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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

When they reached the City a fortnight later, the City gates were open again, for what the people's kelar had told them was confirmed by messengers that Corlath sent; and on the laprun field there were thousands of the Hillfolk waiting to cheer their king and his bride, for the messengers had taken it upon themselves to tell more than Corlath had charged them with. All those who had come to the City for safety had stayed, and most of those who had elected to stay in their own land in spite of the Northerners now exultantly left those lands to hasten to the City and see their king's marriage; for somehow the news flew over the mountains and across the desert in all directions, and all of Damar knew of Harimad-sol, and that she would be queen; even into the fastnesses of the filanon, and a hundred of Kentarre's folk traveled to the City in the company of the people of Nandam's villageincluding Rilly, who was beside herself with excitement, and her mother, who was beside herself with Rillyto attend the wedding. The City was decked with flowers, and long trailing cloaks of flowers had been woven which were thrown around Corlath's shoulders and Harry's, and over Tsornin's withers and Mabel's, and the ceremony was performed in the glassy white courtyard before Corlath's palace. People were hanging from windows and balconies, and clinging to the stark mountainside where there was not purchase for a bird's claws, and lining the walls, and crowded into the courtyard itself till there was barely space for the king and queen to walk from the palace door to the courtyard gate, where they waved and smiled and threw kaftpa, the traditional small cakes that were good luck for anyone who could catch one and eat it. And they threw armfuls and armfuls of them, that anyone who wanted one might have one, and everyone wanted one. Then they retreated again. Their wedding night they spent in the little room with the waterfall, in the blue mosaic palace. Before they slept Corlath began the long task of telling Harry all the tales of Aerin, as he had once promised he would. The telling stretched over many of their evenings together, for Harry never wavered in her desire to hear them alland when she had heard them all, her patient husband was required to teach them to her; and when she had learned all he had to teach, she made up a few of her own, and taught them to him.

Gonturan was hung on the wall of the Great Hall, where Harry, like all Riders before her, had cut her hand on the king's sword and been made another of the company. The king's sword hung opposite, for only the king's and queen's own swords could hang on display in the Great Hall. Gonturan had spent many years wrapped in cloths in an old wooden chest, black with age, since the last time she hung in the Great Hall. And after the wedding feasts everyone went home, because there would be no traveling in the winter rains.

The filanon stayed in the City till the rains were gone, partly to pay the respect due to the City and the king they had turned away from many years before; and partly for reasons that became obviousalthough everyone already knew what was happeningwhen in the spring Richard Crewe married Kentarre, and returned with her and the filanon to the western end of Damar, although he carefully avoided the Outlander station. Thus the filanon became once again well known to the king and his City, for the Damarian queen often visited her brother, and he her. Richard was never entirely happy riding as the Hillfolk rode, but he had a talent for woodcraft and archery that might almost have been a Gift.

He taught his sister to hold a bow properly and to put an arrow more or less where she wanted it to go, but Harry failed to rise above the merely competent.

"Do you talk to your arrows, and tell them to find the stag that has to be in that brush up ahead somewhere and stick him?"

"Did you tell Gonturan to knock down the mountains on Thurra's ugly head?"

This conversation took place almost a year after Gonturan had been hung on the wall of the palace, and Harry could laugh.

Kentarre's first child was a daughter with blond hair and grey eyes, and she was born before the rains came again. Harry's first child was born a fortnight later"Ah, bah," Harry said, with her hand on her belly, when the messenger came from the west with the word, and the winter's first rains fell over them, and dulled the stone of the City; "I did want to be first." The child was a son, with black hair and brown eyes.

Jack grew as skilled on horseback as any Hillman, for all that he had come to it so late; and Mathin took him to his home village, where he learned how the Hills trained their young horses. He was good at this too, and Mathin's family liked him, but always he found himself returning to the stone City, where Corlath seemed more content to stay since Harry now stayed with him. And the year that young Tor Mathin was two years old, Jack was called to a banquet in the Great Hall, where he had attended many banquets before, and to his own amazement he was made a queen's Rider, to sit with the fifteen king's Riders, for Corlath had made no more since the war with the North. Gonturan, which Jack had held once before on a mountaintop, lightly and kindly drank three drops of his blood, while he stared at the cut and for once had nothing to say.

"We Outlanders must stick together," said Harry, smiling.

Jack looked up at once and shook his head. "Nowe who love the Hills must stick together."

The year after Jack was made a Rider, Harry bore another child, and this one was a daughter, and she had red hair and blue eyes, and a wry whimsical smile even in her cradle. "You're calling her Aerin, of course," said Jack, tickling her with the end of his sash while she giggled and clutched at it.

"I'm calling her Aerin Amelia, and Forloy and Innath and Mathin and I are riding west as soon as she's six months old, to invite Sir Charles and Lady Amelia to the Naming, here in the City. Will you come with us?" Harry was holding her baby, and as Jack, startled, stopped looking at her and instead looked up at her mother, Aerin grabbed the sash and stuffed as much of it as would fit into her mouth.

"Yes, of course I'll come. Don't I have to, anyway? As the only queen's Rider, I have a reputation to maintain." Harry's anxious look relaxed into a smile.

And so six months later five Riders set their faces west from the City; and as they were about to leave the City gates, Harry, who was lagging behind as if unhappy about something, heard hoof-beats behind her and turned around to see Fireheart bearing down on her. There were traveling-bundles hanging from his saddle, and Harry's face lit up and she said: "Oh, you are coming with us after all."

And Corlath sighed, and reached over Sungold's withers to take her hand and said, "Yes, I'm coming. I don't want to, you understand. Perhaps you should just think that I cannot bear to be parted from you for so many days; which is true enough."

"I don't care," said Harry.

Corlath looked at her and smiled in spite of himself. "Perhaps you are right, my heart. I am inclined to forget that there is still some Outlander blood in your veins; and perhaps this mad scheme of yours will work."

The six of them stopped and set up camp where a much bigger traveling camp had stopped several years before, to wait upon another visit to the Outlander town. Forloy and Innath rode in alone, early in the morning, with a written message for the District Commissioner and his wife; none of them knew what to expect, but least of all did the four who remained behind expect to see a cloud of dust hurrying back toward them a bare few hours later. "Hill horses never kick up so much dust," Jack said thoughtfully. Harry stood up and took a few steps in the dustcloud's direction; she could see two figures on horseback within it, and behind them the grey and brown that were Innath's and Forloy's horses.

Lady Amelia reached Harry first; Harry's hood was back, her hair shining in the sunlight, but in her Hill dress and with her skin burned to the color of malak, she was astonished when little Lady Amelia climbed or fell off her horse just in front of her, said, "Harry, my dear, why did you never send us any word?" burst into tears, and threw her arms around her former houseguest and foster child.

"I" she said.

"Never mind," said Lady Amelia; "I'm so glad to see you again. I'm glad you didn't quite forget us. You don't have to name the baby after me, you know" her voice was muffled, because it was buried in Harry's shoulder"but if you meant the invitation, I shall certainly come. And Charles too."

Harry looked up, and Sir Charles was ponderously dismounting. Lady Amelia let her go, and Sir Charles said nothing as he embraced her in his turn; and his silence she thought was a bad omen till she looked into his face and saw the tears in his eyes. He snuffled through his mustache once or twice, and then his eyes opened wider as they looked over Harry's shoulder, and she heard Jack's voice saying: "Good to see you again, old friend."

The meeting between Sir Charles and Corlath was a trifle constrained. Sir Charles, forgetting himself in an attempt to get off on the right foot this time around, put out his hand; and Corlath looked at it, and looked at Sir Charles, and Harry gritted her teeth; and then Corlath seemed to remember a description, from her perhaps, or from Jack, of this curious Outlander ritual; and he put out his hand, tentatively, and Sir Charles shook it heartily. After that things went more or less smoothly; and Sir Charles spoke the Hill tongue, not nearly so badly as Corlath had privately been expectinghe's been practicing, the Hill-king thought in surprise, and felt almost warm toward himand Corlath spoke Homelander, and Sir Charles tactfully refrained from remarking on how fluently he knew it.

Sir Charles wanted to insist that they all return to the Residency while he and Lady Amelia packed up for their journey, and Jack could see how he was trying to restrain himself, so he spoke to Harry and Harry spoke to Corlath. And Corlath eyed his wife and thought dark thoughts; but eight riders rode back toward Istan together.

And so diplomatic relations between Outlander and Damarian began, for the first time since the Outlanders had come over the sea and seized as much as they could. Jack discovered that Sir Charles had taken his letter, written while Harry and Senay and Terim and Narknon lay asleep in his bedroom, very seriously indeed; and had, in fact, put his own career in jeopardy by insisting that the colonel of the General Mundy had not gone desert-mad at last, but had answered a real threat to Outlander security in the only way he could. It was because of Sir Charles' efforts that Jack himself and the men who had gone with him were honorably listed in the military rolls as missing in action at the Border and presumed deceased. Sir Charles had further had one of the unhuman corpses found near the fortfor two more were discovered after Jack disappearedbundled up and sent off to be analyzed by Homelander physicians in the south of Daria, where the biggest Homelander cities were, and the best medical facilities. The physicians had nervously announced they didn't know what the thing was they were looking at, but, whatever it was, they didn't like it. Sir Charles also dug out all the reports of irregular and belligerent activity on the Northern border, gathered more, and sent them off to where they might do the most good; and such was his reputation as stolid, conservative, and unflappableand such was his skill at treading a very narrow linethat he was listened to, if reluctantly.

So when he returned from the Naming, leaving Lady Amelia behind for an extended visit with her name-child in the stone City, and began writing dispatches about the time being ripe for the opening of formal diplomacy between the Homeland and Damarfor so he called ithe was permitted to pursue the role he had chosen. It is true that only he and Lady Amelia were ever invited to the City in the Hills; but specially chosen Damarians did begin regularly to visit Istan, and eventually the cities in the south; and to exchange gifts, and speeches of good will, and to receive official administrative notice, even from the Queen and her Council, over the sea in the Homeland.

And Harry and Corlath attended to their administrative duties as earnestly as they had to, but no more; and much of their time they spent wandering alone together through the City, or across the plains before the City; or they rode to Mathin's village, or Innath's; and as often as they could they slipped away north through the Hills to Luthe's valley. They took the children with themAerin was followed by Jack, and Jack by Hari, as the years passedfor Luthe was fond of children.


CHAPTER SIXTEEN | The Blue Sword |