Limyaael

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09:07 pm: The Hounds of Spring, Part Three
Third part of the novelette for [info]megmurry, continued from here. I'm afraid there will need to be a fourth part, unfortunately, and that this part does get a little dark. But it crawls through darkness and then emerges into light again, I hope.



III. When The Wind Blows, When The Truth Comes

“Calm yourself, brother.”

Reimaran nodded and closed his eyes, forcing his breathing to slow. He supposed that stamping up the steps to the Temple of the Wave Peaceful and Calm and demanding that he be let in to see the lords of the Cormatoriat now was not the brightest tactic, in hindsight.

Luckily, the guards had only checked him for blades and then escorted him at once into a small room where he could relax. The walls were the exact color of deep ice, and every single decoration in the room was a curve of some kind, so that a cascade of crashing waves appeared to proceed in lines across the walls, the mantel, and the lamp sconces. It reminded Reimaran of being under the Wave and the sea both at once. It did not take long for his breathing to slow and for the guard who had remained when the others left to sit down across from him.

“Tell me what you want here.”

Reimaran opened his eyes. “Tell me one thing first,” he said. “Will my companion be well?”

“Your companion?” The guard stared at him, half-rising from his seat. He had very dark eyes, and they had widened now. “Who else was with you? Only you appeared on our step.”

Reimaran shook his head. Weishoron had left him somewhere along the journey to the Temple, then, and he had become angry enough to forget to glance behind him and see if she was still following. But she would not have left him except on the Wave’s orders, so he forced himself to accept it. Perhaps it was ready to tell her the name of the murderer at last, and she was on her way to confront him. Reimaran had no fears for her safety. The Wave would not let its favorite die.

“She must have decided against arriving at the same time,” he said. He conjured a smile when the guard did not sit down. “Please, my lord—“

“I am not of the Cormatoriat,” said the guard. “And I will accept no false flattery from a priest of another sect.” His eyes were on the wave clasp of Reimaran’s tunic, which bore the crest facing in a different direction than that which the Cormatoriat used.

Reimaran inclined his head. “As you will. But I must speak with the lords as soon as possible. It concerns one known to them who recently died.” He was still unsure how high Lord Tinderain had stood in the Cormatoriat. It had not mattered to him when he was judging the man’s crimes, and he had not thought to ask Weishoron. He sighed now. That knowledge could have proven valuable.

“What was his name?”

“Lord Tinderain. His symbol is the starfish.”

The guard nodded. “I will fetch those who may be free to speak with you.” His raking gaze, which took in Reimaran’s clasp again as well as the serviceable but worn state of his clothing, said it would not be anyone very high in status. “In the meantime, stay here.”

Reimaran had no problem complying. He would find more guards outside the door, he knew, and they would smile at him, and cross their swords, and prevent him from going anywhere.

The guard slipped out. Reimaran folded his hands in front of him and tried to think of something other than the Wave. He could learn information. He would, despite what Sirieil had said about him not being able to.

Another wind raised the hair on his neck. Reimaran smiled, carefully not looking around.

Cold teeth lipped gently at his hand.

Startled, he did look down then. A hound stared up at him. Reimaran blinked. There was no doubt that it was a dog of the kind that killed condemned criminals, from the markings of silver on its head and neck. But there was no sign of the companion that always came with it, and this one did not seem inclined to spring at anything. It simply lay down next to the chair, radiating cold that numbed his toes in a few moments.

Reimaran moved his foot subtly away, and faced the door again. No one else would be able to see the dog. It was probably meant only as a silent symbol of comfort and strength.

Why does the Wave not send me more than this, though, if it can send this? I have never heard of another sibling so honored. Why did it not send Weishoron to stand with me—Weishoron with answers on her lips?

And that way, again, lay despair and the questioning of the Wave’s miracle. He had said that he would ask for no favors. He would walk the path, and try to accept that the Wave knew what it was doing.

The door opened, and two lords of the Cormatoriat, not one, stepped through the door. Reimaran rose, then dipped into a confused bow. He was not sure what ranks they were, and they were not familiar to him. Apart from general speeches to all of Isikitharan, he rarely saw them, as they had no reason to speak to a brother in a small, rival temple.

“Brother,” said the taller, moving forward to clasp his shoulders. He had red hair and a reassuring face, the kind which made Reimaran feel he could weep against and tell anything to. “You need not fear, now. We are here. We will make reparations for whatever Lord Tinderain did to you.”

Reimaran stared at him for a moment, and then suffered an old, tired sickness welling up from inside. How much evil did we miss, from Tinderain? It is beginning to sound as if he should have gone to the Wave at the same time as his son was born.

“Thank you, my lord—“

“Brother Corisinth,” he said. “You must call me Brother Corisinth. And this is Ornisith, my brother in blood and faith,” he added, indicating the other lord, who looked like a smaller, paler version of him. “Our symbol is the dolphin.” Reimaran stepped back, and Corisinth shook his head. “You need not fear us. I mentioned it only because I want to assure you that we do indeed have the money to pay back whatever damages Tinderain’s carelessness caused.”

He clapped Reimaran’s shoulder this time. Reimaran toyed, for a moment, with the idea of claiming that Tinderain had indeed done damage. The Hounds could use the domoni—

The hound behind him raised its head, a flash of white in the corner of his eye, and growled. Reimaran flushed, and damned himself for even thinking such a thing.

This is why I need your correction, Wave. I am only a weak man, without the inner strength that you require of your most dedicated servants.

“I did not come for money,” he said. “I came because—Lord Tinderain came to us, in the last moments of his life, to require a service of us.” He saw from the look on Corisinth’s face that he need not elaborate on what the service had been. They would assume it was a service of the rock and the darkness, and, well, it had been. “I was troubled in my soul about him, and I visited his wife and son, to offer them our condolences, since he had died in my order’s temple. But his wife and son are marked from living under him. His son is seven, and older than many men three times his age. Yet they refuse help, either grief-payment or anything else. Lady Sirieil said that no one would know why or tell me why, even the Lords of the Cormatoriat.” He thought it safe to bring that up, as it might play on their pride. “My lords, I am troubled in my soul about them, too. I came to you to see if you would know anything, or tell me anything. I know it is a very great presumption, a priest of such a low order as I am coming to talk to you, but the Wave commands the lesser to seek help of the greater when they must.”

Inside, of course, the words were quite different. Our order is the older, and our order is the prouder, and I am coming to speak to you only because the reality of our city does not match with what should be the reality.

The dog growled again. Reimaran twitched, and frantically sounded out his words in his head for a moment. What had he said that could so offend the Wave? He was only speaking the truth as he had learned it all his life, and as the Hounds of Winter had learned it before him.

“You did right,” said Corisinth at last, when Reimaran had begun to fear that he would never say anything to him again, except to order the guards to escort him out. Reimaran swallowed, and let himself become aware of the sweat on his brow. “Unfortunately, I can think of nothing to tell you. As far as I know, the Lady Sirieil is mad, and her son not much better, certainly not fit to keep the symbol of the starfish. I will begin motions to strip that family of the starfish, now that I know of Lord Tinderain’s death.”

“My brother—“ Ornisith began.

Corisinth gave him a glance that left Reimaran in no doubt about who held the reins here. He wondered for a moment why the Lord had brought his brother with him, then shrugged. No doubt to look more impressive. Or it was part of some subtle power play among the Cormatoriat that he could not understand.

“I have spoken to the Lady Sirieil and her son, both,” said Reimaran. “Have you ever visited them, my lords?”

“Never,” said Corisinth. “We had Tinderain’s word that they were mad, and a story a few years since of them trying to run off, telling wild tales.” He snorted. “They claimed that Tinderain was lying to them, lying so thoroughly that they could no longer be believed by anyone around them, lying so viciously that they no longer knew stone from ice. Can you imagine? Tinderain was many things, but not subtle or intelligent. We cleaned his image for the sake of his family symbol. No, I am afraid that I must account them mad. You have not spent much time with them, brother. Perhaps they managed to look sane to you for a short few hours, but you would see they were mad eventually.”

Reimaran longed to step back and lay his hand on the hound’s head for support. I did learn the truth, my lady. Did you believe that I would meet no lord who could remember that incident? Or had you come to think, after so long, that I would not believe the story if I heard it, since no one could believe you?

He wished he had hunted Tinderain down long since. He wished the hounds had taken longer about the killing. He wished many things, in fact, and all of them involved blood or pain, or both.

The hound snarled at him and snapped its teeth together, just barely missing his hand. It made matters worse that Reimaran could not pull his hand away without looking mad himself, before these two lords who did not worship the Everlasting Wave and would not see the hound. And he had blasphemed again, and he still did not understand how.

One thing was clear, at least; one thing he could readily understand. There was no point in spending any more time here.

He bowed his head. “Thank you, my lords,” he said. “My brothers,” he added, greatly daring. Hopefully they would remember that about him afterwards, the impudence, and not the specific questions he had asked. “I will go back to the Lady Sirieil again, and watch her for specific signs of madness. There are a few priests I know who are experienced in diseases of the mind. They might take her and her son in.” As it happened, he did know such priests, although they were not Hounds and he believed that he would need them for himself before he needed them for Sirieil or Trisdain. But it should provide a sufficient story if the dolphin lords did remember, and did check.

“It’s no trouble at all,” said Corisinth heartily. “We’ll escort you to the temple’s door.”

And they did, and they even bowed him out. Reimaran kept a careful, overawed smile set firmly in place until the door closed. Then he looked up and down the street for Weishoron. He did not see her.

The dog was still with him, though.

Reimaran stared at it. It stared back, then sat down on its haunches, curled its blue tongue around its clear fangs, and yawned.

“What do you want of me?” he whispered.

The dog stood abruptly and began trotting down the street, pausing to look back at him. Reimaran followed willingly, the wild surge of anger finally beginning to freeze. The Wave had chosen to approve of him again. That meant everything must be all right.

*

He followed the dog down into the marketplace, past the pool and the merchants and the dome, into a further corner. There the dog sat down and waited. Reimaran waited, too, now and then stealing a glance back at the merchants. Then he resolutely faced forward again. He was not strong, but he could act as if he were.

They waited, and waited, and waited. Reimaran controlled his impulse to walk about, stretch out his leg muscles, and discover if another murder was about to happen. The most he allowed himself to do was fiddle with the wave clasp that held his tunic shut, and speak a few silent prayers that, he told himself firmly, he did not expect an answer to.

At last, he heard light footsteps coming towards him. The hound stood up and pricked its ears forward. Reimaran turned expectantly. The footsteps meant a child, and the child surely had to be Trisdain, though he did not know yet what news the boy would bear.

It was not Trisdain. It was another wretched boy, shivering, without the fat that would show him as well-fed and thus worth something to someone. He froze with eyes wide when he saw Reimaran, but he continued on with only a bob of his head when Reimaran didn’t make a move towards him. He smelled mostly of ice, with the stone scent just beneath the surface.

Reimaran understood. The Wave had brought him to the next murder victim instead, so that he could prevent the murder from happening. He nodded and started to lay his head on the hound’s head, while calling out to the boy. “Do not be frightened. I am here to—“

The hound slipped from under his hand, briefly filling his fingers with cold. It joined another hound that fogged into existence from the side. They trotted purposefully towards the boy, and from the way they opened their mouths, Reimaran had no doubt what they meant to do.

He simply did not know why.

“No!” he cried, heedless of the fact that a loud voice could make ice fall, and rushed forward.

The hounds did not alter their pace, and Reimaran was able to get between them and the boy. He shoved the child against the wall behind him, ignoring his frantic squirming to get away. Better a little fear than an unjust death at the teeth of dogs who should be killing criminals.

His mind spoke the words his tongue could not, a steady stream of words. Everlasting Wave, great are you. We could not exist here if not for you. Will you tell me what this means? Will you reveal your might and place the answer in my thoughts? What will come of this?

The dogs stopped moving and gave him patient looks. Reimaran waited. They waited. They wanted him to move out of the way so they could attack the boy, Reimaran realized. It did not appear as though they would give up, or suddenly return to what passed for sanity among them.

“Listen to me,” he said, and ignored the way his voice shook. “You are not serving the true will of the Everlasting Wave. It would never send you to murder innocent children. This boy does not smell of anything but ice and stone. If he will be foul later in life, he is not now. Why have you come?”

The hounds did not respond, but one of them—Reimaran thought it was the one who had come to him in the temple of the Cormatoriat—took a few steps forward and opened its mouth. Reimaran watched the blue tongue curl like an invitation, or the scrawled signature on a message he did not understand. The dog did not move after that, so the curled tongue must mean something, but he was not sure what it was.

“What do you want?” Reimaran whispered. He felt tears trembling at the corners of his eyes, and wished he dared lift his hand to wipe them away before they froze. “Oh, Wave, what did we do to deserve this? What directive did we misunderstand? What should I have done instead?”

The hound not standing with its mouth open surged forward suddenly. Reimaran edged towards it only a little. If he moved too much, then its companion could attack from the right, and it might only take one of them to turn the boy to a drifting ghost.

The boy was not fighting any more. He had probably decided that holding still was the better course. Reimaran hoped so, at least. If it was something else, he did not know if he could spare the attention to deal with it.

He watched as the second hound walked up to him and stared into his eyes. Then it lay down on its back and rolled over to bare its belly. Its whine—the first time Reimaran had ever heard one of the Wave’s dogs make that sound—rolled out of its throat and continued for a long moment, a keen, high and piercing.

“I don’t understand,” whispered Reimaran.

The hound curled its legs close to its belly and rolled over with swiftness that made Reimaran sure it would spring at him in the next moment. He tensed. At least it could not go through him, could not reduce him to mist.

Could it?

He swallowed. Perhaps it could. The hounds had attacked a child he was sure was innocent, and had been about to attack another he had smelled for himself as clean. Why should one priest who apparently had some hidden foulness about him escape their teeth?

It would be up to the Wave, he realized in the next moment. It had to be. The Wave had sent these hounds, or answered the summons of a priest to send them. It must know what it was doing. It must have sent them for a reason. What if he were wrong? What if he had lost his ability to smell out scents properly? Perhaps the child was a criminal, and Reimaran could not tell. Perhaps he himself had gone foul, and could not tell it, living in the middle of his own stink as he was.

He folded his hands over his face and sat down. “Do as you will,” he whispered. He remained between the hounds and the child, but increasingly he felt that was not going to matter.

Sharp teeth nipped his left hand. The bite was cold, and felt as if it went to the bone, and hurt. Reimaran cried out, recoiling. He wondered if Tinderain had felt such pain before he passed on to the next life.

The hound stood in front of him, snarling. Reimaran stared at the wound on his hand. The bite was already rimed with ice, the flesh around it frozen into dried, dead meat. As he went on watching, the deadness spread out a certain distance and then halted. He had no doubt that the hound could do worse, if it wanted.

“I have never doubted your benevolence, Wave,” he whispered. “But now I begin to.”

There. He had said it. He would die with his doubt voiced. If he had added to his own foulness, at least his executioners were here, and it could not be but a small mark against the weight he would bear in his next life—the weight he had accumulated without ever realizing what he was doing. Better, he thought, to die with conscious crimes.

“You are a fool.”

Reimaran shivered and lifted his head. He could not doubt that voice. It was not a hound’s growl. It was not the voice of a sibling. It was the voice of the Wave. It made his ears bleed and the child behind him shriek and dart away. Neither of the hounds pursued him. The one that had bitten him spoke, while the other sat on its haunches with its mouth closed and looked disapproving.

“You have depended too much upon me,” said the Wave. “You have spoken the words of devotion to me, and never borne the weight. How long has it been, Reimaran, since you mourned the death of one my hunters killed? How long since you have thought I would lay my wrath upon you? How long since you prayed to me with humility in your heart, rather than pride that you knew the truth and others did not, or satisfaction that another criminal was gone from the world?”

Reimaran shuddered and covered his eyes again. The dead flesh of his hand felt odd against his face.

“The Hounds of Winter have been my children too long,” said the Wave, and the hound began to stalk around him. Reimaran heard the click of its claws on the ice, and wondered if it would bite him again. The fear of that was less than the shame that cut him as the words hit home, though. “They have grown confident in my confidence, lazy in my approval. They told themselves that they had the right to judge and execute because they were the ones who bore the guilt of the judging and execution. But the guilt has vanished, and I can find no trace of it in any of you.” The hound paused for a long moment. “Look at me when I am talking to you, Reimaran. You have hidden long enough.”

Reimaran slowly dropped his hands. He couldn’t feel the dead one when it landed in his lap, either. The hound’s gaze had turned burning blue, the color of the deep ice, and Reimaran winced as he felt trickles of blood starting from the corners of his eyes, more dangerous than tears.

“I tested you,” said the Wave, its voice low and bitter, like the rumble of ice when it was about to fall and block one of the caverns. “I asked one of your siblings, one who loves me without fail and has been devoted to the ideals of the Hounds, to execute an innocent child, on nothing but my command. There was no scent to indicate his guilt. I gave the order in great reluctance, trusting in the cleanliness of my servants’ souls.” The hound glanced away. “When I looked again, the order had been given. The one I chose felt no guilt at all. If I gave the order, it must have been right. Even an innocent scent could be distrusted, did I but speak the word.

“I gave the gift of scent so that your order could know who needed help, and even, in great extremity, to be sent to me more quickly. I made you my children, my partners in judgment, who would mourn the necessity of speeding anyone from this life, and rejoice only in the thought that they were protected from any more mistakes. And now I find that none of you have mourned in years, and your rejoicing comes from certainty that everyone around you who smells a certain way deserves death.”

Reimaran swallowed, and swallowed, and said nothing. It felt as though he were trying to swallow a stone. He could not prevent himself from trying, though.

“I gave this gift to encourage justice,” said the Wave. “It has been perverted. Things will change now.

“You did care about Trisdain and Sirieil, enough to want to heal them. You did become certain that these children were innocent, and vowed to find the murderer. You were sure, all along, that I would help you do it. It never tumbled upon you to do anything but demand my help, even when you knew that only one of the Hounds could have called my dogs.” The Wave turned back to him. “You will be the agent of this change, Reimaran. When you can do what is right without needing absolute certainty behind every motion, then perhaps I will appear to you again.” The hound opened its mouth and breathed on him, a short, swift silver plume.

Reimaran gasped and clapped his hand to his nose. It stung, as though he had been walking in a high wind.

“It is done,” said the Wave. “You have found out the truth. One more test awaits you. Perhaps you will pass it. I know not.”

The hounds turned together and trotted down the street. As they walked, they faded, and soon were gone altogether.

Reimaran ventured slowly forth from the ice cave. He noticed the way that those he passed eyed his bloodied eyes and ears, and knew he would have to clean himself soon. He sniffed, by habit, as he passed the merchant stalls. He wanted to find someone trustworthy, who might let him borrow a small pan of warmed water.

He could not smell anything but meat.

In a panic, Reimaran sniffed again, and again. The nearest merchant gave him a vaguely offended look, as though to say that her seal meat was perfectly fresh.

The Wave had taken his ability to scent souls from him.

Reimaran lowered his head and clenched his hands in front of him. Everything the Wave had said was perfectly true. It was a long time since he had mourned anyone the dogs killed. He had been resenting the grief-payments that the temple gave to the families who survived the criminals for longer than that. He had depended utterly on scent; when he had sniffed nothing evil on his siblings in their circle, he had thought that meant none of them would have committed murder.

But, by the Wave, he needed help now.

What was he supposed to do?

He curbed the impulse to pray, and the impulse to sniff again, and stood still for long moments. The people in the market eddied around him. Children played in the light of the dome, or snatched seal meat from the merchants. The merchants slapped their hands, or sometimes chased them down and returned the prize to their carcasses before it
could be eaten.

What evil did they hide? Reimaran did not think he would ever know again.

Then he paused, and closed his eyes. He ignored the trails of dried blood beneath them. All he deserved at this moment was to cleanse them with freezing water that would sting and redden his skin.

I truly am a fool.

He had blamed himself for not catching Tinderain’s evil sooner than this. Of course, he had never ventured forth from the temple to Rainsinger’s Way and sniffed at Tinderain’s door, either. He had not cared. The Hounds caught what evil they could, and exterminated it then, when it smelled foul enough that surely the person deserved to die.

And we mouthed an entirely different rhetoric to ourselves, didn’t we? We cared about those who died. We mourned them. We never sniffed after them while they were still alive, nor tried to prevent the evil they did. We acted when great evil was about to be done, but how much evil had already been done?

Reimaran tried to imagine Hounds of Winter walking the streets, sniffing out those who might be about to start on a road of evil and stopping them, asking if they could help. Healing fear and desperation and anger before they began to kill or rape or beat or steal…

How much would it have helped?

He could not imagine it for long. The image of deep waste threatened to make him sick to his stomach.

Reimaran opened his eyes again and turned in the direction of Rainsinger’s Way. He knew what he had to do now. He would go back to Sirieil and Trisdain, and tell them that their long nightmare was over, that here was someone who knew what Tinderain had done to them, that he would not rip their reality apart.

He hoped for a sign of the Wave’s approval as he walked, and told himself not to be disappointed when he felt nothing. It did not work.

Well, it won’t, not yet. It will take me longer than that to get used to this.

For no good reason at all, though many bad ones, that made him feel better.

*

He knocked on the door to Sirieil’s house. It opened at once. Reimaran smiled. Perhaps that was a good sign. If Sirieil was willing to speak with him, even if she only yelled at him to leave, then he had already stirred some emotion in her beyond that terrible apathy, the grim certainty that no one would believe her.

His smile died when he saw Weishoron with two hounds beside her, and Trisdain and Sirieil backed against the wall behind. Her eyes were rolled back in her head, in the midst of ecstatic trance, but she spoke as if she could see him.

“I thought you would come here,” said Weishoron. “That is why I waited. I wanted to make sure that I sent all of you on to the next life at once. I dislike calling the hounds multiple times. It is disrespectful to the Wave.”



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