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Short Story

Shadows Return
I don't think I've posted this here before. Something I wrote back in '01 for another group. Enjoy!












By The River
by Lynn Flewelling

Copyright 2001, 2009 Do not distribute.


He leaned over the riverbank and examined the welt swelling across his
left cheekbone. Angry eyes glared back up at him through the red and
yellow leaves drifting past on the current: You've failed again.
Failed at wizardry. Failed at the assassin's craft, failed in your own
birthright. . .Blood on your hands, but you can't even make a dishonest
living.


He dipped his left hand in the water, blotting out that accusing stare,
and held it to his sore cheek. The old saying was right: hunger was a
harsh master and a poor guide. It had been stupid, trying to pick the
pocket of a merchant in a rat hole river town full of thieves, worse
even than trying to cheat those sailors at Isil two days earlier.

They'd proven a good deal more clever than they'd looked, and taken
everything he had-horse, sword, money, cloak, boots-- before beating
him senseless and dumping him on a garbage midden outside the town
walls.

The merchant in Straightford had been clever, too. He'd had paid some
wandering drysian to charm his purse; it had tightened itself around
Seregil's hand the minute he touched silver. The man had friends on the
street, too, who'd been quick to come to his aid. Seregil had barely
avoided another beating, and escaped by throwing himself off a bridge
into the raging river that swept through the center of the town.

He looked down at the tattered remains of the purse still clinging
around his right wrist. The silken bag had torn as he fought his way to
shore, and what coins it had held were lost. The charmed purse strings
still bit into his flesh, too tight to pull off, and he had no knife to
cut them. If he hadn't failed at all Nysander's lessons, he reflected
sourly, he might have had the wit to break the charm.

Then again, if I'd had any knack for magic, I wouldn't be here, alone,
barefoot and starving, in the woods at ass end of nowhere among stupid,
ugly, flint-hearted Tírfaie, would I?


He sat back on his heels and gazed around, hating this foreign
landscape almost more than he hated himself at the moment. The river,
the road, the thick forest on every side, it wasn't so different from
the lands of his father's fai’thast, yet it was.

He could go back to Rhíminee, of course; never mind all his
tearful parting vows. Nysander had wept when he'd left that last time,
and begged him to stay, but he'd earned no place among wizards, only
derision for his bungling.

He probably could have a place at court again, if he was willing to
humble himself; he was still Queen's kin, despite all the disgraces
that dogged him. They'd find him some new menial office to fill. The
debacles of his failed scribeship and Orëska apprenticeship would fade
in time. People wouldn't always laugh behind their hands when he passed.

Yes, they would.

The autumn sun was sinking fast now and he was too exhausted to go any
further. And why bother? He'd been running away since yesterday, not
going toward anything. For the first time it struck him, how he
couldn't recall the last time he'd actually had a destination.

"Piss on that!" he growled aloud. He drank some water to assuage his
empty belly, then looked around for shelter. Nothing in particular
presented itself, so he hobbled up the wooded hill until he found a
spreading fir. Hunkering down against the sunny side, he tried to find
a comfortable angle between the roots. The sun was almost touching the
distant mountain tops now. The gentle breeze was going cold and finding
the rents in his ragged coat and breeches. Shivering, he pulled a foot
up on his thigh and gingerly picked at a sharp stone lodged in his
heel. The bottoms of his feet were filthy and covered in small
scratches and cuts. As a child he wandered the forests of Bôkthersa on
bare feet well callused and tough, but those days were long gone.

Better for you to have taken that boatman's offer in Isil, the mocking voice
in his head went on. At least you'd be under a roof. He'd even have stood you
a tavern meal, if you'd played him right . . .


A wave of despair washed over him. Perhaps he should have done as the
others had years ago: filled his pockets with ballast stones and thrown
himself overboard that first day of exile, when his homeland slipped
away under the horizon behind the ship.

The glint of sun on water winked at him through the trees below. There
was nothing to stop him from doing it now, was there? But suddenly he
was too cold, too tired, and too miserable to muster the energy it
would take to walk back down to the bank and throw himself in.

___

He must have nodded off. Otherwise a Tírfaie would never have gotten as
close as this one had. As it was, he just had time to throw himself
into a nearby clump of caneberry bushes before the man stepped from the
trees less than twenty feet from where he'd been sitting. Scratched and
shaken, he peered out through the thorny stalks, watching the intruder
stroll up the hill.

The last of sunset was at the man's back and the long shadows had
deepened. All Seregil could make out at first was a tall, broad
shouldered figure, with a long scabbard swinging heavily against its
left hip.

The man halted near the tree, then looked around. "Hullo?" A young,
deep voice, colored by an accent Seregil couldn't place. "Don't be
scared, girl. I won't hurt you."

Girl? Seregil allowed himself a sour smile. Stupid, blind fool of a
Tírfaie, just like all the others. By the Light, he was sick of the
whole lot.

All the same, this one had gotten dangerously close, and Seregil
couldn't move now without being heard. Looking around, he found
a fist-sized rock in reach and gripped it.

The fellow turned slightly and the light struck his face. He was man-
grown but still young by Tír reckoning. His face was strongly boned,
and freckled as a trout's sides. Coarse auburn hair hung in an unkempt
mass over his shoulders. A sparse, coppery moustache drooped over the
corners of his mouth and his cheeks and chin were thatched with
stubble. His battered corselet and worn boots marked him as a wanderer
of some sort, at best a caravan guard; at worst, a bandit.

Harsh experience had taught Seregil something of reading faces; this
man was not stupid, not at all. All the time he was gazing about, he
seemed to have an ear cocked in Seregil's direction.

He knows I'm here. Seregil gripped the rock, bracing for an attack.
If he could surprise the man, stun him with a well-placed blow, then he
could escape, perhaps even with the sword and that bundle the man had
over his shoulder. He didn't look the sort to travel without food or
flints.

But the man just stood there a moment longer, then shrugged. "Suit
yourself, girl." With that, he dropped his bundle and set about
gathering sticks and tinder for a fire.

Sprawled on the damp ground, Seregil watched with growing suspicion as
the fellow struck a spark with his knife and a flint and kindled a good
blaze under the tree. When it was burning well, he rummaged in his
bundle and brought out a small iron pot and a few cloth-wrapped
parcels. Leaving his supplies by the fire, he headed down to the river
with the pot.

It was tempting, but obviously a ruse to draw him out. Seregil stayed
where he was, and presently the man came back with his pot and some
green ash sticks he'd cut at the riverbank. He rigged up a fire hook
and set the pot of water over the flames. Then he
sharpened another stick with his knife, unwrapped the parcels, and
fixed a large chunk of yellow cheese and some sausages on the stick to
toast.

Soon a wonderful, toothsome aroma spread over the little clearing.
Seregil's stomach, empty these past two days except for river water and
what little he could forage, let out a long growl.

As if he'd heard, the man called out, "More than enough for two here,
girl. From the glimpse I got of you, I'd say you could use something
solid under your ribs. And a blanket, too. I won't ask to share it with
you. I swear by the Flame and the Four."

Seregil remained where he was, hating the man even more.

"Come, I know you're there. That raspberry patch won't make much of a
bower for you when the dew falls." After a long moment, the fellow let
out an exasperated sigh. "No? Well, I won't force you out, but I don't
fancy sleeping with you lurking there like that, so we're both in for a weary night."

Seregil lay still, mouth watering, as the dew settled through his scant
clothing, chilling him from the back as the damp ground chilled him
from the front. The sausages sizzled on their stick, redolent of
rosemary, mutton, and garlic. He hadn't smelled the like since the
market stalls at Cirna. By the Light, how long ago? Two years? Five?
The cooking smell reminded him suddenly of Nysander, too. His old
master had always had good sausage like that at breakfast, and toasted
cheese. And soft white bread with honey and jam . . .

He ached with hunger now, and something else, too. Something that made
his throat tighten and his eyes sting.

It was almost certainly a trick, he warned himself, blinking away the
smoke that had blurred his vision for a moment. He flexed the fingers
that had gone stiff around the rock. This was no bandit. This man knew
how to wait, how to bait his prey. That was warning enough.

All the same, he could just as easily have come after him. He knew
where he was, and assumed he was dealing with a defenseless girl. Why
all the calling and courting?

Seregil wrestled with his doubts a while longer, but the smell of hot
food weighted the argument against caution. At last, still not moving,
he called out, "What do you want with me?" His voice came out hoarse as
a rook's; he hadn't spoken to anyone in days.

"Nothing," the man replied, lifting the meat and cheese from the fire
and examining them closely. "This is about ready." Still not looking in
Seregil's direction, he reached into his bundle again and threw
something into the steaming pot.

A moment later Seregil smelled the sharp, rich tang of tea. Real tea
from Zengat by the smell, not the stinking mess of boiled leaves and
roots they brewed up here in the wilderness.

"I've an extra mug here somewhere, girl. You're welcome to it."

That decided it. Either this was a civilized fellow, or he knew enough
to steal from such. Seregil stood up slowly, braced to run if the man
proved treacherous after all. "I'm not a girl," he croaked.

The man looked over at him at last, and his moustache twitched in what
might have been a grin. "So you're not. My apologies, lad. You ran off
so fast I didn't have time to make a proper study of you. And you won't
be needing that, though you're welcome to hang onto it if it makes you
feel safer."

Seregil glanced down and saw that he was still clutching the rock. No
doubt he looked ridiculous to the big swordsman, but he kept it anyway.

"Come on if you're hungry," the man urged. "I'm not getting up to
serve you."

Seregil pulled himself free of the thorny canes and limped to the fire,
giving the stranger a wide berth and keeping the fire between them. The
man stayed where he was, but leaned over to hand Seregil the toasting
stick.

He took it, and watched warily as the man found a cup and tossed it
over to him. He caught it easily and set it down beside him.

"Welcome. My name's Micum," his host said, resting his large hands on
his knees where Seregil could see them, clearly a calculated move.
Seregil ignored the expectant pause that followed. He gave his name to
no Tír.

"I don't have a knife," he said at last. In fact, it was all he
could do not to gnaw the meat and cheese straight off the toasting
stick, but that would have been common, and poor thanks for the
hospitality offered.

The stranger drew the knife from his belt and held it out, handle
foremost.

Seregil tensed again. If he reached for it, distracted with food and
one hand busy with the stick, it would be a simple matter for the other
man to grab for his wrist.

He'd hardly finished the thought when Micum placed the knife on the
ground between them and sat back. "You're a cautious one, aren't you?
Though from the looks of you, maybe you have good cause to be."

It was nearly dark now, but the firelight shone full on his face and
for the first time Seregil was able to look him in the eye at close
range. Light eyes, he had, bright at the moment with friendly
amusement. Seregil snatched up the knife and carved himself a portion.

"You'll want this, too." Micum tossed a chunk of stale brown bread neatly
over the fire and into Seregil's lap.

Seregil took a second look at him, guessing that this move had been a
sign, too. This man knew how to fight and wanted him to know it; the
scabbard hanging overhead was scarred with use and he had a few scars
on the backs of his hands. He was big, nearly a head taller than
Seregil, and well muscled, but he moved with a natural, fluid grace.
Fine swordsman that Seregil was when he had a sword, he already
suspected that this Micum fellow was someone he'd rather fight beside
than against.

And he'd made no move to harm him yet, either, though the evening was
still young. . .

#

"I'll have the knife back, if you're done with it," Micum said,
watching the stranger closely without making a show of it. He was
beginning to regret his kindly impulse.


Not only was this no lost girl, as he'd first supposed when he'd
glimpsing the huddled figure from the road; this ragged, wild-haired
fellow wasn't as young as he'd first guessed, either. No, he was 'faie—
pure Aurënfaie, too, judging by his build, his high-tone manner
of speech, and the southern cut of his rags. What such a one was doing
here on the banks of the Keela River, only Illior knew. No gear. No
horse. No food. Thin and dirty as a young tom in spring, and just as
battered. Someone had given him a proper drubbing recently, and perhaps
he'd deserved it. There was a toughness about him that balanced that
fine, pretty face, and a hard glint in those cold grey eyes that Micum
didn't like one bit; it was the look of a kicked dog that was ready to
bite. And he wouldn't give his name like an honest man, either.

And, Micum noted with no particular alarm, he still had the knife. He
held out his hand for it, and the bottom nearly dropped out of his
belly as the stranger handily flipped it up in the air, caught it by
the blade, and shied it at him.

Either the man's aim was very good or a little bad, for the blade
thudded to earth a few inches from Micum's left knee, the quivering
blade sunk a good three inches in the ground. Judging by the fellow's
smirk, this was a message to him, and Micum added arrogance to the
rapidly growing list of reasons why he didn't like this nameless stray.

All the same, he had given the knife back.

Micum pulled it free and wiped the blade clean on his trouser leg
before cutting his own portion. "You're an Aurënfaie, aren't you?" he
asked, to see if he could take him down a peg. "Up from Skala, I'd say,
by your accent and those rags. You're a long way from home."

This earned him a startled look. His guest didn't look quite so smug
now. "I am. I don't recognize your accent."

"I don't suppose you would," Micum replied, fighting back a grin. "I'm
from a little town in the settled freeholdings beyond the Folcwine.
Cavish, it's called."

"Never heard of it. Is that in Mycena?"

"North and east beyond it. I've been working the Gold Road as a guard
for the caravaneers. I liked what I've heard of the southern lands, and
I liked the men I worked for. The caravaneers were full of tales of
Skala and her fine cities, so when we got to Nanta, I decided to keep
on going and have a look for myself."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that."

Suddenly the stranger surprised him again, this time with a smile . "So
you're a long way from home, too."

Micum blinked. It was as if a completely different person was looking
at him from under all the dirt and tangled hair. The hard, guarded look
had slipped like a mask, showing Micum someone almost as young as he'd
first supposed. He was shivering, too, Micum saw; the hand holding the
bread was shaking so badly that the cheese was sliding off.

Micum untied his cloak and gave it to him, still careful not to move
too suddenly and startle him. "You'd best wrap up."

"Thank you." The stranger accepted it with another smile.
Balancing his supper on one knee, he bundled himself up to the chin as
if it was winter, rather than a warm autumn night. With his rags
covered, he had a more refined look about him, even with the dirty
face. Micum hadn't had a lot of contact with folk of quality, but he
knew one when he met one and this boy was gentle born, whatever his
circumstances might be now. He chewed his food slowly, rather than
wolfing it, then dipped his cup in the pot and held it to his nose,
eyes half closed as he inhaled the fragrant steam. "It's been a long
while since I've had this," he murmured.

"Got a taste for it from those Skalans," Micum told him, studying his
guest with growing interest. "I'd rather have good ale, myself, but
this carries easier and refreshes the spirits."

The stranger saluted him with the cup, poured out a few drops on the
ground for the Four, and then sipped delicately at the brew. Micum
filled his own cup and they sat in silence for awhile as the stars came
out overhead.

#
As the tea spread its comforting warmth through him, Seregil let out a
contented sigh. Micum's cloak was warm and smelled good. The man had
given freely of his food and offered him no violence. As the comfortable
silence stretched out between them, he allowed himself a second look at
the man. Micum wasn't handsome, certainly, but he had a good smile and
a steady, easy manner that put him at his ease. It was tempting, so
very tempting, to like him.

More fool, you, the inner voice taunted.

Ignoring it, he arched a wry eyebrow at Micum. "So you don't mean to
rob or rape me, after all?"

"Is that what you thought?" Micum asked, insulted.

"I'm sorry," Seregil said hastily. "I haven't had
much cause to trust anyone for a long while. But tell me, why did you
come up here after me?"

The man looked as if he'd asked why the sky was blue. "I saw you from
the road. You looked like someone who needed help."

"A girl who needed help," Seregil reminded him.

Micum shrugged. "It makes no difference."

Seregil looked into that earnest face and felt his resolve slipping
again. Stop it! He's a Tír. Nothing but a Tír . . .

"You don't believe me?"

"Oh, I do," Seregil assured him, looking down into the fire to avoid
that earnest gaze. "I do."

"Then I don't suppose I might know who I'm talking to?"

Fool! the voice shrieked as he leaned over and offered his hand to
the man. "Forgive my rudeness. I'm . . ." He faltered as Micum's big,
rough hand closed around his. The man's grip was warm, firm,
reassuring, and came in the company of a ready smile. Seregil had to
swallow hard before he could finish. "I'm Rolan. Rolan Silverleaf."

##

Comments

( 67 comments — Leave a comment )
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ravensilver
Jul. 31st, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing such a delightful read! I loved Seregil's suspicious nature and how careful and comforting in a rough way Micum managed to overcome it.

I've saved it to re-read in peace and quiet. :)

Thank you.
soulascending
Jul. 31st, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, Lynn, this was wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing. I can always do with some more Micum in my life. :D
alice_montrose
Jul. 31st, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
I remember reading this on the yahoo mailing list... still, it was fun to reread! Thanks for posting it here as well! <3
whishastar
Jul. 31st, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
Same here. I love this piece. Thanks for reposting it Lynn!
janedavitt
Jul. 31st, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
Lovely glimpse at how they met and it says a lot about both of them; thank you for sharing!
leareth26
Jul. 31st, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
Lynn,

You're amazing, as per usual. Thanks!
otterdance
Jul. 31st, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
LOL what on earth is going on in that icon?!
(no subject) - leareth26 - Jul. 31st, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - otterdance - Jul. 31st, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - leareth26 - Jul. 31st, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - otterdance - Jul. 31st, 2009 07:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - leareth26 - Jul. 31st, 2009 07:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kracken - Jul. 31st, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wiebke - Aug. 1st, 2009 04:19 am (UTC) - Expand
siberianchan
Jul. 31st, 2009 06:25 pm (UTC)
Oh thank you so much for sharing this.
This is... so heartwarming and delightful... and I somehow have an image of a wary SD-Seregil.

Thank you. You made my day.
kracken
Jul. 31st, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for posting this.
aryana_filker
Jul. 31st, 2009 07:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing! Love it! *hugs young Seregil although he might not want to*
siberianchan
May. 31st, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
... ever seen Seregil wanting a hug or a cuddle EVER? (alec aside of course... and well, his sisters and the Cavish women... he has to bear. They'd just cuddle him regardless of his protests... acutally... this might be a perect way for Kari to punish him when he comes again to bribe Micum into a ride. "Now then. BEAR MY CUDDLES! And then get skinned.")

He was such a cute teenager, wasn't he?


(begging for some creative fannish mind putting him into action)
crazyloststar
Jul. 31st, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing!! I got so excited when I realized it was Micum. :)
masteroftrouble
Jul. 31st, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this! I always love to see what happened before the books and before we hop into a story! :)
myashke
Jul. 31st, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)
Lovely
I loved seeing this side of Seregil. He's so unwise and unpracticed here! I wish somehow Alec could see him like this. Forward this on to him, won't you? (g) Also, it's reassuring to see Micum was always the man he has become in the series, somehow older and more comfortable in the world than Seregil despite their ages.

Just what I needed to hold me over until White Road hits the shelves. Thank you for posting this!
dragonladych
Aug. 1st, 2009 01:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Lovely
I thought the same. And I love how this mirrors the first encounter of Alec and Seregil.
hametsunosaturn
Jul. 31st, 2009 08:22 pm (UTC)
I'm sure I've read this before... Did you post it on the Yahoo! group back in 2001?

It's still lovely to read again~ <3

I think it's the stories from the past more so than the snippets of the book to come that make me want the next one so much. :3
paperclippy
Jul. 31st, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

If you ever write a prequel to Luck in the Shadows, it had better be about the adventures of young Seregil and Micum!
kwolf_8
Aug. 6th, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
!!!!
I think the same! I thought of when Kari mentions her first meeting with Seregil, in Luck in the Shadows. "That's one of the most beautiful men I've ever seen, and he doesn't like the looks of me one bit!"(310) It would be a great prequel!!!
mokkelchen
Jul. 31st, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing! It was much fun to read it, although I'm a little sad Seregil doesn't say is true name... well, later. ;D
tierfal
Jul. 31st, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
Hot damn, I've always wondered--! Such a perfect fit for both of them, and agreement with people above -- I love seeing Seregil out of his element, or at least not having grown into it yet. Micum's such a charmer, and it's always great to see more of him. :D

Thank you!!
_profiterole_
Jul. 31st, 2009 09:51 pm (UTC)
Micum! ♥ And Seregil! <3 That was beautiful as well as moving.
athene
Jul. 31st, 2009 11:25 pm (UTC)
that was lovely and delightful. Thank you for posting it.

Now how about a story about Alec & Seregil's first time...*crosses fingers*
winged_kame
Aug. 1st, 2009 12:09 am (UTC)
Gah, love this! Thanks so much for sharing!
lazzchan
Aug. 1st, 2009 12:39 am (UTC)
Oh, this was absolutely fabulous. I had a giant grin on my face the entire time reading this, the moment I realized who the tall swordsman was and yes, well everything. This was delightful and thank you!
cassandraterra
Aug. 1st, 2009 01:42 am (UTC)
This is amazing! I'm so happy you posted this! Thank you! Bookmarked for sure!
ragingfirefall
Aug. 1st, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)
Eee, thanks so much for posting this! It's gorgeous. I loved a flashback to Seregil and Micum's younger days, and seeing how they first met was a treat - it compensates for the lack of Alec. ;)

Micum thought Seregil was a girl. That just...makes my week. XD
rabby
Aug. 1st, 2009 04:41 am (UTC)
Wow, honestly, can this ever make it to publication? Just for kicks? XD

I loved Seregil's comment about "stupid, ugly Tirfaie". I often wondered how a race that is so beautiful would find one who is, by comparison, plain and short-lived. It's amazing to see how far he's come.

Also: Micum thinking he was a girl was adorable. XD;


I foresee a long and happy future together full of crippled legs and love triangles. ;3
romp
Aug. 1st, 2009 05:58 am (UTC)
Well, *I* have never seen it before.

This is wonderful: the young, struggling Seregil (we'd heard he starved for awhile after leaving Rhiminee) and the first meeting of these guys. Thanks so much for posting!
setra
Aug. 1st, 2009 08:54 am (UTC)
This is a beautiful piece - and one I must have missed out on in whatever other group it got shared. Thank you so much for letting us take a peek too!
talklikelions
Aug. 1st, 2009 09:05 am (UTC)
re reading the books now- I'm on Stalking Darkness- it's so hard to think of Seregil like this! I felt kind of bad for snickering a bit, then went back to my reading and felt a bit of pride at how far our- your- ahhhhh- they have come. Aww.
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