It’s just a month to go until Recovery is released, so I thought it might be fun to start introducing some of the cast. Here, to get us started, is a familiar face. Those of you who have read Reawakening will remember Esen (if you haven’t read Reawakening, stop now, because this post will include spoilers!). Here she is a few weeks before Recovery starts, arguing with a dragon (as you do).
“If you wish to stay, nothing will prevent you,” the dragon said, voice rumbling like thunder. In the summer sunlight, he shone like a beacon, every golden scale dazzling.
Esen, standing by his front foot, folded her arms and huffed a sigh at him. “So you keep saying. I am not going to change my mind.”
“But if you were to reconsider—”
“If we’re having this argument again, turn human. I’m not going to shout up your nose.”
The dragon let out a smoky sigh and then shimmered into flame. Esen shaded her eyes, blinking away the after glare, and when she could see again, Tarn stood there, looking equally downcast. He said, “Nobody respects me any more.”
Esen laughed, and tucked her hand through his arm, leaning her head briefly against his shoulder. “You don’t want our respect. You want us to love you, which we do.”
He made a low, unhappy sound, “Even when you’re leaving me?”
“Even then. Come on. Even if you make us miss the tide, we’ll just wait for the next ferry, so there’s no point in trying to delay me.” She picked up her pack, slinging it over her shoulders. “Oh, that’s heavy.”
“I will take it.”
She shook her head at him. “I’ll be carrying it for the next few months. I should start getting used to it now.”
“I could fly you straight there. It would allow you more time to—”
She struck out along the trail, trusting him to fall into step. Behind them, the highlands of Northern Tiallat rose to peak after peak, summer brown slopes fading into purple distance. Ahead of them, a narrow track wound across the cliff tops, between spiny bushes covered in scarlet flowers. There had been a road here once—she could still feel dust-smothered cobbles below her feet—but no trade caravans had passed here for many years.
Well, that too might change now, like everything else.
For a moment, she thought of all the terrible changes—of plague, loss, the Shadow slithering into her soul.
But that was not the point. She was alive and her soul was her own again. The sun was shining and the world lay before her. Forcing a smile onto her face, she dashed up the next slope and breathed in the view with a whoop of delight. “The sea, Tarn! The sea!”
“Have you never seen it before?”
“No.” The Ala Sea lay before them, bluer than the sky, pebbled with green islands, stretching out and out and out into the distant silver blur of the horizon. She could see houses on the nearer isles, and the tiny specks of sails. In the distance was only the curving shape of the islands, like coloured ink blots scattered on the cloth of the sea.
And then there was simply the blank promise of the horizon, calling her on.
“You’ve never seen this one either.”
“True.” He came to stand beside her, shading his eyes, and she glanced up at him. His expression had gone sad and distant again, and she wondered what he was remembering, what lost world he was trying to find in the echoes of here and now. How strange it must be, never to see a place for itself, but always for all it once was and yet might be.
She loved her god, and his dragon, but she would never want to be them. Some mortals could outlive death, survive against the odds so often that time ceased to touch them. She pitied them. This was the moment to be alive, to live to the fullest without regrets.
“Gard will miss you.”
And, of course, some immortals just couldn’t let a subject go. “Alagard thinks it’s a good idea.”
He couldn’t really quibble with that, so she grinned at him and started down the path again.
He was still eyeing her gloomily, so she reminded him, “It’s only a small adventure and I’ll have company all the way.” They were meeting Raif at the ferry and she would travel with him through the islands to Aliann, where they would join Cayl and Sethan for the trip upriver to the Dragon’s Gates. There, she would join a Myrtiline chapterhouse to study all the skills she needed to go on real adventures later.
Of course, Alagard and Tarn seemed to think she’d be coming straight home after her novitiate was over. For such ancient beings, they could be very foolish.
“But what will he do with no priestess?”
“He has other priests.”
“None he loves so dearly.”
“Alas, my poor lonely god, abandoned and forlorn. If only he had a consort who adored him to comfort him in his hour of need, but no! He must languish, heartbroken and bereft, all for the lack of a single priestess.” Then, as the familiarity of that struck her, she added, “Sand save me, I’ve already been in Tiallat too long. Hurry, hurry, get me to the ferry, or I’ll start composing depressing hymns and making eyes at Halsarr.”
“Esen! Be kind.”
She grinned at him. “Ah, your brother’s not here to hear me make fun of his consort.”
Tarn gave her a stern look. “You’ll upset poor Raif. He takes his beliefs seriously.”
Esen, who had known Raif since they were children, rather thought he needed a bit more fun in his life. “Raif knows better than to take offense at me.”
“Hmm.” There was an odd expression on his face, one which made her squint at him until she identified it.
Tarn was biting back laughter.
“What are you plotting?” she demanded.
“Be kind to Raif, Esenni. He has a long road before him if he is to find Arden and does not need more than his share of mockery.”
“And?” Thousands of years old and he still couldn’t fake innocence.
“And what’s so funny about that?”
“Why, nothing. It is a great and noble quest.”
Esen snorted. “You’re fooling nobody.”
Tarn sighed, but then his grin unfolded across his face. “And Arden has quite a sense of humour.”
“And you’re scolding me for being cruel to Raif.” Oh, if only she could see this play out. “Maybe I shouldn’t stop at the Gates. Maybe I should go all the way to—”
Tarn stopped dead, turning reproachful eyes at her. “Mine, Esen. Arden can’t have you.”
“I wasn’t—” She took a deep breath, counted to ten, in Selar, Latai, and Sharan, and then added, “I am of your hoard, keeper. That will not change, no matter where I lay my head to rest.”
Tarn’s shoulders relaxed a little. “And you will take no risks?”
Dragons! “No unnecessary risks.”
The trick to ignoring a dragon’s worry was to look him in the eye. If she turned her head, she forgot he was just Tarn right now and had to deal with the unnerving sensation that a small sun was bending its will against hers. Tarn, with his sad eyes and soldier’s stance, was easy in comparison. “I cannot live out my days buried in the sand to stay safe. I have to breathe.”
And that was as close to the truth as she would go. She could not cut any deeper—could not tell him that he and Alagard were smothering her more than protecting her, that her love for them and their desert was slowly dragging her down into quicksand, that she needed to tell her own story, prove to the world that she was more than a weapon for the Shadow to use against the great powers that loved and protected her.
Tarn met her gaze, and she stiffened her shoulders, refusing to shiver. Sometimes, even when he wore his human shape, she could see fire and eternity in his eyes. Then, very slowly, he nodded. “If it brings you happiness.”
“It does,” she said.
“Then let us go. We’re still well above the harbour, and you were right. The tide is on the turn.”
They would probably have this argument at least once more before they made it into town, but for now Esen was content to let it go. Striding out again, she lifted her face into the wind and smiled. She had a dragon at her back and the whole wide world lay before her. Anything was possible.