life.
“Bloody balls,” she said, rubbing tears and mist and sleep from her face. The weight was the other horse’s blanket, draped over her while she slept, and the coat she’d given Liath. She’s gone, she thought, though both horses cropped for edibles through grazebane along the base of the hedge. She’s gone. They’re both gone.
But Liath came striding out of the mist, bearing food she’d earned for feeding an old farmer’s stock after frightening her half to death in the predawn darkness. She handed the sack of bread and cheese to Nerenyi and took the thrice-shrunk blanket to slide onto her horse’s back. “You can eat that in the saddle,” she said. “If we’re going to this holding of yours, best we get a move on.”
Nerenyi got herself up, got their gear packed, got onto her horse, though her head felt feather-light and queer and she had trouble balancing. As though to sleep near Liath had pulled her half into some other realm. She had just shaken it off when she heard Liath grumble, as they came out through the gate onto the graveled road, “Bloody slow way to travel, if you ask me.” But Nerenyi hadn’t asked, and when Nerenyi said, “What?,” Liath didn’t remember having spoken.
What other way is there? Nerenyi wondered with a shiver.
The way of haunts, and the way of the bonefolk.
I don’t know what you’ve become, old friend, but I’m going to find out.
This is where the chapter ended before the book had to be substantially edited for space. I was sorry to lose this introduction to Purlor One-Arm, who makes a reappearance later in the book, and sorry as well to lose Nerenyi’s philosophical musings here, which are germane to several themes in the book and figure in decisions she makes later on. In terms of the story, however, we already knew where Nerenyi and Liath were bound and why, enough to understand the situation when they arrive in Gir Doegre, so this material wasn’t strictly necessary to include.
This material makes something of a set with the Illumination sample here, “Liath and Nerenyi,” set eighteen years earlier.