A Triad Expanded Scene
An alternative opening to the chapter that begins on page 118 of the hardcover and page 142 of the paperback. In the hardcover, it replaces the text from the chapter start to the space break on page 121. In the paperback, it replaces the text from the chapter start to the space break on page 146.
Pelkin n’Rolf was well aware that he was dying. He had lived for over a nonned years. There was a great deal still to do, and he would have liked to see how it all turned out, but younger hands would make better work of it—and now, at last, for the first time in his long life, he felt safe in leaving the work to others.
He felt safe in leaving the world to others.
It was an unsafe world. Beset by horrors, stained by exile, haunted by spectres, it was a world that needed a good deal of saving; it was a world under siege. But he had made arrangements to end that siege. His plans waited only on the completion of Graefel’s work and the readiness of nine mages under the supervision of his master of prentices. If he delayed his departure much longer, his plans would see fruition and the way to his destination would close to him.
It was time to go.
Pelkin had fought wars most of his life. The grinding years of covert work against two—no, three—corrupt Enneads. The magewar between the last Ennead and Torrin n’Maeryn, so lyrically and unjustly dubbed the Lightbreaker. The battle of the Menalad Plain in the Strong Leg, which he had fought in only peripherally, in diplomatic and quite futile attempts to forestall the Khinish invasion; he was not so naïve as to consider that a remnant of the magewar, though a daughter of the last Ennead had engineered it, for Khine had been all too quick to get its martial blood up. Perhaps if someone else had been in charge there, someone like Holdingmaster Oreg, or Hanla n’Geior, the illuminator who’d trained his granddaughter. She’d seen the madness during the magewar, she knew when folk were fighting not for life or principles but for the sick arousal of bloodshed. . . . Ah, no matter. It was over long ago. He had done his part.
Yes, he was leaving his world in peril, as imploring stewards with touches in tow had informed him for days. But he was leaving its salvation in trustworthy hands. He had pledged his life to vanquish an ancient evil, and it was vanquished these twonine years; all that remained of the old Ennead was scattered aides, stewards, lackeys, aging and purposeless. All were stained, and the ones he’d identified and watched had been driven into exile from the land they’d tried to subvert. Any who had escaped both the shield and his notice—and they would be few, for he was thorough—would find no power to rally them, and age and die in bitter anonymity.
He’d fathered three fine children on a beloved pledge and watched his legacies of flesh and light extend through three generations. He’d trained a prentice whose diligence did him honor, and sent her his triskele. That gift, and his ingenious solution of binding two difficult binders, had been his last acts as head runner, and he was pleased with himself on both counts.
His life’s work was well and truly done.
He had considered permitting touches to let him linger, allowing his family to travel to his side for the final breaths. He would have liked to see them one more time—but in their element, at home, not here in a roughhewn barracks amid bustle and strangers.
And not with the others missing. Not with Liath and Breida, his granddaughters, pledged to exile and the sea.
He could not wait for them to finish fighting their battles and come home.
He would not wait for the rest of his family to travel half a world just to see his body fail.
He would not wait until it was too late, and the way closed.
His pledge had waited a lifetime for him, though she’d chosen to spend more than half of it in pethyar. He had things to atone for. Much pain lay in store. Much reckoning, for this old reckoner. But oh—oh, glorious spirits!—what joy would follow.
It was long past time for him to go home to Breida n’Onofre’s arms.
Karanthe couldn’t bear it. Outside, two stories below, the stamp and snort of horses, the reports of runners, the calls of prentices freed from a day’s labor, shouts and clanks from the digging site—sounds of activity and life, however subdued by the unsuppressible whispers of Pelkin’s imminent passing. In this veiled, airless sleeproom, only the rasp of breath into deflated lungs, the rise and fall of the sunken chest in which beat such a precious heart, the wasting flesh, the scent of endings.
The anguish of the runners who had been his reckoners and his aides.
“I wish he wouldn’t go,” Annina said.
“He has to go,” said Laren. “He’s earned his passage.”
“So much knowledge in that silver head,” Chaldrinda said.
“I don’t know how we’ll do without it,” said Herne.
“He created a marvel in the archives, but the real archives are inside his skull,” Laren said.
“He swore he told us everything,” said Annina. “He swore that among the eight of us we knew all that he knew.”
“And you believe that?” said Jimor. “A nonned years of life, a full career as head proxy to an Ennead infested with secrets, another career as head runner, all those messages and reports over all that time—he couldn’t possibly have told us all of it, not even in all the years we’ve known him.”
“There are things he couldn’t tell,” Herne said.
“Everyone has secrets,” said Chaldrinda. “It’s called privacy.”
“Not secrets.” Herne scowled with effort. “More like . . . more like . . . Ah, bollocks.”
“He kept bollocks?”
“Don’t joke. Not now.”
“We should. He loves laughter.”
“He can hear us. He goes in and out. You can see it.”
“He’ll be the first to make a joke if he wakes up.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
“He will. It isn’t time yet. He won’t go until they’ve come to cast passage. He’ll wake up then, to say goodbye.”
“It doesn’t always have the grace of a teller’s tale.”
“It will. For him, it will.”
“They’re . . . seeings.”
“What are you on about, Herne?”
“His secrets. They’re not secrets. They’re like layers of maps inside his head, but no illuminator could ink them. They’re like the indices in the archives, but no scribe could codify them. They’re connections he can’t convey. He can put bits and pieces together to make wholes that we would never see. There is no other mind in the world that can do what his does, because no one else has seen and known exactly the same things he has.”
“Sweet, merciful spirits. I haven’t heard you string so many words together since . . . ever.”
“I’ll scribe it, when I’ve thought it through. It’ll be clearer then.”
“It’s intuition, what you’re talking about. Hunches. A way of just seeming to know things.”
“All the experiences you’ve had before, matting into a fabric your head, suggesting what some new wrinkle might mean.”
“A kind of thinking you can only do in the event.”
“The way a fighter knows an opponent’s move before she makes it. A blademaster would see it coming, but not be able to warn a prentice, or even find the words.”
“Do you suppose that’s what visants do?”
“Visants are mad. Who knows what they do.”
“That’s like saying we’re spies. There’s a grain of truth in it, but not the way folk mean, and it’s insulting.”
“They are mad.”
“Well, some of them. Wouldn’t you seem mad, if you knew things that couldn’t be explained and you tried anyway? It would come out gibberish. It would make no sense to anyone else.”
“That blademaster could explain his thinking after the bout was through. He could break down the moves for his prentice and work through why everything happened.”
“He might not even know he saw half of what he did. He might have reacted to cues too subtle to notice at all.”
“Sometimes I just know when a slower rider on the road is going to swerve. I could never tell you how I knew it, but sure enough, the bloody horse swerves, or the wagon chooses to make the crossing at just the wrong moment, or . . .”
“You’re a pessimist. You always think the worst will happen.”
“Sometimes I know when good things are going to happen, too. Sometimes I know when Annina’s smiling, even if her back is to me.”
“You only remember the times you were right.”
“You only disagree with every word I say.”
“I only exist to gall you.”
“Pelkin never showed another light after the searing. There’s got to be a difference between what he would make of a piece of news, and a visant’s seeing.”
“What’s the difference between a codex and a casting leaf?”
“A casting effects an immediate result. A codex changes the world more slowly, as other people read the words.”
“A casting wards a building against fire. A painting of a burning building reminds people to have their buildings warded.”
“That’s the worst example I’ve ever heard.”
“That’s not the point. Light is the difference.”
“We are not going to get into a seekers’ debate about the nature of light. Pelkin’s intuition is a priceless thing, whatever fuels it.”
“Age, probably. When we’ve lived a nonned years, we’ll have it too.”
“It isn’t right that folk should die just when they’ve lived enough to finally know a thing or two.”
“We are not going to get into a debate about immortality.”
“You were. Next it will be ‘Why won’t he let touches heal him?’ and ‘Why can’t magecraft cure death?’ ”
“Well, why can’t we live forever?”
“Because the spirits go, no matter what we do to keep the bodies alive. The spirits go because that’s what they do. To make way for the new, maybe. Or to become the new.”
“Does it matter?”
“His is going too soon.”
“And you know why.”
“It’s what he wants.”
“We have to trust his judgment, as we’ve always done.”
“And what will we do without it?”
“Use our own. Except for yours.”
“No one can judge whether death is worth fighting. Not without knowing what comes after.”
“The only way to know what comes after is to go there.”
“I wish he wouldn’t go. What are we going to do without him?”
“Eiden’s spleen, where is that stinking triad?”
“I wish we had our lights back. It should be us casting this passage.”
“It’s all right.”
“I just wish he wouldn’t go.”
“So do I. The only mind in the world that sees what his can see—do you suppose when they cast his passage the mages will be able to see it too?”
“They won’t remember if they do.”
“Some of the old mages remembered what they saw when we cast them triad. At least part of it. One of them told me, once.”
“That was wrong. And wronger for you to tell us.”
“He’s dead, so it doesn’t matter. He died of the paralytic fever in Rikka. That’s what he saw. That he would die in his wordsmith’s arms. His wordsmith was his pledge as well, and he’d seen the same thing in his pledging vision. It was uncanny, to see the same thing in two of the major castings. And it came true.”
“It’s unlucky to see death in a pledging.”
“Dying of a fever the turn of a moon before there were touches who could have healed it, and his pledge with him, orphaning their children . . . I suppose ‘unlucky’ is one word for it.”
“Maybe he was a visant and didn’t know it.”
“Maybe. Or maybe the vision of the major castings is the same kind of seeing that visants do.”
“Their light is nothing like magelight.”
“Neither is the touches’ light, but some touches can heal flesh, and so could mages before we outlawed vellum.”
“A lot of what mages and touches can do is just different ways to the same thing.”
“If passage visions are like what visants see . . .”
“. . . and some touches can sense haunts . . .”
“. . . then maybe some visants can see beyond death?”
There was a long pause, and a chill came over the room, incongruous in the stale air and the unrelenting misery that kept them talking. Karanthe, who had long ago ceased to engage in her colleagues’ group-mind discussions, had not spoken, or taken her eyes from the thin wastedness barely breathing on the bed. The only mind in the world that sees what his can see. . . .
“Visants are insane,” Laren insisted, as though it answered the question.
“Maybe mages would go insane too,” Annina replied, “if they could hang on to what they saw when they cast passage.”
“Imagine seeing like that all the time,” Herne said. He shifted on his hard chair. “You wouldn’t be able to see to live.”
Jimor rose suddenly, then just stood there. “What’s keeping those poxy mages?”
“I wish they wouldn’t come at all,” Chaldrinda said. “Then he wouldn’t have to go.”
“Don’t be a baby,” Laren said, harsh with tension.
“Don’t be a toad,” Chaldrinda shot back. “It’s only what we’ve all been thinking since we sent for them in the first place.”
“I wish he wouldn’t go,” Annina said, for the ninth time.
Karanthe couldn’t bear it.
Pelkin n’Rolf was well aware that he took the existence of pethyar on faith. But he was a creature of the old world, and his belief in the spirits was strong. As reckoner he had cast many passages for the dying, and all he could remember afterward was the color white, the sum of all colors. But during those castings he had a sense that he had succeeded in his intent—to send the spirit on to the next life, to help it break free of the bonds of love and guilt and flesh that would trap it in this realm a haunt. That the spirits went somewhere was not in doubt; once the new mages had learned to cast passage, a Gir Doegre touch with a unique hauntsense had confirmed the spirits’ departure. But where they went, not even the bonefolk knew. Oblivion had not been ruled out.
Some seekers had proposed experiments: encourage mages to speak during the casting of passage, to describe the visions before they dissipated, and have scribes and tellers record it. No one had yet agreed to an attempt. The sanctity of passage was not so cavalierly breached—and with only youthful, inexperienced mages to cast it, no one would take the risk, however much everyone wanted to know what lay beyond.
He had considered volunteering to be the first subject. Though he was fairly certain no mage could express such vision in words, and it seemed to him that the visions faded for a reason, it might be worth a try. But not his passage. He had contributed enough, over the years. Let others do the exploring. Soon he would know for himself. He half suspected that the living were not meant to know.
He believed in pethyar. He believed that Breida was there. He would risk nothing that might impede his passage. Not even his own presence at the salvation of Eiden Myr.
Karanthe flung the shutters open.
“What are you doing?” Laren cried.
“Letting in the sunshine. Letting in the light. He was an illuminator. He thrived on light. If he opens his eyes one more time before the end, I want the last thing he sees to be the sun.”
I want the last thing he sees to be me.
Karanthe had loved Pelkin for nearly half of her fournine years and one. She’d been an ambitious girl eager to prove her mettle. Breaking from the Ennead to join the rebels hadn’t quenched that fire. It had made her more determined to serve an authority she could believe in. Pelkin n’Rolf was head reckoner—head proxy, since the head warders were dead—and the most powerful mage allied with Torrin n’Maeryn. She had worked her way to him through the proxy chain. When she met him, all interest in his authority was swept away by the sight and scent and taste of his bright light. Though they were both illuminators and could not cast together, the day would come when nine were needed for some great undertaking. She had to be one of those nine, and link with his light that way. She had to know how that light felt.
She attached herself to him. She worked the harder for his every bewildering effort to put her off. He was an exceptional craftsman, and she steeped in his technique. In the process, she absorbed his philosophy. By the time he’d accepted that he would not be rid of her, her devotion to his light had become devotion to his ideals, his sacrifice—and to him.
He’d been a striking man, tall and spare in his silvered prime, rugged from years of travel, the kind of man who grew handsomer with age. She’d developed a prentice’s infatuation, far worse than the infatuation she’d had with the mage who’d trained her. Sometimes she could barely think when he was near. That he grieved a pledge dead of a broken heart only made him more tragically beautiful. It had taken her a long time to get over that. Sometimes she thought she still hadn’t. Secrets indeed—if any one of the other reckoners had gotten a whiff of her private thoughts, she’d have been ruined. Losing her taste for proxy banter and group-mind dialogues had only turned her more toward him; she had to speak her mind somewhere. Pelkin had known, he wasn’t stupid, but he’d responded with an odd, wistful tenderness as baffling as his initial rejections had been.
She’d nearly fallen off her campstool when she found out he was Liath’s grandfather. Liath Illuminator had been the pet project of her friends Dabrena and Tolivar when they were all vocates in the Holding, but she hadn’t said a word about being related to the head reckoner. Karanthe remembered how well her spare clothes had fit Liath, how alike their coloring was, the shape of their faces, their hair, and it felt as though a blade went through her: She looked like Pelkin’s lost pledgemate. He saw not Karanthe when he looked at her, but some haunt of the past.
She strove thrice as hard to earn his respect as a mage. She applied herself with such diligence that she lost herself in the work. His absence while he chased his errant granddaughter had helped. When they met at Maur Gowra to take ship with Torrin for the Fist, and the magewar, and the end of the world, it was with the camaraderie of colleagues. Somewhere when she wasn’t looking he’d stopped being her master and obsession and become her friend.
It had only made her want more, a thirst she could not define. Not for his body, or his light, or even his love, which she had by then. For something else. But if she couldn’t define it, she couldn’t slake it. She resigned herself to her futile yearnings.
The magelight died. Her feelings did not. In the six years after the magewar, she helped him reforge the proxy chain link by link into a webwork of news-bearing messengers. Jimor and Chaldrinda became his aides; she became his left hand. They grieved their lost light and moved on, establishing a runners’ enclave in the Haunch, with the secondary purpose of insuring that magecraft’s tools and disciplines were not lost along with the light. Without knowing that the light would return in the next generation, without knowing that the place they’d chosen was half a day from the site of an ancient, buried Triennead holding, they had begun archiving their craft: interviewing former mages and recording instructions for reproducing their techniques, creating indices of kadri, collecting and storing binding materials, collecting and storing examples of scribing styles, illuminators’ historiation and ornamentation and knotwork, variations in the wordsmiths’ canon. When a former binder working on the scholars’ isle had abruptly stopped sending copies of her research on the notation of bindsongs, they’d developed their own system. Their archive had grown to fill a building, and now young mages who came here for training were required to spend long days in the study of it.
They had realized Pelkin’s vision of a repository of magecraft, and in the bargain found themselves prepared for the light’s unexpected rebirth. They were not prepared for Adaon n’Arai’s discovery of the two lost Triennead holdings, but by luck or instinct they were near one. Their fledgling holding moved to Sauglin and took on two more responsibilities: the training of young mages, and the excavation of the ancient holding.
The mages weren’t much trouble; most found training near their homes, and came here only for finishing work before their year of trial. Former mages everywhere found room and board available if they would teach a child who showed a light, and hedge schools cropped up, as groups of former mages took on groups of local children. The exceptionally bright and dedicated came here for their last few prentice years, working with former reckoners and each other, poring over the archives to expand their range of technique. It was a job of work, but a gratifying success.
The excavation was harder. Seekers flocked to help, but skilled workers were required in the digging, miners and carpenters and smiths, and they had to be housed and fed the same as the rest. There was a holding under that hill, all right, as Adaon had posited when he found the holding buried under Gir Doegre’s hills in the Strong Leg. Here, however, no structure was preserved intact for them to reinhabit. The hill behind Sauglin was a slag heap, a mound of debris—a mass grave. Somehow bonefolk had passaged the corpses, but nonneds of triskeles were found, and the digging took on a painstaking delicacy. A dozen years later, they were still at work, and it would be years more before they had any notion of what had befallen that holding. It was crushed, and it was melted. The fall of the Triennead, at least here in the Haunch, had been catastrophe on an unimagined scale.
Through it all, she had labored at Pelkin’s side, planning, organizing, managing. In the meantime, she discovered birdcraft. Birds had been used to fly messages from the old Ennead to its proxies from time to time, but there had been no reliable system. She developed one, imprinting hatchlings of all kinds, cadging tips from an old-world falconers’ manual copied for her by the scholars. She imprinted on the birds as they did on her, and her lightless spirit took flight. She visited her home village in the Belt. She aided Kazhe Blademaster’s doomed attempt to stop the battle of the Menalad Plain. She renewed her old friendship with Dabrena. Then she returned here, with Pelkin, to be birdmaster of this holding.
She dallied with men as she always had, but pledging and children held no allure. She had her birds, her colleagues and friends, the fascination of her work; the never-ending excitement of runners’ news, the daily discoveries at the dig, the poignant pleasure of watching young mages come into their own; and her deep, perplexing love for Pelkin.
Pelkin, who was leaving them now, going at last to join his beloved pledge.
Pelkin, who was leaving them to run this holding.
Pelkin, who was leaving them to receive Graefel’s imminent decoding of the message hidden in the wordsmiths’ canon, which would complete the instructions they needed to recast Galandra’s warding, and return Eiden Myr to safe isolation.
Pelkin, who was leaving her. Going where she could not follow.
“I’ll see what’s keeping the triad,” Jimor said, an excuse to get out of the stifling sleeproom for a few breaths, but when he reached the door to the sitting room he did not go through.
“They can’t decide who it’s to be,” Chaldrinda said. “They’re desperate for the honor and terrified of failing.”
“He should have picked them out himself,” said Laren. “Saved a lot of trouble.”
Annina said, “He picked the nine for the more important—”
“Shh,” said Herne. “Not here.”
“He wants them to choose.” Chaldrinda kept the subject off the one that wasn’t safe to discuss with touches and stewards in earshot. As master of prentices, she would clearly have rather done the choosing. “It’s a test.”
“A rite of passage,” Laren said, with a sour expression.
“It should be Oriane’s triad,” said Chaldrinda.
“Under the old light, we never let mages cast passage for relatives,” said Jimor.
“That prohibition was impossible to enforce,” said Herne.
“Oriane’s not here,” said Karanthe, in a flat voice, cutting them off before debate could escalate. “Prill and Asrik are the only ones close enough to the end of their trial year to be trusted with this, and in two breaths I’m going to drag them in by the ears, and any third I can find.”
It should be me, she thought. During the magewar, she had joined with other reckoners and Pelkin to form a group of nine to cast a warding around the last triad. She had felt Pelkin’s light, through the casting leaf, through the joined circle. It had not been enough. She had not been close enough. She had not touched it. Now, with both of them lightless, she never would. Not even if, as some believed, they would regain their lights in pethyar.
She could not bear it.
“There’s no binder qualified,” said Annina, who had been one. “They’ll have to fetch someone from Gulbrid or Ardra. That’s got to be what’s keeping them.”
Karanthe noted Pelkin’s shallow breathing, and again considered the touches he had banished to benches in the hall. In a soft voice, she said, “They’d better bloody hurry.”
Pelkin listened to the weave of voices with affection and a distant sense of consternation. All this lollygagging! A shadow lay in offset behind their knotwork of delay: the hope that if they waited too long, it would be too late to cast his passage, and they would be forced to call the touches in to save him for when they could. This was the sort of perversity worship led to. If he could work his eyes, locate his mouth, he’d scold them raw. Too much adulation was no good for either side, and theirs was keeping him from pethyar. The way would remain open until Graefel completed his work. But that would be any time now. He never delayed the next leg of a journey. He mounted his horse and moved along.
Reckoners learned early in their careers not to prolong leavetakings. In their long circling travels they always saw each other again, always returned, however briefly, to the folk they left behind. The greetings balanced the farewells.
There were exceptions. Sometimes the folk you left were gone when you returned. But Brei knew he loved her. Brei knew he would return if he had to batter down the gates of death.
Life was reckoned in the living of it, not the leaving.
The voices of aides and colleagues wove a borderwork around the edges of his consciousness. The tones became hues and painted their makers on the canvas of his mind. Jimor n’Loflin, tall for a Strong Legger, thick as a pint of stout: he could have gone home to serve in the menders’ holding, but he stayed true to the runners, and served now as scribemaster, supervising copywork and messaging. Laren n’Jarol, best friends with Jimor since their vocate days, thin as a line of lampblack ink, with an old white scar between his eyes: he was responsible for the runners’ stables, managing the complexities of scheduled runs and urgent sendings with an illuminator’s sense of path, painting logistics in chestnuts and bays, creams and roans. Chaldrinda n’Poskana, at home here in the Haunch, one of the last new reckoners cast by the old Ennead’s Holding: she had seen terrible things there, and barely escaped, and now supervised the polishing of young mages with a stone hand gloved in velvet, determined to prevent darkcraft’s resurgence. Annina n’Thea, small and brown as a mouse, tended the archives with a scholar’s care and a binder’s talent for collection. Her pledge Herne n’Kaye, though dour and laconic, was skilled at reading between the lines of messages, listened more than he spoke, and held more secrets than he knew. As he aged, he would learn them, and their value. Pelkin had kept him close until, without Herne’s seeming to realize it, Herne was running Pelkin’s runners. Herne would learn that, too, and soon.
And then Karanthe, the birdmaster. Karanthe n’Farine l’Jebb. How piquant that name was, how burdened. A onetime illuminator, a onetime reckoner, a veteran of the magewar. An influential friend to Dabrena n’Arilde, who was head of the Strong Leg holding. A friend of old to his own granddaughter. And more to him than she must ever know.
Missing were Serafad n’Heralan, one of the few mages Torrin had trusted with his life, who now oversaw the dig and would not lose a day of work even for Pelkin’s passing, and Oreg n’Drust, whose work as holdingmaster left no time for death. Of Khinish blood, born a steward in the old Ennead’s Holding, Oreg had been central to the stewards’ uprising during the magewar, and now martyred his Khinish spirit to his daily duties, seeing the premises maintained and the hordes fed and quartered.
Eight masters of the disciplines of this holding. As head of them all, he’d made nine. A powerful number. A dangerous number. Eight of them would be sufficient to oversee the nine young mages who would cast the world back into safety.
The masters were capable folk who’d turned their lightless hearts to important work. They would bloom in his absence. They took too much care with the death of a body that had served its use. Death was inevitable, even necessary. Nothing special about his, except his choice in it. He was blessed to die in his bed among friends when countless horrendous fates could have claimed him over the years. He was blessed to die before his children. He deserved neither—his sins, though few, were large, and in his private reckoning outweighed the good he’d done—but he would take the opportunity . . . if his well-intentioned, clinging, cursed folk would let him go.
I’m coming, Brei, he thought. I’ll be there as soon as I can.
Louarn despised holdings. It made no difference that this sprawling array of stavewood bore no resemblance to the labyrinthine black mountain that had birthed him or the ornate, imposing white halls that surrounded Gir Doegre, the place he had called home for a dozen years. Holdings held things: powers, ambitions, secrets. They stank of confinement and conceit. He could never get that smell out of his skin. He’d reeked of it when he met the man who stood beside him now, and it had shamed him.
At least Keiler liked this place as little as he. But Keiler could make as little sense of it. The quiet passage of a beloved leader should not cause this overt upheaval.
They found Oreg Holdingmaster beset by crisis-ridden subordinates, unable to make for either the chaos of the stables or the paralysis of the archives, stopped and pulled the other way whenever he tried for one or the other. Now a young lad in black was trying to haul him by the sleeve off to the dig, babbling something about visants and stains. Oreg stared at him, then abruptly looked up at Louarn and Keiler and, without asking what they wanted, said, “In the sleephall. They should be casting passage.” Then he strode off for the dig with the stuttering boy in tow and a gaggle of subordinates trotting after.
Louarn looked up at the three-story dormitory. The other masters would be holding vigil there, which explained some of the disarray. They could use a lesson from Dabrena on how to delegate, he thought as they approached the plain pine door, but when they opened it on a shouting match among the senior prentices he understood: those left in charge had embroiled themselves in a whopping argument.
He faltered in the doorway. It still startled him to see so many golden lights massed in one place. It still startled him to see golden lights at all; it had taken years for his magelight to come out of hiding enough to see others’. For a moment the entrance to this wood-paneled common room felt just like a return to the old Ennead’s Holding, compounding his distaste with a memory of terror and submission. He mastered himself, then shot a glance half-grateful, half-wry at Keiler for the soft touch on his back.
“What’s all this?” Keiler said, stepping past him and inside.
At the sight of the russet-haired Norther, the shouting died to silence. “Master Keiler,” someone breathed.
“Who’s casting passage for Pelkin?” Keiler said, when no one answered his first question.
“Prill Illuminator and I,” said an olive-skinned Lowlander, standing with more belligerence than defensiveness warranted. “But we’re waiting on a binder from Ardra.”
“We’re not,” a short plains Girdler cut in. “It’s not decided that Prill and Asrik will do it, and Ofrilin or Dolvi or Sarumel could serve as binder.”
The subject of the shouting came clear.
“You have a binder now,” Keiler said, and motioned Louarn toward the stairs.
“You can’t go up there,” said Asrik.
Louarn paused and cocked his head. “I can’t?” he said softly.
The young mage blinked but held his ground. “Only the masters and the casting mages are allowed up there.”
Keiler said, “By all means, send the casting mages up.”
“We’re deciding that matter now. You can wait in the archive scriptorium till it’s over, with the others who’ve come to pay their respects.”
“No,” said Keiler, “I think we’ll go up.”
Two of the other mages exchanged a glance, and one stepped forward with some awkwardness to say, “I’m afraid you have no authority here, Master Keiler. I’m sorry.”
“This isn’t a matter for the lightless,” someone else said.
Interesting, Louarn thought.
Keiler’s brown eyes had gone hard. To the awkward mage, he said, “I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to send someone up to appeal to your masters, then.” He refrained from calling those masters lightless, but the word sounded clearly in its absence, and as clearly included Pelkin.
“They’re holding vigil,” said Asrik. “They can’t be disturbed. And Serafad and Oreg are busy.”
“Please go,” said the awkward mage. “We mean no insult, but this is a critical time.”
“A great deal of which you have apparently wasted in expelling great gouts of air at each other,” Louarn said. “Prill and Asrik, come with me, please.”
Prill, a pretty ebon-skinned girl with wide, worried eyes, obediently stepped up to him, but Asrik motioned to three of the largest prentices to block their way. Two of them complied, looking scared; the third required a shove before she joined them at the bottom of the stairs.
Louarn walked over and looked each one in the eyes. When they had stepped aside, he went up two steps and beckoned to Prill. Her light was bright and sweet as sun on a buttercup. He took a deep breath as she came up beside him.
To the group, he said, “Your head runner lies dying while you, the only mages available to cast passage for him, bicker yourselves hoarse to avoid doing just that. You seek to prove yourselves, but all you’ve proven is that you still need the supervision of adults. Enough now. One of your masters will come down and choose who’s to illuminate.” He started up the stairs—Prill would have to show him the way to Pelkin’s private rooms—but Asrik called her to stop and she froze in indecision.
Louarn laid a hand on her arm and smiled.
Asrik said, “Irosel, fetch some stewards from the stable.”
Irosel hesitated, looking from Keiler to Louarn and back. “That’s Louarn n’Evonder,” she said.
“I know who he is,” Asrik snapped. “He was here a few days ago. There’s some problem with his light. He won’t do. It has to be one of us. Cirne will be back from Ardra by nightfall.”
“You don’t have till nightfall,” Keiler said, “and there’s nothing wrong with Louarn Binder’s light. I vouch for him.”
“You can’t see his light,” said Asrik. “I can. It’s not bright enough.”
“It will be when he casts,” Keiler said, relentlessly calm.
“Dolvi is brighter,” said someone from near the wall, and someone else said, “So is Sarumel,” and another piped up in support of Ofrilin, and the argument began again.
Keiler waded into the midst of them and took Asrik by the scruff of the neck. When Asrik made to twist out of his grip, Keiler caught his casting hand and turned it up to his shoulder blade in a movement that looked almost gentle. “I’ll take your defiance for concern,” he said. “We all want the head runner to be well passaged.” He escorted the youth to the foot of the stairs and released him canted forward, so that he had to take a step up to catch his balance. Louarn had Prill almost to the landing when Asrik turned and said, “You can’t do this.”
“I can and I am,” Keiler said, the Highlands coarse in his voice. His height, his age, his authority, his Norther ruggedness trapped the youth on the stairs.
“You’re no master here!” Asrik was shaking with outrage.
“Go appeal to your masters. You know where they are.”
“This is our holding!” Asrik cried, breaking at last to admit the real issue. “Once he’s gone, it comes down to us!”
Louarn met Keiler’s eyes. Keiler shook his head, almost imperceptibly. Beyond him, two score of young lights stood confused and leaderless. Not many agreed with Asrik, but some did, and some was too many.
It was inevitable. This was a holding, after all. Confinement and power bred conceit. Not even Pelkin’s benevolent strength could counteract it. Not when they had lights, and their masters didn’t.
No wonder the Triennead fell, Louarn mused. Such a beautiful ideal. But they were all holdings, in the end.
“Come on, Prill,” he said, as Keiler stepped back to make way for Asrik’s descent. Asrik was by far the brightest light in the room, but they would find another illuminator to passage Pelkin.
Karanthe could no longer bear to watch Pelkin die.
She looked out the window, and her eye caught on a striking tricolored horse being led with a leggy bay toward the stables.
“Louarn!” she cried out the window. No response came but eyes raised in surprise and then reproof. She was supposed to be holding vigil. She was supposed to be quiet and decorous. She was not supposed to disturb the dying man with noise or sunlight or any intrusion of the life he had loved.
She pushed past her startled colleagues. “We’ve got our binder,” she said, reaching for the doorknob. “Chaldrinda, come help me escort him past that cordon of mages downstairs.”
Herne said, “Karanthe, wait—”
“There isn’t time! Look at him!”
Chaldrinda protested, too, but Karanthe was done waiting. She hauled the woman out and down the long hallway and the first flight of stairs, not hearing a word she said, just thinking, This is what he wants, and I will see to it.
On the landing she nearly ran headlong into Louarn, with Prill in tow. “Where’s Asrik?” she said.
“Asrik wants shepherding,” Louarn said. “Keiler’s down there, but he can’t see to choose.”
“Bloody balls.” Karanthe turned. “Chaldrinda?”
The prenticemaster frowned. “Well, Earil,” she said, “but Herne doesn’t think—”
“Please, Chaldrinda. You heard his breathing. Please.”
Chaldrinda made her reluctant way down to call Earil, and Karanthe led Louarn and a sorely intimidated Prill up to Pelkin’s rooms. In the sitting room, pausing to check the hooded birds waiting to carry messages, already scribed, to the Head and the Strong Leg and Khine, she said, “Have you materials?”
Louarn patted the worn canvas pack hanging from his shoulder. Karanthe hadn’t seen one like it in years; it looked like part of some binder’s journey truss from the time of the old light.
Herne slipped out from the sleeproom and stood before the door. Louarn sighed. Karanthe, impatient for the illuminator, only peripherally understood the sigh or the subtle blocking of the entry.
Herne minced no words. “Your light is unreliable.”
“It was,” Louarn said. “Pelkin sent me for . . . polishing. The problem is solved.”
“How can we know that?”
Karanthe said, “He came with Keiler. That old recluse wouldn’t have brought him unless . . .” She frowned. “How did you know to come?”
“Does it matter?” Louarn said. “I’ve known Pelkin n’Rolf since I was a child. Keiler n’Graefel will vouch for me.”
She barely knew Keiler except by reputation. She’d known Louarn since the battle of the Menalad Plain, but he’d only just begun studying magecraft when she left. While Pelkin held him in high regard, they had never seen him do one of the major castings. With all three lights, would his magelight be compromised, or even enhanced in some unpredictable way?
Dolvi was nine-and-seven, still a year from his trial. Ofrilin was bright of light but dimmer of mind. Sarumel was brightest, but inexperienced and easily rattled. Annina and Chaldrinda had agreed that none of the others were ready. Their brightest mages were held offsite, preparing to cast the warding as soon as Graefel sent word.
“You will have no other qualified binder till nightfall,” Louarn said gently. “Can you wait that long?”
No. She couldn’t. This was what Pelkin wanted. He was trying to die. She didn’t know why, and she couldn’t bear it. But if it had to be, best it be done.
“Pelkin knows this man, and trusts him,” she said to Herne. “This is our binder. Show him in.”
She gestured Prill to follow them, but did not go in herself. She could not stand to see Louarn’s first sight of the state of Pelkin. She went back out into the hall to watch for the illuminator and bid the remaining touches be patient a little longer; two had already allowed themselves to be called to some other duty, and she mustn’t lose the others. Until the casting was under way, they had to be prepared to save him. They could not let him languish as a haunt, separated from his pledgemate into eternity.
When four figures turned the corner from the stairwell, she thought that one of them was Liath.
She rubbed her eyes, and there were three. Chaldrinda, bustling and unhappy; the illuminator Earil, tense but proud and determined; and a tall Norther with hair the color of a fox’s coat in the rain. It must have been Keiler she had mistaken for Pelkin’s granddaughter. She had not seen Liath for more than two nineyears.
When she’d gestured them inside—Keiler was the head scholar’s son, and as close as family to Pelkin, with as much right to attend his passage as anyone here—she still felt some extra presence in the hall. A familiar, isolated longing from half a lifetime ago. That same reaching-out she’d felt when she and Dabrena and Tolivar healed a stray vocate’s sprained knee and the vocate’s blocked light tried to join with theirs. As though the place where that light had been was trying to reach out to the gaping emptiness inside her, to see how that absence felt.
It feels the same, she told it, as she turned to go in. It feels like death, and I cannot bear it.
What I like about this:
Karanthe’s perspective on her mysterious relationship to Pelkin; how she became a birdmaster and why she loves the birds so much.
The extended conversation among the eight masters of the runners’ holding as they hang in limbo between Pelkin’s life and death. I’ve always enjoyed the reckoners’ and warders’ dialogues and debates, the way they banter and insult each other and complete each other’s sentences, the way they brainstorm and collectively think through problems and philosophical questions. They’re like one mind talking to itself, and they represent something that’s central to this book and a key element of Eiden Myr society—the process of reaching consensus. I also like this particular conversation’s almost absurdist, Waiting for Godot quality.
The personal history of each of the eight masters. One of my goals with Triad was to show, at least briefly, what became of every single supporting character from Illumination and The Binder’s Road. Triad is about Eiden Myr and all of its people and all of its spirits making a choice, together, about what path to set themselves on. In that scenario, everyone signifies. Most of the eight masters first appeared in Illumination, and I enjoyed filling in, however briefly, the paths they took through that book and The Binder’s Road. Most of them also appear again later in Triad, and learning, here, about their respective roles and responsibilities in the runners’ holding enriches the experience of them when they come back into play.
Louarn and Keiler’s confrontation with the young mages. The later, more serious confrontation, when the issues planted here come to a head, was also substantially cut, and so the situation didn’t need to be set up in this much detail, but I find the young mages’ rebellion interesting, and the friction between experienced but lightless masters and young lights just coming into the prime of their powers.
Louarn’s perceptions of this holding, and his musing on holdings in general.
Why I cut it despite all that:
It was a good place to save pages; we had to reduce the page count, and this section could be substantially condensed without damaging the book. A lot of short lines of dialogue take up a lot of paper but leave a lot of white space, and expository backstories don’t advance the plot. The book is richer with this material in it, but doesn’t suffer unduly for the lack of it; advancing the story had to take precedence over enriching it.