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Farseer – Down a Lost Road Extra

The following is an extra chapter for Down a Lost Road, told from Yatol’s perspective. In the novel, it would fall between chapters 17 and 18, when they are in the army’s camp.

 


I stopped outside the tent, watching Merelin and Kurtis make their slow way across the camp to the cook fire. More than anything I wanted to go with them, but I could feel a faint tugging in my soul calling me away from the camp, so I stood by and waited for the others to depart. Tyhlaur vanished into the shadows without a word or a sound, without so much as a glance in my direction. I grimaced, praying he would have the brains to stay out of trouble in Syarat’s camp. He’d sworn he would be done with the rebels; I didn’t know if I could trust his promise.

Aniira paused beside me. I could feel her frowning up at me, but I couldn’t meet her gaze and all the rebuke I knew I would find there.

“Everything all right?” she asked after a moment. “Never mind. I know you won’t answer that. Will she be all right?”

I couldn’t restrain a small smile, my gaze flashing instinctively toward the center of camp.

“Yes,” I said. My certainty surprised me. “She’s too stubborn to be hurt for long.”

“What’s this,” Aniira said, disbelief in her voice. “Yatol, caring about someone? Am I dreaming?”

I shook my head. Somehow in my days at the Academy I’d managed to make everyone believe I had ice in place of a heart. I’d never cared much about the reputation—it had been useful enough at the time—but now I only found it amusing.

Aniira didn’t wait for me to reply; she must have known I wouldn’t answer that either. She said, “And you really believe she can finish what Davhur started?”

And that was the crux of the matter, stated so simply it sounded almost ridiculous. Then again, Aniira had never been one to honey-coat her thoughts. I sighed. She was one of the few people I’d confided in after Davhur’s last return. Aniira and Shan, Enhyla and Khymranna. They were the only people who knew what Davhur had told me—how he’d left Pyelthan in safekeeping in the other world, and how one day, someone would bring it back who would know what to do with it. For four years we waited, but the portal had remained quiet, and no one had come. Then, when I finally heard the call of the portal, Onethyl had brought me Merelin Lindon.

But she hadn’t known what to do with Pyelthan at the time. She hadn’t even known what it was. But I couldn’t blame her—I barely knew either. I wished Davhur had explained to me what he knew, and what he intended. Maybe he meant to, but we hadn’t had time.

I shuddered at the memory of those last conversations.

“If we can reach K’hama,” I said.

Aniira frowned. “Yatol. That land is dead. You’ll never survive.”

That warm tugging in the pit of my soul strengthened, and I folded my arms across my chest to drive back the pressure.

“If we don’t try, no one will survive,” I said. “The time is now. Nothing else matters at this point.” I turned to face her.  “The Ungulion are pushing against our borders at this moment. If they reach Alcalon? Zhabyr won’t be able to defend us.”

“Could you?” she asked.

I flinched, not expecting the spasm of cold that flashed through me at the words. “Could I what?”

“Save us.”

My breath escaped in a faint hiss. “That’s what I’m trying to do,” I said, and left her staring after me.

I tracked out under the canopy of trees, far from the noise and light of the camp. Following the draw deep inside me, I found a narrow clearing framed with gossamer webs, where Akhmar stood waiting for me. He sat back as I approached, his eyes weighing my soul.

“Time is running out,” he said.

“Yes.”

“You know that following Charlon and Damian will place you in Azik’s path again.”

Phantom pain surged down my arms, tearing like glass shards at my soul. I stumbled a step, finding myself with one knee planted on the loamy soil. Akhmar watched me quietly. I didn’t expect consolation from him, not when I knew my own rashness, but somehow I felt concern radiating from him. More than anything, that surprised me. I knew that the Brethren cared for us—cared deeply for us—but concern was new.

“What choice do I have?” I asked, lowering my other knee to the earth and sitting back on my heels. “Azik would destroy them. He won’t destroy me. The last time I saw him…he showed me the end. Akhmar, I saw my death.” I bowed my head. “I won’t face it in the Gorhiem Bolstoed.”

Akhmar never took his gaze from my face. I could feel it even with my eyes closed, like the warmth of fire.

“Yatol,” he said. He said my name like it meant something, like it was important. “That is a terrible knowledge. Will it change what you intend to do? Will it change how you plan to live?”

I frowned up at him, but didn’t need to think before I answered, “No.”

Akhmar smiled. “I think Azik could not tell you what you did not already know in some way. It was not for no reason that the Brethren named you Farseer. Azik’s knowledge is imperfect. He does not see all things.”

I grinned, savagely. “No,” I said. “He hasn’t seen his end.”

Akhmar said nothing. I hadn’t expected he would.

“Did you come to give me counsel?” I asked.

For a long time he kept his silence, measuring me through eyes that gleamed like sunfire in the twilight. Finally he turned a little aside and asked, “If you had the chance to leave this task, would you?”

“Leave it?” I echoed. “Give up?”

“Leave this world to its fate? Does it concern you?”

“This is my world,” I said, tasting fire. “I would do anything and go anywhere if it meant I could protect it from its enemies.”

“And if you had no roots in this world but one? Would you risk anything and be willing to sacrifice everything for it?”

I hesitated. Would I do what I was doing now, if Merelin and I stood in opposite roles? If we were in her world, trying to save her people? And yet I knew that, by leaving Pylethan to her, Davhur had laid an expectation on her, asking her to be willing to suffer—suffer greatly—for a people and a world that had no claims on her except an unknown birthright.  Was it fair for him to burden her that way? Was it fair for me to insist she bear it? Perhaps she had no right to refuse it. I couldn’t say.

And was Davhur right that she was the only one who could finish what he started? I wondered—as I had often wondered—if I alone, or with a troop of trained men at my disposal, could storm K’hama and the Citadel of the Ungulion. Even if I did, what difference would it make? I did not have the birthright to make any use of Pyelthan. I’d held it before. Even though I’d always been able to feel its power from a distance, holding it felt like touching cold, lifeless stone. For whatever reason, Davhur had the lineage that gave him access to Pyelthan’s strength. Not me. I was only ever meant to guard the one who could use it.

I just hoped that Merelin’s tie to its power was strong enough.

Akhmar watched me patiently as I considered his words, but when I finally met his gaze, he simply said, “You understand now what is being required of her.”

“It’s remarkable she hasn’t given up,” I said, though I rather thought she was what was remarkable. “Maybe she just doesn’t understand what she will be expected to do.”

And that was Tamon’s doubt talking through me, curse him.

“Is it less brave to soldier into the unknown than toward the enemy you can see?” Akhmar asked.

I swallowed. “I know that it is not.”

“You have faced the pit more times in your days than many men do in a lifetime,” he remarked.

He said it evenly, with neither approval nor dismissal, simply acknowledging the fact. That was his way, and for as long as I’d known him I’d tried to imitate that. It kept me humble.

“Go now,” Akhmar said. His presence had begun to fade, leaving the shadows darker than night. “I believe the blood-sage is looking for you.”

“What is your counsel?” I asked, with a desperate sort of urgency.

He had already withdrawn from the world, leaving behind only a shimmering mirage, when I heard him say, “Trust her.”

For some time, I couldn’t say how long, I stood where he left me, staring into the forest. Trust her? Could I say I’d trusted her up until now? When she’d last returned to Earth, hadn’t I feared she would never come back? But she had come back, and more than that, she had saved my life, never even thinking of the danger to herself. That was just what she was, brave and selfless. She would do as much for anyone. I couldn’t imagine that she cared particularly about me. After all, had I ever given her a reason to? I’d been so afraid of my own heart, I had never realized that walling it in meant walling hers out. And now? I wasn’t even sure any more what I feared.

No, I knew—I was afraid of losing her.

I gritted my teeth and spun away from the clearing, picking my way back through the trees and ivy to the camp. Shan stood at the perimeter closest to me, arms crossed. He didn’t so much as move when I appeared except to nod in greeting.

“You always know where to expect me,” I said, stopping beside him. “How?”

He shot me a reproachful look. “I saw you leave.”

I smiled. “You wanted to see me?”

For a moment he just stared hard at me, mouth set, looking as likely to strike me as speak to me. He carried a small flask in one hand but he seemed to have forgotten it, even when he raised it to point at me.

“We need to talk.”

I lifted my hands. “Well? Talk.”

“Not here.” He flicked a glance toward the camp, then pushed my shoulder and tracked five paces into the trees. Seeing my skepticism he shrugged and said, “Too noisy there.”

I nodded, knowing better than to question him, even though the sounds of the camp had faded to a nighttime low. Shan seemed to sense things beyond me at times. He didn’t question my oddities. I knew better than to question his. That was one reason we’d always been close.

“I heard the plan,” he said. “You’re an idiot.”

“Of course I am,” I said, smiling faintly. “What else is new?”

“God, Yatol, do you know what it was like the last time, with Azik? I can’t see you do that to yourself again.”

“Don’t worry about Azik,” I said, dark. “He’s the least of my concerns right now.”

“Oh? And what’s your biggest concern?”

I opened my mouth to say The Lord of K’hama, but instead I heard myself say, “Merelin Lindon.”

One of his brows arched, and for endless long moments he just stood and stared at me. Then he muttered something under his breath and turned to face the trees. “You had to do it, didn’t you? Damn.”

“Had to do what?” I asked, bewildered.

“Merelin Lindon,” he said. The corner of his mouth twitched. “You fell in love with Merelin Lindon.”

I staggered a step like he had struck me. “I—“

“No. Don’t even deny it. I have eyes, after all. Anyone could see it.”

For some reason my stomach clenched, and I grabbed his arm. “Could she?”

He gave me such an incredulous look that I felt suddenly foolish, and glanced away. After a moment I realized Shan was laughing quietly, something so rare that I turned back to him.

“You really are an idiot,” he said, and shook his head. “Well. Never thought I’d see the day.”

I tried to think of something to say, to make myself make sense, but words failed me. So I just folded my arms and glared at him.

“To be serious, though,” Shan said, completely ignoring me. “Not a wise idea, deciding to care about her so much.”

“It wasn’t exactly a decision,” I growled.

“Davhur should have known better,” he went on. “Did he really think something like this wouldn’t happen? He should have chosen someone else.”

“She was the only—“

“I mean you, you ass. Why didn’t he pick someone else? Why not Deverik? The man is ancient and has grandsons.”

I bowed my head. “You know why, Shan,” I said, quietly. “You know what I am. I’m the only one who could do this.  Just as she was the only one. Do I wish he’d sent his son instead? Do I wish she’d been different, not like a part of my own soul I didn’t even know I’d been missing?” The questions were rhetorical; I meant the answer to be yes.  Instead I answered for myself, “No. I don’t wish that.”

He spun to face me suddenly, his eyes bright and hard. “Yatol, I cannot watch this happen to you.”

“I already told you, Azik—“

“I don’t mean Azik.”

“You mean Merelin?”

He shook his head in exasperation. “No. If the world were different, my heart would burst with joy for you. She is…remarkable.” And there was that word again. I couldn’t help smiling. “She shines with such a brightness. No, it’s this task the two of you mean to undertake. You told me once—“

“I know what I told you,” I said, sharp. “Do you think I don’t remember it? I remember it every day.”

“And you don’t care. You know the danger. Are you willing to risk that she might not survive?”

I spun and grabbed him by the shoulders, shoving him back against a tree. “Don’t you dare,” I said. “Don’t ever.”

He watched me quietly, unmoved, until I released him and turned away. The fire still burned in my veins, but I suppressed it, willing my heart to slow its hectic pace.

“You have to know,” I said. “I would never suffer that to happen.”

“I know,” he murmured. “That’s what I’m afraid of.” He grabbed my arm suddenly and pushed the flask into my hand.  “This is for her. It’s for the pain. I tried to find her before but… Well, you might as well be the one to take it to her.”

I glanced at him. His face was drawn with pain and regret, but the anguish warred with a faint smile in his eyes. I sighed and took the flask, and clasped his arm.

“Don’t worry,” I said, my voice sounding thin in the darkness. “I’ll be careful.”

He glared at me and strode back into the camp. I smiled and followed more slowly, weighing the flask in my hand.  Somehow the thought of facing Merelin at that moment terrified me more than the thought of facing Azik. But I had barely passed the perimeter of the camp when someone called,

“Yatol!”

I sighed and stopped. “Here.”

A man came jogging up to me, drawing a brief, wary glance over me, measuring me. I waited with ebbing patience for him to finish his appraisal.

“You’re Yatol?” he asked. I couldn’t tell if he was disappointed.

I fixed him with a stern look and said, “I answered, didn’t I? What do you want with me?”

The man’s brows arched in surprise, but he simply withdrew a curved sword from his belt and presented it to me with a military flourish. “Master Syarat orders you to the eastern guard post. Now.”

Of course.

“Ah. Is this some kind of punishment?” I asked, accepting the sword.

“What?” he cried, eyes widening. “No. Not punishment. He wanted you on the post.” His face flushed and he lowered his gaze, adding, “The Ungulion will come from the east. I think he didn’t want to trust anyone else with the job.”

I said, “It’s not about trust.”

He stared at me a moment, then he smiled and gave me a slight bow. “I cede the watch to you.”

“You are relieved,” I replied.

I knew better than to delay on my way to duty, so with the flask in one hand and the Sword of the Watch in the other, I made my way to the eastern post. My gaze roamed over the camp, desperately hoping to see Merelin so I could give her the medicine. But my path didn’t take me by the camp fire, and I had a feeling that was where I would find her, if only I could look for her. I hoped her pain didn’t trouble her too much.

I hoped that she would come and find me.

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