Fire Logic: An Elemental Logic Novel
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Both of them had a rather unnerving quality to their gazes, an intentness and seriousness that seemed almost unnaturally alert and intelligent. Perhaps these two had elemental talents. In any case, they almost certainly would be valuable companions. Like her, the Speaker once had accompanied his predecessor when he was a young katrim. Now, by watching him she continued to learn what it meant to be chosen by the one who crosses between worlds, who sees in all directions.
The owl conducted souls to the Land of the Sun, and was a restless wanderer who acknowledged no boundaries. Zanja had already learned that she who crosses between worlds is a stranger everywhere, even in the land of her birth. Having lived for six seasons with a Shaftali farm family, she had developed two minds and two ways of seeing, to go with her two languages. After that, her own family found her peculiar, and said that she stumbled between contradictory cultures and languages like a drunken fool. Did you think it would be easy or graceful? Now, when he spoke to her about the towns they passed, and described the peculiar ways and customs of the people there, she listened attentively, thinking all the while about the potential usefulness of the information.
More than half of them seemed to have only recently left their family farmholds. Except for the fact that they all traveled armed, and they shared a propensity for lengthy, arcane discussions of philosophy, it might have been difficult to tell that they all were members of the same order. One of the Paladins had been riding somewhat separate from the others. A man neither young nor old, he did not eat or drink or join in conversations, and walked away alone when they stopped to rest the horses.
You must listen more carefully to your intuition, or you will not survive for long. He knows so much that it weighs him down. And yet I think he could be merry. The same knowledge that he finds so heavy might also give him joy. Now tell me what kind of man you have described.
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He told them that after fifteen years as a Paladin, he recently had been pierced with the earring of Regard. He selfconsciously fingered the two gold earrings in his right earlobe. How will you advocate for your people? Perhaps Shaftal will form a new government, to which I might be an ambassador. Or perhaps the Sainnites will. For a woman of less talent, perhaps. Now, the woods had opened up into a vast clearing filled with Paladin encampments, wagons, animals, equipment, and food tents.
A harried woman directed the wagons in one direction and the Paladins in another. At the top of the hill before them stood a complex of buildings, a Paladin charterhouse.
Along with the hundreds of fretful Paladins, seething with rumors and tales of fresh disaster, the Speaker and his student camped upon the hillside. Before nightfall, a wagonload of travelers, accompanied by a handful of Paladin outriders, made its way up the dusty track from the highway. Word swept through the gathered Paladins like the turning of a tide: the new arrivals were refugees from the House of Lilterwess, and Councilor Mabin traveled among them, unharmed.
I found it difficult to believe that no one at all escaped the attack. And Councilor Mabin has always struck me as someone who would survive, whenever survival is possible.
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Zanja and the Speaker also slept, but he awoke her before dawn, and they quietly made their way among sleeping Paladins and smoldering campfires. The blacksmith slept beside his anvil, the horses dozed in their field, the guard at the hostel door seemed asleep on his feet and blinked at them blearily when the Speaker addressed him.
Zanja served the tea in the Shaftali style, and the Councilor took no notice of her, even when Zanja handed her the cup and offered her the plate of bread. Now I alone am left to rebuild this ruin. Do you think I even want to hear his name spoken again? I only wish he had died sooner. Now, as I am the only governor left alive, I am being taken into hiding until we can rebuild our strength and organize the defense of Shaftal. Surely you can spare a little time to advise me. Mabin took a piece of bread from the plate Zanja offered her, and this time seemed, momentarily, to see her.
They kill those who threaten them, exploit those who can help them, and ignore everyone else. Make certain that your people are ignored. Her gaze paused briefly on Zanja, leaving her reeling like a pot that has been scoured.
The councilor was swept out into a crush of commanders who had arrived to escort her to address what remained of her army. The Speaker sighed as if with relief, and Zanja hurried over to pour him a fresh cup of tea as he sat down in an armchair by the fireplace. He sipped from his cup, gazing into the flames as his damp boots began to steam. Papers rustled as the young woman in black ordered them meticulously into a pile and then wrapped them and tied them in a leather cover. Zanja stood by the tea table and watched her covertly. Zanja could not easily categorize this discomforting young woman.
She seemed hard and tired, which might be expected in one who had recently survived and escaped a devastating attack. Though she looked like a Paladin, Zanja did not think she was one. She was old enough to have taken her vows, but her earlobe was unadorned. Plus, she had an unsettling quality that made Zanja suspect an elemental talent, though she did not recognize which element. Her gaze was almost unendurable.
Trying to back away, Zanja stumbled into the tea table. The young woman turned aside without a word, picked up the packet of papers, and left the room.
Now you know why the Truthkens are so feared. I myself have no interest in it. Have a cup of tea, at least. The window viewed the back of the charterhouse, an unkempt garden of herbs and flowers that were just starting to bloom, and the track that led to the stables. As she watched, a wagon was brought out and loaded with baggage and people.
The last to arrive was the young Truthken, still carrying the packet of papers, but now escorting another person. She was very tall—taller than a grown man—but thin and gangly as an adolescent in a growth spurt, with big hands and feet, wearing clothing she seemed to have outgrown. The Truthken walked her to the wagon as if she were a prisoner or a puppet.
Zanja watched the wagon roll away. She did not know what she had seen, but she knew that it was terrible. She remained at the window long after the wagon had passed out of sight.
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Chapter Two One fine day in early autumn, nine years after the fall of the House of Lilterwess, two Sainnite soldiers impatiently waited for the stablehand to bring them their horses. The soldiers complained about the cold, as though they had never lived through a Shaftali winter, and did not know they would soon be longing for a day this warm.
She was grimy already, but wanted to make certain the soldiers found her unappealing. A simpleton. And they live like animals. She may even eat it, for all we know. As the two soldiers rode off to harass the people they called peasants, the stablehand raised her dark eyes to gaze after them.
She sensed the death awaiting them, hidden in the woods not too far out of town. For months now, she had been dodging attention as meticulously and instinctively as the rat that lives underfoot, unnoticed.