The T́ulańē
by Leo D. Orionis

Chapter 1
The Day Everything Changed

A star from heaven is fallen,
A star has fallen and crashed.
The fallen star has blossomed,
The seed bears flower at last.
What is the name of the Lady who rules
The present and the past?
What is the name of the Lord who died,
Reborn before the mast?

Morĝai of Tlâńor has restored
Êstâz to life and breath:
She bids him fight her bloody foes
Until victory, or death.

—A teaching riddle of the Second History, and its answer

In late afternoon of the last day of my old life, I sat in a tower on the wall of my father's castle, waiting for my sister.

My father's castle was a combination of old and new. The towers of the old city of T́ebai were its keeps, 200 to 600 feet tall, shining in colors of tourmaline and carnelian and topaz, constructed of some material no one could make any more, and no storm or engine could break. Unassailable and inviolate, their bottom three floors sheltered the castle's population at need, and the populace of all the country around. The total was less than the number of people who'd lived in the city when, if legend could be believed, it had flown in a great orbit over some corner of the continent.

Whatever the true origins of the old city, it rested now between Mount Kalama and the Raros River. Steep-sided and nearly unclimbable, Kalama rose in stony solitude, like a block a half-mile tall, flung down by a huge bored child. Flowing eastward through the green lands she watered, the Raros met the stubborn bulk of Kalama, and was forced south around him to continue on her way. Between the two, south of the mountain but inside the loop of the river, stood T́ebai.

T́ebai's towers were invulnerable, but the ground between them was not. To ward that ground, and to ensure access to the lake that supplied our water (which was also part of the old city), my father's father had built a wooden stockade. His son had replaced the stockade with stone, and his son had continued the work. By the day I waited for Kristu, a wall 40 feet high, fortified with as many towers, completely encircled the old city. Two towers on the wall were linked with two others on the other side of the river by a fortified stone bridge. The inner gate and the outer gate were both manned, and the bridge between them could be swept with arrows from both gates at need.

Today such need was the farthest thing from my mind. With my ordeal ahead of me, my father the Duke had released me from all duties today as a squire. Instead of mail, today, I wore the ordinary clothing of a man not armed for war: a tunic over a shirt over a robe, with boots, belt, pouch and belt knife. I expected my lord to speak to me in his chambers before my ordeal began, so they were my best clothes: a light-blue tunic with white bands at the neck and along the hem, the sleeves falling to just above my elbows, and the hem just above my knees. Under this, my shirt was plain white, with sleeves ending halfway down my forearms and a hem that stopped halfway down my shins. A grey robe under that ended at my wrists, and hung at my insteps, with thin black bands at both places. A court dandy would have sneered at such as outfit, light blue over white over grey, with no patterns woven in the cloth, no embroidery, no gold thread, no jewelry at my neck or on my fingers. Well, I was no dandy, and most of the time I was in mail, anyway.

My boots were black leather, as was the belt that held my pouch and my dagger. A simple round gold brooch pinned the neck of my tunic shut, and I wore a single plain gold ring, a gift from my father, on the index finger of my right hand. To complete the description, you must picture a young man nominally an adult (though still a squire), of average height, average build, at the peak of fitness from wielding arms and shield every day for four years; clean-shaven (no Tlâńē could grow more than a mustache), dark brown hair, dark green eyes. I was resting one foot on a stool just inside the window as I looked towards Kalama, the tendrils on my head waving in the breeze.

"Lartu?" said the voice I treasured above all others. I turned from the window with a smile.

My half-sister Kristu stood in the doorway. Men's and women's dress were not much different in our land; the ladies' tunics had full skirts, and all three layers reached the floor. Her feet would be clad in cloth shoes with leather soles, though I couldn't see them. Kristu's outer tunic was rose-colored, her light pink shirt was visible from elbow to forearm, and the arms of her robe from there to her wrists were white. The yellow embroidery outlining the neck, arms, and hem of her tunic matched the color of her hair, parted in the middle and falling to her shoulders. Her eyes were light blue. She was the youngest of my father's three legitimate children by his wife the Duchess; four years younger than I was.

Though I had never acted upon it, and though it was a long time before I dared to admit it to myself, she was the love of my life.

"Hello," I said softly. She colored, and looked away for a moment. I'd not let myself act improperly, but my feelings couldn't be hidden completely. For one thing, Lovers' tendrils yearn towards one another, as the saying goes. As a noblewoman to be, Kristu had been taught since a very early age to hold her tendrils upright in an attitude of polite reserve. Boys were expected to express their emotions openly, and accept the consequences.

"Hello," Kristu replied, and walked up to me. She was the same height I was, and her almost-grey eyes returned my gaze fearlessly.

"Tonight your life changes," she said.

"Yes," I answered. "If I understand what the T́ulańē have been teaching me, I'll almost be a new person, as if I'd been reborn."

"Or you could die!"

"Yes," I said again. "But I don't think so. You can't imagine how far I've come already. I might fail the final test, whatever it is. But I doubt I'll die."

"Still," Kristu said, "I wanted to give you this. For luck." On the white-and-rose cloth belt around her slender waist were her dagger, a recorder, and a cloth pouch. From the last she took a ribbon, of a duskier rose than her dress, and held it out to me.

"For luck," I said, taking it, and putting it in my own pouch. "Thank you," I told her, taking her hand and squeezing it.

"Get your hands off her, bastard!"

Kristu and I jumped, and stepped away from each other, she turning around to face the door. There stood my two half-brothers, her full brothers Mrada and Kraho, glaring at us.

It always gave me a pang to see them hating me, even when I was enraged and hating right back. When we were young it didn't matter to us that I had a different, unknown mother than my brothers. We tore around the castle, a wild gang of three, racing across the courtyards, hiding in the hay lofts in the stables along the inside of the curtain wall, swiping food when the cooks' back were turned, swimming in the lake. When we played with other children, Mrada and I were firm that no one got to beat on Kraho but the two of us. Mrada was the same age as I, within a few months, and Kraho a couple of years younger, midway in age between Mrada and Kristu.

"Kristu, leave," Mrada ordered, not taking his eyes from me. He was a younger image of our father; the same brown eyes and hair, the same full mustache and thick eyebrows. He wasn't wearing mail, any more than I, but a bright red tunic, white shirt, and dark blue robe. He'd been a squire almost as long as I had, and was just as fit as I was. His right hand rested on the dagger on his belt.

"Mrada, we were just talking!" Kristu said, not moving.

"Kraho!" Mrada said sharply.

Kraho stepped forward and grabbed Kristu's hand. "Come on," he said. Kraho had been a squire for only two years, still had some growing to do, and didn't display a mustache. No doubt whose son he was, or whose brother, just the same. His garments were the reverse of Mrada's, blue over white over red.

"Let go of me!" Kristu said, as Kraho dragged her to the door. "Lartu!"

"Go on, then," I told her, watching Mrada. "You don't need to see this."

"What are you going to do?" she cried. "Let go, Kraho! You're brothers!" she said, as Kraho pulled her from the room. Then we heard her running down the stairs, yelling, "Help! Help!" and Kraho cursing, and running after.

"Well, brother?" I said.

"Don't call me brother, you bastard," he said, and spat on the wooden floor. He pulled his dagger, and said, "I'll have to make this quick. Too bad."

I drew my own dagger, too, and crouched.

It was never proclaimed officially that the Duke of T́ebai was my father, but I'd heard the story of how he'd left the castle by himself, refusing all escort, and returned a few days later with me. From the beginning he insisted I be treated exactly like the two legitimate sons of him and his lady wife.

I don't think I ever believed that the Duchess loved or even liked me, though at first she pretended to. I was too young to know what an insult my existence was to her, or how it hurt her and chafed her pride.

Kristu was born a year after I was introduced into the family. Soon after that there was a great bustle and movement in the castle. Before, we children would spend our evenings with both the Duke and the Duchess. After, we saw either him or her. They now had separate quarters in opposite ends of the city, with separate servants, their own guards, knights more loyal to one or the other. Though their thrones were side-by-side at courts, there were really two courts now, his and hers.

No more children were born after Kristu. The Duke was not old, neither was his Lady, but they no longer shared a bed. In fact, honoring their marital vows, they slept alone. The most fervent supporter of the lady could find no reason to suggest the Duke had transferred his affections to another woman, nor would His Grace permit any disrespectful remark about his wife. They were correct to each other, and correct about each other, and lived separate lives as much as possible.

This unhappy situation turned hostile to me when the Duke announced it was time for me to become a squire. Though he'd always insisted I be treated the same as Mrada or Kraho, I think the Duchess and her followers had assumed I would become a clerk, perhaps someday a court official — seneschal for my father, maybe, or chancellor of his exchequer. When Sir Juho, the captain of my father's guard, agreed to accept me as his squire, it signalled I would become a knight — a nobleman, not a townsman.

From the beginning my birthday had been celebrated on 5 Numestô Karθao, while Mrada's was Xidestē Xyrao. When the Duke told his court that Sir Juho had agreed to make me his squire, a great silence ensued. It was still four and a half months before Mrada's tenth birthday, when the Duke was expected to take him as his own squire. But if I were being made a squire, this must be my tenth birthday, and I must be older than Mrada.

From that moment the Duchess saw me only as a threat to her sons, and they soon learned to think the same way. The Êstâz had always insisted on the best person for each duchy, county, or barony of his realm. Though the general custom was succession by the oldest son, there had been exceptions. Younger sons had sometimes been chosen instead, and the Duke of In-the-Mountain's-Shadow had been succeeded by his daughter, while she had been succeeded by cousins. So it was far from unreasonable for the Duchess to find me threatening. Though I was illegitimate, I was the eldest. Whenever I wasn't with the Duke, my master Sir Juho, or another knight loyal to my father, I had to watch out for blows, "accidental" tripping, and dangerous "pranks" at the hands of knights and servants loyal to the Duchess — and from my own half-brothers.

Understand that the Duke never so much as hinted that Mrada wouldn't be his heir. At Mrada's birthday that same year, he did become his father's squire, and the Duke trained him hard, as Sir Juho did me. Still, one headlong fall from a high wall, or an "accident" with the blunted but still-deadly training weapons, would greatly relieve the Duchess's mind. I had to be on my guard at all times.

I had to be on my guard now, for Mrada was stepping toward me with his knife naked in his hand. I wasn't going to let him kill me, but I didn't want to kill him, either.

"What are you doing, Mrada?" I said. "Do you think you can gut me, and remain heir? Do you think the Êstâz will accept a murderer as Duke?"

"Oh, I'm not going to knife you," he said, the blade held low and ready. "You're going to fall out of that window by accident and dash out your brains. And when people learn you were pawing your own half-sister, they won't even care that the rocks cut you up as a knife might have."

"And when Kristu says I didn't paw her, what then?" I said. "Assuming you can kill me in the first place."

"She'll say what she's told to say!" he snapped.

Despite everything, I had to laugh. "You really don't know her," I said.

That enraged him. He leapt on me, and his sharp knife sought my life. I caught his right wrist with my left, and punched him in the mouth. The knife-handle in my hand made the blow heavier. He snarled, and clawed my face, reaching for my eyes. I jerked my head away and pricked his hand with my knife. He yelped.

"Hold it!" said Sir Juho.

Obedience had been beaten into us for four years. I shoved Mrada hard as I released his knife wrist, to make sure he wasn't close enough to stab me, and turned to face the door. Mrada stumbled back against the far wall, cracking his elbow against the stone. He rubbed it as he turned, too.

Sir Juho was tall, and wide with muscle. The padding under his mail made him wider still. A knight wore padded pants and socks under mail pants and armored boots. A padded shirt, falling almost to his groin, was covered with a shirt of mail. Wealthier or higher-ranking knights wore plate knees, elbows, and necks, like the ones that shone on my father's guard captain. The armored gloves, padded coif for the head, mail hood that went over the coif, and steel helmet over that, were only for combat or tourney or training, so he wasn't wearing them. But the surcoat over his mail showed his arms, three gold badger heads on a blue field; a heavy baldric hung his sword by his side; and the belt around his waist supported dagger and pouch.

"You boys know better than to play with daggers," Sir Juho said, in a mild voice that fooled no one. His grey eyes watched us carefully, and the tendrils on his head showed alertness. Most people have brown hair, lighter or darker; yellow hair like Kristu's was said to be a token of Cundē ancestry, and red hair was supposed to come from the Girē. But Juho's hair was actually black, like the eye-markings of a war hound, or the coat of a high-Tlâńē steed.

"Don't you have guard tonight?" Sir Juho asked Mrada.

"Yes, sir," Mrada said.

"Better get ready, then," Sir Juho said, and stepped aside so my brother could go.

Mrada might one day be the Duke of T́ebai, but right now he was only a squire, and Sir Juho was a knight and an officer of the Duke. Mrada flung a glare at me full of dark promise, then threw himself out the door and down the stairs with no courtesy to Sir Juho.

"I thought I taught you better than this, squire," Sir Juho said, looking around the round chamber with one door and one window. "Only one way in or out — what would you've done if I hadn't come along?"

"Whatever I had to, sir," I said, "and thank you for the rescue."

He waved my thanks aside. "The point is not to have to," he said. "That's strategy. Doing what you must, after you've been cornered, is merely tactics."

"Yes, sir," was all I could say to that. He was right.

"Come along, then," my knight said. "His Grace wants to see you."

I hadn't realized how late it had gotten until we started down the stairs of the tower. It was very dark after the Vol-light shining in the west-facing window. Orange Trânis had set already, Vol the sun was on the horizon. High above, the red daystar Ťir was at the meridian, and yellow Lua had just risen in the east. The true stars, the ones that came out only at night, were still invisible to Tlâńē eyes.

Dearer to me than any star was Kristu's shining hair as she stood waiting to see whether I came safely out of the tower. I smiled at her as I followed Sir Juho towards the stadium. I even smiled at Kraho, standing ugly and sullen beside her.

Past the stadium, along the inner shore of the lake, then we turned left past the rosette of buildings called Old City Center. The open area inside the inner gate, mysteriously named the "Airport" but usually just called the Gate Court, was edged by six great towers. The biggest one, in floor area and height both, my father the Duke used for his court, his keep, and his personal apartments.

"Well," said Sir Juho, outside my father's door, "I'll see you tomorrow, then?"

"Unless the ordeal takes more than one day," I said, "or unless I fail it."

"Good luck," he said, and held out his hand.

I took his hand with both of mine, and shook it firmly. For four years I had served him, and had been trained by him; brought his meals, kept his armor in repair, ran his errands, did his bidding, took his blows — and made my own armor, learned to wear it day and night, hot and cold, well or sick; learned to ride, to guard myself with a shield, to fight with sword and mace and flail. Learned heraldry, too, and the manners expected of a knight; how to respect others, of whatever degree, and be respectable. Moved by the knowledge that everything was about to change for me, whatever the outcome of my ordeal, I let go his hands and embraced him about the shoulders.

"Thank you," I said, meaning not just for the wish of good luck, but for everything.

He hugged back for a moment, then stepped back. "You're welcome," he said, smiling. "Do me proud." Then he turned, and walked away down the corridor. I watched him go, then turned again, took a deep breath, and knocked on my father's door.

"Come in," he called, and I obeyed.

My father was then 36 years old, but might as well have been High Tlâń, or Êstâz himself, for all he showed it. The brown hair, falling to his shoulders as was no longer fashionable, the thick brown eyebrows, the full brown mustache, showed no hint of grey. His brown eyes were keen, his hands steady, and his body fit and strong, as he proved daily in practice. He honored me by rising from his x-frame chair, with the carved orkē heads at the ends of the arms, as I came in and closed the door behind me.

Black was my father's tunic, with the gold owl of the Dukes of T́ebai on its chest, and gold bands at neck, sleeves, and hem. His shirt was grey, with black bands, and his robe today was white. His boots, belt, and pouch were black leather, and the scabbard of his belt knife. His sword, with its baldric and scabbard, leaned against the desk piled with the accounts of the duchy and the city.

"Well," said the Duke, and looked me over, as if he hadn't seen me in a long time. Then, though not normally a demonstrative man, he clasped me to him. I was surprised, but readily returned the embrace.

"Have a seat," he bid me. "There are things I must tell you before this ordeal of yours."

"Things, sir?" I said as I sat in another of the elaborately-constructed chairs. I had no idea what he meant.

"Maybe I should wait until you return," he said, half to himself. He paced back and forth. "The things I have to tell you will be hard blows, and your ordeal, I believe, will be hard enough without them. What do you think?" he asked me abruptly.

I spread my hands, completely lost. "How can I say, Your Grace? Is this about Mrada? Or — is this about Kristu?"

He looked at me hard. "Mrada? Kristu? This is about you, boy — who you are, and where you came from."

That was another matter. I didn't hesitate to say, "Then please, sir, tell me. Whatever it is… The T́ulańē ordeal concerns self, and rebirth. The more I know of myself, the better my chances of success."

"Very well," he said, and sat, facing me. "What do you remember about your mother?"

"Fire," I said, "and a woman's voice screaming and screaming."

"Nothing else?"

"Nothing, unless… Did she have dark hair?"

"She had black hair," he told me, "like a night without stars. Kaθa was the only person I ever knew, besides Juho, with hair that color."

"My mother's name was Kaθa?" I asked. It's one of the most common female names; still, it was more than I'd known before.

He looked at me with something like regret. "Yes, your mother's name was Kaθa. Your father's name was Patar, but we called him Persu."

The blow was too sudden, and I was frozen. But you're my father! I wanted to say, and But Patar is a Cundē name, and But Kaθa and Persu were the names of…

"But…" I said aloud, and could get no further.

"You are not illegitimate," said the man whom I'd always thought was my father. "Nor are you my son, though I have to say, I couldn't be more proud if you were."

"My father's name was Patar?" I said, amazed and angry and pleading for it not to be true.

"Your father was Patar, son of Angar, who was king of the Cundē blood drinkers. He threw away his inheritance, and took the name Persu, to marry your mother."

"My mother…" I said faintly.

"Your mother was Kaθa, Duchess of In-the-Mountain's-Shadow," the Duke confirmed, and I passed out.

I'd never fainted before. I'd been knocked cold once, when I'd totally failed to block a mace blow to the head that would have smashed in my face and sprayed my brains out my ears, without my helmet. The knight who did it was one of the Duchess's favorites, and I suspect he meant to kill me under the guise of training. This was early in my days as a squire, before I realized I needed to treat any armed encounter as actual battle, because of my situation.

But fainting is different, particularly when you don't realize what's happening. I was trying to listen to His Grace's words, but they seemed to get fainter and fainter, and the room seemed to be getting farther and farther away. At the same time my head felt lighter and lighter, and the edges of my vision got a black border, which gradually contracted until… I… was… gone.

"My father was close friends with Duke Maki of In-the-Mountain's-Shadow," the Duke told me, after reviving me. I sat shivering, wrapped in a cape and drinking hot cider he'd given me. "A couple of times a year, all the years of our childhoods, Kaθa's father dragged his household across the realm to stay with us for a while, or we'd go there. Kaθa and I were like sister and brother, and I was named after her father."

"So you're not my father," I said, just to have it confirmed once again. It had been the central truth of my life for as long as I could remember, the core of whom I was.

"I am not," the Duke said patiently. "But I knew him, and he was a fine man, despite his origins. I stood beside him at their wedding; at that point, I think I was the only male friend he had on this side of the Sealed Mountains."

"So what happened?" I said.

He looked at me. "You know what happened," he said.

He was right, in a general sort of way. I knew that Cundē raiders had taken In-the-Mountain's-Shadow by surprise; it was common knowledge, recent history. It was the only time the citadel had ever fallen. Êstâz had led the realm's army to the Duchy, and had taken the castle back; it was built to defend the pass from attackers from outside Elarâń, not inside. But while he'd been victorious, the Duchess and her consort had died. Fire, and a woman screaming and screaming…

"Kaθa and I had planned to foster each other's sons," the Duke went on. "You'd have come here to be my squire, and Mrada would've gone to In-the-Mountain's-Shadow to be hers, or maybe Persu's. You'd have been friends all your lives, the way you used to be."

"Fear changed that!" I cried, "The fear that I would take Mrada's place. Why did you let him fear that? Why did you let me think I was your bastard? Why did you let your own lady wife think you'd betrayed her?"

"Because your mother died," the Duke said. "Because your father died. Because I don't like the looks of the present Duke and his kin, and I don't trust them an inch."

"Yes, it's been hard," he went on, "letting everyone think I was the kind of man who'd get a bastard on some passing woman. Hard to watch you struggle under that undeserved weight, hard to watch it twist my wife and my son."

"Duty is hard, but a man does it anyway," he said. "Had I revealed your parentage, I believe you'd have joined your parents soon after. Instead I gave the loyal servant a homestead, who brought you out of your mother's castle alive; and bid her keep you another year, so that when I brought you home, none would connect you to their deaths."

I sat and marvelled at his cunning. "Who else knows?" I asked him.

"Weren't you listening, boy?" he said impatiently. "No one knows, except me and you. The servant woman is dead now, from her injuries in the attack and occupation of In-the-Mountain's-Shadow. Only she and I knew; and now only you and I know."

"Not even Êstâz?" I said.

"Not even him," the Duke said. "I trust him, but I don't know everyone around him. I haven't even told my own wife — do you think I'd tell anyone else?"

"So you're not my father," I said slowly, "and Mrada and Kraho are not my brothers." I looked him full in the face. "And Kristu is not my sister!"

"Indeed she isn't," he said. "Is that important to you?"

"Important to me! Foster father—" I broke off. "May I call you that?"

"In private," he said gravely, "if you're certain you won't slip in public. Otherwise, best not."

"Foster father," I said, "I have seen Kristu grow from a child to a young woman, and I've always been most tender towards her. For a long time I believed I had for her only the love of a brother for his sister. Then one day I saw her hair gleaming in the light, and heard her caressing a courtyard sparrow with her voice, and realized it was a different kind of love. Still believing myself her brother, I've kept my distance, and kept my attentions those proper to a brother — but it's been hard!"

I looked at him. "If I'm not her brother," I began.

His Grace interrupted me. "She still thinks you are," he said. "Everyone thinks you are. So long as they do, you must behave as if it were true."

"But—!"

"Hear me," he said. "This is your course. First, pass the ordeal you've set yourself. After you've survived that honorably, decide whether you'll seek your mother's crown, or the life of a plain knight, either in my household or another. Once you've made those decisions, and have made a place for yourself, then you may speak to my daughter, and to me about my daughter."

I bowed my head to hide the resentment I felt at his words. I knew it was wisdom he was commanding, but I was flooded with such a wild mix of emotions I didn't know which to express. Almost at random I said, "Tell me about my parents."

"Gladly will I do so," he said, "if we have the opportunity. But the true sun has set, Hâi is rising, and you must go now."

It was true. Night had fallen. The highest peak of Kalama, shining in the last rays escaped from the sun, was calling me to my ordeal.

To be continued

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