Wolf Captured, страница 1часть #4 серии Firekeeper Saga
Firekeeper Saga 4
Copyright © 2004 by Jane Lindskold
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Edited by Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Map by Mark Stein Studios based on an original drawing by James Moore
A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Tor is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Wolf captured /Jane Lindskold.—1st ed.
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
ISBN 0-765-30936-X (alk. paper)
. Wild women—Fiction. 2. Human-animal relationships—Fiction. 3. Human-animal communication—Fiction. 4. Wolves—Fiction. I. Title.
First Edition: November 2004
Printed in the United States of America
Table of Contents
Glossary Of Characters
who listens when I
talk, and notices
when I don't
As always, I must thank my husband, Jim Moore, for providing a sounding board, responding with incredible patience to questions that often began with "I don't want to go into all the details but, if… " Jim's services as my first reader are also valuable beyond compare.
Thanks also to Bobbi Wolf and Mort Kahl for their comments on the manuscript.
My editors, Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, were, as usual, a great help. My agent, Kay McCauley, provides me with encouragement as well as sound professional advice.
Finally, I'd like to thank all the readers who have taken the time to contact me and let me know they're enjoying the Firekeeper books.
You can find information about these and other projects on my Web site: www.janelindskold.com.
Derian Carter awoke with his shirtfront wet with blood and his head pounding. The floor on which he lay was damp and reeked so strongly of piss and vomit that his stomach roiled. The rough board planks also seemed to be rising and falling—an impression he was willing to dismiss given how the rest of him felt.
Derian had experienced his share of hangovers, but this one was the worst by far. His last coherent memory was of dancing with that pretty girl from Bright Bay. She'd suggested they go for a walk along the riverbank. Something in how she phrased her invitation hinted that she had activities in mind more interesting than merely strolling on the spring-thick sward. She'd been very pretty, the neckline of her gown cut very deep. Derian had followed with slightly tipsy alacrity.
How had he gotten here?
A husky voice broke into Derian's efforts to sort fragmented impressions into order.
"Fox Hair? You wake?"
The voice came from a short distance away, and for the first time Derian registered the dimness of the room. There was enough light for him to see his hands and the dark stain on the front of his shirt, but the light was diffuse, leaking into a chamber imperfectly sealed rather than being shed by sunlight or lantern.
Where was he?
The voice, forgotten almost as soon as heard, came again.
"Fox Hair! Derian! I hear you move. Talk."
The words were gruff, urgent, words spoken from a mouth struggling to give shape to the sounds, struggling against panic that would drive away the words and leave nothing but whimpers and howls.
A deeply ingrained sense of responsibility for the person who used that voice gave Derian his first breath of stability. He clung to it, grabbing his aching head between the curved fingers of his hands, forcing himself to remember. He found a word.
The sigh of relief that answered held a soft whimper, but when the voice spoke again there was no hint of tears.
A remembered image came with the voice, a woman, a few years younger than he. Dark brown hair slightly curly, cut unevenly, as from necessity rather than with any sense of style. Eyes very dark, figure slim, but no longer starvation skinny. Neither tall nor short, but somewhere in between.
Firekeeper, the woman who thought herself a wolf rather than a human. Firekeeper, whom he had taught to use the words she was in danger of losing. Firekeeper.
Memory almost sucked him from reality. The voice brought him back again.
"Fox Hair. You bleed. How bad?"
Derian touched his shirtfront, registering cold dampness there, stinging pain, but no fresh flow of blood. He'd already forgotten the wound until Firekeeper had reminded him. He wanted to forget it again now, but he forced himself to focus.
"I've been cut," he said, and heard the surprise in his voice. "Several times. Long, shallow slices. With a… knife?"
Despite himself, the last word came out as a question.
Firekeeper answered from somewhere in the gloom. Derian wondered a little that she didn't come closer now that she knew he was awake, but then Firekeeper saw far better in the dark than he did—than any human he'd ever heard of did.
"Yes. A knife. They cut you to bring me here. To bring me and Blind Seer."
Impressions were flooding back into Derian's mind now, competing with the ache, making the space behind his eyes feel crowded.
Blind Seer, an enormous grey wolf with blue eyes—named for those eyes, which his parents had thought meant he was blind until the staggering explorations of the pup had proven them wrong. A wolf with parents, not merely sire and dam. Born of beasts with sufficient intelligence to worry about a damaged pup, beasts possessed of the inhuman resignation to accept the handicap and the early death it promised for a pup Derian knew meant as much to them as did any child to human parents.
"Blind Seer," Firekeeper's voice repeated. "He sleeps. They give us all to drink."
Derian processed this, enlightened by his throbbing head.
"We were drugged?"
Firekeeper snorted. Derian could almost see her toss her dark brown hair from even darker
"Firekeeper," Derian said, and made his voice as stern as he could. "I feel like shit. My head wants to split open down the middle. Tell me what happened. Tell me slowly and carefully."
He heard a soft laugh.
"My head hurt, too," Firekeeper admitted. "I try to tell what happened, but keep voice down. We not want them come."
"Why don't you come sit next to me?" Derian felt almost frantic for physical contact.
"I no can. They have me in… " The pause came that meant the wolf-woman was struggling for a specific word. "A cage. Blind Seer in cage, too. Not you, I think. Can you move?"
Derian tried, felt something tug at his ankle, tested and found a length of chain cuffed around it. By now he was hardly surprised.
"I'm chained," he reported. "What's going on?"
"I tell what I know," Firekeeper promised, her voice soothing. "We were at the night dancing. A man come to me in the dance. He say 'Derian needs you.' I am not sure, but think maybe it is a king thing so I follow even when the man takes us from the bright spaces to the fields by the river."
Mentally, Derian fleshed out Firekeeper's words. She and Blind Seer had been participating in one of the large public dances being held to celebrate the naming of the firstborn son of Crown Princess Sapphire and Crown Prince Shad. The celebrations had been extensive, for not only was young Sun the first child born to the royal family of Hawk Haven for many years, but through his parents he was destined to unite Hawk Haven and Bright Bay, sibling kingdoms that had been rivals for over a century.
Sun of Bright Haven, a name filled with promise and hope.
Normally, Firekeeper would have shied from such loud and noisy gatherings, but among all human achievements she loved music and dancing best—and at the royal celebrations where she was welcomed, the finest of both were to be found. So she had joined in the festivities at the castle, and when these had spilled out into the square in front, doubtless she—like Derian—had followed.
Blind Seer would have paced her, unseen in the torchlit darkness, never far from his human pack mate.
"I wonder some at the man," Firekeeper went on, "for he is not one I know and he stink of fear, but," she added a touch complacently, "many is feared of me and Blind Seer."
Derian grunted. Bragging she undoubtedly was, but it was a brag rooted in truth. It was commonly known that Firekeeper had been raised by the wolves west of the Iron Mountains. In the two years since she had come east to learn about her human heritage the only thing more incredible than the stories told about her was, quite possibly, the truth.
"And," Firekeeper added, and Derian heard the sorrow that roughened her voice, "I was happy and thought good of everyone."
After a long pause during which Derian knew Firekeeper was swallowing her bitterness at this error, the wolf-woman went on.
"The man take us to place on river where is not so easy to see water, the bank goes down sharply. We see a boat of the river type, hiding in branches. There is no other boat near and this boat is not such as king would have, so I am about to run and Blind Seer with me.
"Then the man who leads us raises his arm. He points and I see you. You are on the boat, a big man holding you against the wall, but you are not standing strong. I think maybe they have tied you there. As I look, the big man takes a knife and cuts you, long, across the chest. Blood comes, so I know you live, but I am not happy."
It took a moment for Derian's aching head to follow this last. Then he realized that what Firekeeper meant was that his blood flowing had confirmed he was alive. Dead things don't bleed, but certainly she could not have been happy to find him alive in such a circumstance.
Firekeeper went on, "Then the man with me say, 'You come and the wolf, too, or we'll let out all of Derian Carter's blood, and we'll do it slowly and make sure he's awake to feel it.'"
Derian rubbed his face with his hands again, trying to waken a memory of any of this, but there was none. He must have been well and truly drunk—or drugged.
"And you came?" he said, hearing the disbelief in his own voice. "You came?"
"We come," the husky voice replied. "They would do what they say, and though after we kill them all there would be no saving you. And I remember what you tell me when first I come from my pack—how Earl Kestrel use Blind Seer to make me do as he wish—and I think these men know that trick, too, and if not you, then maybe Elise or Doc or some other. I would not buy my running free for your blood."
"Horse… " Derian swore softly. He understood Firekeeper's reasoning, but it angered him to have been the hostage used to force her actions. She had come to him without any ties, unable to understand the concept of hostages until he had explained it. Now she was bound, and he hated being one of the ropes that bound her.
Firekeeper seemed to sense his anger, but misunderstood it. Her rough voice was almost tender when she next spoke.
"I think they want you for you," she said, "not just to use me. I hear them call you my keeper, and I think it good if they think this."
"Firekeeper," he said softly. "Do you think we can get away?"
"I not know," came the frank reply. "But I know no one of mine will look for us."
Derian's memory was returning now with such dismaying clarity that he almost wished for the headache to dominate again.
"No," he said, forcing the words. "We were leaving tomorrow morning, first west, then on a buying trip. No one will miss me for a moonspan or more, and even then they'll just think I was delayed."
He cursed the ill luck that made this possible. How many other people could travel through isolated areas so completely alone? He might be the only man in Hawk Haven who could—and that was because Firekeeper would be with him.
King Tedric had wanted them to take a look at the new fortifications going up in the gap in the Iron Mountains—to make the kind of report only they could manage, for Firekeeper could ask her people if the measures were acceptable, while Derian could explain more clearly than anyone else just what was going on.
Most expeditions of this sort would involve pack trains and armed guards. The one Earl Kestrel had led two years before had done so. However, horses and mules were less than relaxed around Firekeeper and Blind Seer, so if she was to be involved, the fewer pack animals they used the better. Derian had access to a handful of horses and mules that had learned to tolerate the wolves, and after very little discussion had convinced the king to let them travel alone.
Derian suspected that Tedric had been easily convinced because the two of them arriving without fuss could more easily inspect—"spy upon" was a more honest term—the garrison before the garrison put on its best manners for the counselor of the king.
Derian felt a guarded flicker of hope.
"Firekeeper, we may be missed. True, we'd already said our good-byes, but there's Roanne and my pack horse, my camping gear, too. I left them west of Eagle's Nest."
Usually, he would have stabled at his parents' facilities, but Prancing Steed Stables was filled to overflowing. Its buildings were mostly grouped to the east of the city, and Derian hadn't wanted to guide Roanne and the pack horse through the streets that would be crowded with departing festivalgoers the next morning.
Far easier to move them the day before, taking them to a farm owned by friends of the Carter family who were more than happy to offer space in a back pasture.
"I forget this," Firekeeper said, and Derian was absurdly pleased to hear relief in her voice. "Then someone see we not take them and ask questions. Did any see you leave dancing?"
Derian shook his head, regretted the motion, and massaged his temples as he answered.
"Lots of people, but no one in particular. There was a young woman… "
Firekeeper snorted again, the soft gust mingled exasperation and amusement. She seemed immune to sexual impulses, even though
Doc, Earl Kestrel's cousin, was less shy—at least where Firekeeper was concerned—and had once commented that prolonged starvation might have slowed Firekeeper's development. Sometimes, though, Derian wondered if there was something more involved, if Firekeeper really didn't think of herself as human and so human sexual impulses—and the things they led humans to do—really were alien to her.
Certainly, while the wolf-woman understood perfectly well why his mention of a young woman meant that Derian hadn't been anxious to draw attention to his departure, Firekeeper did not understand at all why he should be so eager to be alone with that same young woman.
Firekeeper snorted again, more laughter in the sound this time.
"You not the only one who want to be alone together," she said. "There were many leaving the dancing with that scent about them. But this not help us, only tell us that if there is help, we must make it."
Derian couldn't but agree.
Although she didn't want to say anything to Derian, Firekeeper was very-worried—and worry was not an emotion with which she was at all comfortable.
Firekeeper was accustomed to the urgency of a hunt. Indeed, Derian had called her obsessive and irresponsible when she was after something. She preferred to think of herself as undistracted.
Humans were so good at worrying about what might happen that often they did nothing rather than risk a wrong action. Firekeeper never forgot what she was after and went directly for it. At least that was how Firekeeper preferred to think of herself, lightly dismissing the times she had worried about the consequences of her actions but acted nonetheless.
Now, trapped in a metal-barred cage in a smelly boat heading who knew where, she was worried. To make matters worse, all of these worries conspired to keep her from doing what she wanted to do, which was break out of the cage—if possible—and get out of this boat. She'd rather take her risks with the river than with these strangers.