War Maid’s Choice – Snippet 35

Bahzell’s ears flattened and his eyes darkened. Not even a champion of Tomanāk could recall someone who’d already crossed the wall between life and death, and seven of Tellian’s armsmen had made that journey before he or Vaijon could summon them back. Walsharno had helped with that effort as much as he could, but one thing he and Bahzell had learned over the years since he’d become the very first courser champion of Tomanāk was that there were differences in their healing abilities.

Bahzell wasn’t entirely certain why that was so, but they’d discovered that Walsharno’s ability to heal coursers or horses was far stronger than Bahzell’s…and that Bahzell’s ability to heal the Races of Man was greater than Walsharno’s. They’d discussed the difference often, and they’d come to the conclusion that the difference lay in who — and what — they were. The degree to which any champion of Tomanāk could succeed in a healing depended in large part upon how completely and deeply he could visualize his patient’s restoration…and how deeply into that patient’s soul and innermost being he could reach. Coursers and the Races of Man were simply different from one another in some deep and fundamental ways, and that affected how deeply and intimately they could fuse with those they sought to heal, become the essential bridge between the hurt and dying and Tomanāk.

Whatever the reason, Walsharno was plainly better than Bahzell at healing coursers or their smaller equine cousins while Bahzell was better at healing fellow hradani and humans. That was why Bahzell had concentrated on saving Tellian and entrusted Dathgar to Walsharno. It was also why Walsharno had lent his strength to Bahzell and Vaijon, putting all his driving will behind them as they’d plucked as many of the wounded back from death as they could. They’d done all any man could do, and without Walsharno’s aid they would have lost still more of them. Bahzell and his wind brother both knew that, and so did Vaijon, yet the hradani also knew it would be a long time before any of them fully forgave themselves for having lost so many.

< Don’t be silly, > a deep, rumbling voice said in the back of his brain. < You did well — all of you. But there are limits to what even my Swords can accomplish. >

And I’d’ve done still better if I’d spent less time making bad jokes and more seeing what it was the lot of us were riding into, Bahzell thought grimly.

< Or if I’d taken you by the hand and warned you about it. Or if Tellian had been wearing armor the way he ought to have been. Or if it had been raining, instead of sunny, and their bow strings had stretched in the wet. Or if an earthquake had swallowed them up or they’d been nibbled to death by tree frogs. > The voice of Tomanāk Orfro took on a decidedly testy edge, and Bahzell had a mental image of his deity standing there with his hands on his hips and a stern light in his eyes. < Oh, and while we’re on the subject of “if,” if Walsharno had been able to maneuver under those trees and if the both of you had had wings. Have I left anything out? Or do the two of you have something else to feel guilty about? >

Bahzell started to reply, then stopped himself.

< Better, > Tomanāk snorted in the spaces of his mind, and the god’s voice turned a bit gentler, though its edge didn’t disappear entirely. < Done is done, my Sword. All I’ve ever asked of you is that you do your best — which you always have — and not even I can undo the past. You know why that is, and I think you might bear that in mind when you consider your own actions and their consequences. I have nothing against remorse when it’s merited, Bahzell, but there’s something a little childish about blaming yourself for being merely mortal, and that’s what you’re doing when you go borrowing guilt for things not even a god can change. >

Bahzell felt a twinge of resentment at being called “childish,” but it disappeared as quickly as it had come. After all, Tomanāk was the God of Truth. Which was undoubtedly the very reason the word had stung.

I’ll try to be bearing that in mind, he thought a bit tartly. In the meantime, though, would it be as how you’ve any more to be telling us?

< No, > Tomanāk replied. < Too many threads are flowing together here, with far too many possible outcomes. Even if I were tempted to give you more detail, it would be too likely to simply confuse the issue for you — possibly even make you hesitate at a critical moment. I can tell you this, though: you were right about Tellian’s cough. I know you never found who was poisoning him, Bahzell, but that’s because you couldn’t look in the right place. >

Bahzell frowned for a moment. Then his eyes widened, and he sensed Tomanāk’s nod.

< That was the first sign that the Dark Gods have decided to take an active hand again, > he confirmed. < And if the truth be known, Carnadosa’s a much shrewder adversary than Sharnā or Krahana, and far closer to sane than ShÄ«gÅ«’s ever been. Nor is she so arrogant as to confront us without careful planning and all the support she can muster. Watch yourselves, Bahzell, Walsharno. You can’t begin to reckon how dearly Phrobus and all his children would love to see the two of you dead. >

< Could you tell us why they’ve waited this long to try again? > Walsharno asked.

< I can’t tell you all the reasons, > Tomanāk replied after a moment. < I will tell you, though, that between the two of you, Kaeritha, and Vaijon, you’ve done more damage to the Dark Gods’ access to this universe than you can imagine. > Walsharno and Bahzell sensed his fierce satisfaction, his pride in them. < I suspect none of them would be willing to admit it, especially not to themselves, but they’re actually afraid of you. That’s one of the reasons they’ve waited, and if they had a choice, they wouldn’t cross swords with you — or me — again even now. But they don’t have a choice. Those threads I mentioned aren’t just flowing together any longer; they’re becoming a cascade, gathering power like snowmelt in the East Walls, the sort of flood that washes away mountains, and it could turn in any of dozens of directions. Be warned, My Swords — there are few limits to what they will do to control that direction if they can. >

And here they’ve been so shy and hesitant about all they’ve been doing so far, Bahzell thought in a wondering tone, and Tomanāk chuckled.

< Fair enough, Bahzell, > he conceded. < Fair enough. But rejoice in what you’ve accomplished so far, the two of you, and rest here until Dathgar and Tellian and Tarith and the others are ready to travel once more. It will take more than a day or two for most of those who wish you ill to discover just how badly yesterday’s ambush failed. >

Bahzell looked at Walsharno as he felt a huge, immaterial hand rest on his shoulder for just an instant. Then it was gone, and as he drew a deep breath he realized the entire conversation had taken place between one heartbeat and the next, without Hathan or Gayrhalan sensing a thing about it.

“Aye, Hathan,” he said, resuming the conversation the other wind rider had no idea had ever been interrupted, “it’s lucky we were to lose so few. And speaking of luck,” he straightened, smiling wickedly, “what say the lot of us go have a word or three with those lads as were giving oath to Tomanāk yesterday? I’ve the oddest feeling as how it might just be they’ll find it in their hearts to be telling us what it is we’d like to know.”