In The Shadow Of His Nemesis
Chapter Sixty Six
BY AL BRUNO III
Saturday, December 4th 1996
At first she found the walk down the mountain exhilarating. It was cold but not too cold and their path took them down a gentle slope. It was dark as Hell but her eyes soon adjusted and the snowflakes that slipped between the trees felt good on her face. Hao was at her side, to talk quietly with her and make jokes about becoming her sister in law. Zeth kept going ahead, disappearing into the shadows for minutes at a time and then returning to walk just ahead of them or a just to their left. It all felt like an adventure. She only wished Galen were with them, she had grown so used to him being nearby.
Then an hour into the journey the slope started to become more treacherous and wet snow and ice only made things worse. Isobel started to fall ass over teakettle with alarming frequency. Hao or Zeth were always nearby to catch her or help her up but their sure-footedness was getting on her nerves. The wind picked up, bending the trees and making her face numb.
For the first time she started to wonder how long this trip was going to take, and if she had gotten herself in over her head again.
“Nose.” Hao said.
“Huh?” Isobel turned to see a silk handkerchief being held out.
“Your nose is running.”
“Oh, thanks,” she took the cloth and dabbed at her face.
“You doing OK?”
“Just trying not to break my neck.”
“You know...” Hao skipped a few steps ahead of Isobel and took her arm to help her down a particularly ragged outcropping of rock, “...this will be my first trip away from Laurel House in a decade at least.”
“You're not sure?”
“Time can get slippery around these parts.”
The trail began to level out, the ground became more forgiving, but they had to force their way through snow covered brambles. During her journey to Laurel House Isobel had been in too much of a state of shock to really feel the exertion of working her way along the mountain trail. She was becoming all too aware of her aches and pains now; the heat of exertion making its way up and down the muscles of her legs, the throbbing misery of every bruise and the ache in her lungs of feeling constantly short of breath. The others didn't seem to be having this problem or a problem with navigating in the near dark.
A question occurred to Isobel, something she had never thought to ask Galen, “What's it like? I mean what's it like not to be human?”
“It's not like I know any different,” was Hao still smiling? It was too dark to be sure.
“Dumb question. Sorry.”
“It's not dumb. It's just hard to put in words, we have so many things you don't; time, magic and secrets. Even if you live to an old age you'll be young by some of our standards.”
Zeth crossed in front of them and told them to wait and be quiet with a gesture. The two women did, one standing statue still, the other shivering. “OK, let's go,” Zeth said when he got back, “it was just a bear.”
“A bear?” Isobel said, “Shouldn't it be hibernating?”
“Not this kind. Come on, before you freeze to death.”
Three footsteps later Isobel caught her foot on a root that had been hidden under the dusting of snow. The impact with the ground left her elbow aching. She felt herself being lifted up again. “You're going to need a hot bath and some brandy when you get back.”
“If I get back at this rate.”
“You're doing fine.”
“Warren said you're one of Galen's people.”
“Only halfway. I'm not pure blood, not even a common born.”
“What were they like?”
“Do you really want to know?” Hao said, “I won't mince words.”
“I think... I think I should know, all things considered.”
“The Vlodek are two species that share a common origin and mythology. The Common Born, like Sig were hunters and warriors. The High Born ruled them, they bragged about their divine right. They were anything but that.”
“You sound like you hate them.”
The path began to slope downwards again, everything became rocky and slick with wet snow. Zeth hopped his way down, landing perfectly each time. Hao practically carried Isobel down, she insisted.
“But aren't you one of them?” Isobel asked.
Hao sighed, “A High Born family kept me as a slave, but they treated me as something a lot worse. The Common Born are savage and dangerous but they aren't cruel. The High Born saw themselves as lords of creation. That's why the Monarchs came after them and that's why no one else tried to save them. They're almost extinct now but they leave the world no poorer.”
“I can't see Galen as a part of anything like that,” the very idea made her feel a little sick to her stomach.
“Circumstance has taught him humility and guile but he's still a High Born.”
“Suddenly I don't like where this conversation is going.”
“I warned you.”
Isobel started to slip, the other woman caught her and turned her around. Hao's eyes glittered in the dark, “You love him and that's a good thing, but that may not be enough. Keep something of yourself for yourself.”
“Is that what you're doing with my brother?”
The older woman nodded, “That's what every woman with an ounce of common sense does.”