The Khaldharon Run
copyright © 1999 Anne Bishop. All rights reserved.
Author’s Note: This is a deleted scene from Heir to the Shadows. It takes place after Lucivar is brought to Kaeleer and Jaenelle heals him.
“AAAAAAAH! Down— Put— Stop that! Lucivar, put me down!”
“Can’t. You’re dizzy. If I put you down, you’ll fall on your face and hurt your little snout.”
“I wouldn’t be dizzy if you’d stop spinning us around!”
“PUT ME DOWN OR I’LL DO YOU AN INJURY!”
Lucivar stopped spinning and propped Jaenelle up when her feet finally touched the ground. That she needed to hold on to him to keep her balance did everything for his mood and nothing at all for hers.
“You’re a grumpy little cat,” he said, grinning at her.
She bared her teeth. “Sit down. I want to look at your back.”
Lucivar spread his wings and lifted his arms to the sky. “My back’s fine. My back’s wonderful. We did it, Cat. We did it!”
“Not yet we haven’t,” she muttered. “Now sit down.”
“I don’t want to sit. I want to soar. We should—”
Three wolves froze in mid sniff and sat down.
After estimating how much physical damage she might be willing to do to him if he ignored That Look, Lucivar meekly sat on a flat rock and spread his wings for her inspection.
“I feel good,” he offered over his shoulder.
“I could fix that,” she muttered at his spine.
After a few minutes of silent prodding, he felt like doing a bit of prodding of his own.
“The healing’s coming along nicely. Two-and-a-half more weeks should do it.”
Lucivar turned to look at her. She moved with him, continuing to examine his back and wings. “Two-and-a-half weeks for what? You said the healing would be done when I made the Run, and I just made the Blood Run—and I made it as well as I ever did. Even better.”
He felt her eyes rise until she focused on the back of his head. A shiver ran down his spine. The back of his neck prickled in warning.
When she came around to face him, the butterfly caress of her fingers along his wing terrified and excited him.
He looked at her subtly altered face. His mouth went dry, and, for a moment, he could have sworn there had been a tiny spiral horn in the center of her forehead.
“You made the Blood Run,” Witch said, annoyed amusement filling her ancient sapphire eyes. “If you were anyone else, I’d say you had done very well and the healing was complete. But you’re not anyone else. You’re Lucivar Yaslana, an Ebon-gray Eyrien Warlord Prince, and I know what you’re capable of doing. So the healing will be complete in two-and-a-half weeks.”
“What happens then?” he asked warily.
Witch smiled. “We make the Khaldharon Run.”
With his eyes unfocused, he could almost see the darker Winds’ colors as they braided, fanned out, twisted down the Khaldharon Run.
Lucivar blinked, focused his eyes, and studied the physical canyon below him. The river ran slow and deep through the center. Dwarfed trees hugged the banks. Late-summer and early-autumn wildflowers provided splashes of color, a vibrant counterpoint to the dried grass that, in the late-morning light, looked like stone breathing.
Nothing grew twenty feet above the river. Scoured clean by the forces that claimed the canyon, stone walls rose to meet the sky.
In Terreille, it took an Eyrien warrior decades to prepare for this. It took a few short minutes for a man to live or die, or be crippled, or maimed beyond recognition. Out of all of the hunting camps, a double handful of the best warriors came each year to test their strength against the Khaldharon Run.
Jaenelle had warned him that the Khaldharon was stronger in Kaeleer because the Shadow Realm lived closer to the Darkness and the source of the Winds. The Winds were stronger, faster here than in Terreille. He wondered if she understood what that meant. He wondered if the fools in Terreille understood that there were shades of power, and power that blazed in Terreille might become a feeble glow in Kaeleer.
Lucivar smiled. He had a feeling he and the males in the Shadow Realm would have quite a few things in common.
Lucivar glanced at Jaenelle as she fussed with the strange cape attached to the rest of what she was wearing—or not wearing. He rubbed the back of his neck. Were older brothers allowed to express opinions about their kid sisters’ clothes? True, the black spidersilk bodysuit covered her from wrist to neck and from neck to ankles, but even her skin didn’t hug her bones that tight. She must have used Craft to get into the thing. And those black, leather slipper-socks were useless for walking over rough ground. The only thing he approved of was the silver half-circle she wore across her brow. A small Black Jewel rested in the middle of the filigree, a splendid blend of delicacy and power.
“Ready?” Jaenelle asked again. She raised her arms.
Lucivar choked on his heart.
Black iridescent wings were raised toward the sun. Black that held all the colors of the Jewels. Why was she wearing black wings?
He looked at the Khaldharon Run and broke into a cold sweat. “If you’re going to glide to the meeting place, you’d better get started.”
She smiled at him. Cats probably smiled at mice that way. “You’re not going to say anything stupid, are you, Lucivar?”
Lucivar swallowed hard and hoped he looked calmly arrogant. “No. And you’re not going to do anything stupid. The Khaldharon isn’t a game, Cat. I can’t watch out for you in there.”
The temperature around them dropped ten degrees.
“I can take care of myself,” she said too softly. Then her voice rose. “I can fly as well as you can, and I don’t need another arrogant Eyrien male telling me what I can or can’t do.”
“It has nothing to do with being arrogant or Eyrien or male,” he snapped. What did she mean by “another”? “Hell’s fire, Cat, just because someone can fly doesn’t mean she—or he—can make the Khaldharon.” He held out his hand. She didn’t take it. “Look, if you want to try a Run, I’ll work with you—”
“Don’t patronize me,” she snarled.
Being reasonable was getting him nowhere so he tried undiluted arrogance. “I forbid you to make the Khaldharon Run.”
She dove into the canyon.
Free fall. Hawk fall. He reveled in the speed and the anticipated pleasure he’d have when his prey was safely wrapped in his arms and he could wallop her ass until his hand hurt.
Damn! He was larger, heavier. He should have caught her by now. They were too close to the starting edge. If she turned in and caught one of the Winds, he’d have to catch her and pull them under the Run. At these speeds, twenty feet wasn’t much to work with. Damn her stubbornness. Damn, damn, damn.
She opened the black spidersilk wings, caught the Sapphire thread, and took off down the Khaldharon Run.
Lucivar opened his wings, sharpened his angle, and caught the Red, trying to outrun her.
She danced on the Winds to a song of her own making, dropping from one Wind and catching another, never more than four body lengths ahead of him and never within reach. He followed her, the Khaldharon forgotten as he focused on the dance, learning her physical language, waiting for the opening to overtake her.
The Gray thread ran straight above her for several hundred yards. He caught the Gray and shot forward.
She dropped to the Green and fell back, laughing as she shouted at him, “Your turn.”
Suddenly he was leading the dance, probing ahead to untangle the Winds and choose the threads that would keep them relatively safe in the center of the canyon. He couldn’t look back, couldn’t divide his concentration. It didn’t matter. He felt her behind him, her wild joy a lifeline between them.
He surrendered to that joy, surrendered to the Khaldharon, and felt subtle, invisible chains snapping all around him, torn apart by fierce pleasure. Any leash he submitted to now would be of his own choosing.
Lucivar bared his teeth in a smile. Almost to the Sleeping Dragons. Almost to the end of the...
She flashed under him, running on the edge of the Ebon-gray, physically so close her hair swept over his belly and chest as she passed him. She waited until the last second before breaking free of the Winds and rising up and over the Sleeping Dragons.
Seconds later, he shot over the Sleeping Dragons. That last bit of precision flying gave him one more reason to wallop her. He partially closed his wings for a controlled dive and caught her as she glided serenely toward the grass where Smoke, the younger wolves, and a full picnic basket waited to celebrate the successful completion of the Run.
Jarring both of them with a rough landing, he spun her around, grabbed her upper arms, and lifted her until she could look him straight in the eyes and see how furious she had made him.
Unimpressed, she smashed her forearms against his, trying to break his hold. “Lucivar! What in the name of Hell is wrong with you?”
“Wrong with me?” He couldn’t think of any response to that except to shake her, so he did. “Wrong with me? You dive into the canyon, take off down the Khaldharon like it’s nothing more than a dance in a meadow, and you wonder what’s wrong with me?”
Jaenelle glared at him. “You said you weren’t a hysterical male.”
“I’m not hysterical,” he shouted, giving her another shake for good measure. “I’m terrified. You could’ve been killed!”
“So could you.” Her voice warned him that was still a possibility.
He bared his teeth. “At least I knew what I was getting into.”
“Don’t be such a conceited ass,” she snapped. “You’re not the only one who’s made the Khaldharon Run before.”
He dragged her close enough for their noses to touch. “You’ve made the Run before?” He was so furious he actually sounded reasonable.
“Of course. Lots of times.”
He roared. He swore. He shook her.
She hauled back and kicked him in the shin. Hard.
Howling, he dropped her and clutched his throbbing leg. As he hopped around on the other leg, he dredged up the nastiest things he’d ever heard in the Eyrien hunting camps and flung them all at her. When she snapped back at him, he yelled, “If you’re going to swear at me, at least do it in a language I understand.”
It wasn’t the smartest suggestion he’d ever made.
She had stamina and imagination. He had volume.
“YOU COULD HAVE TOLD ME!” he roared, even more furious because roaring was less effective when a man was still hopping on one leg. “How was I supposed to know you could fly like that?”
“You knew I could fly!”
Lucivar tested the kicked leg. Sore, but it would hold him. “I knew you could fly, but I figured if you had learned from the same idiot who had taught you to fight with the sticks, I was going to have to break you of a lot of bad habits before teaching you how to do it right.”
She hissed. She spat. She puffed.
She looked cute when she was dangerous.
“And what’s wrong with the way I use the sticks?”
He watched her eyes, his nerves tingling. “Nothing at all if you were an Eyrien boy. Since you’re not, quite a bit.”
He ducked, felt the sizzle of unleashed power as it passed over his left shoulder, heard a solid thump behind him.
The large boulder held its shape for ten, dry-mouthed heartbeats before it crumbled into little pebbles.
He straightened up and gave her a small but respectful bow. “I was wrong about the flying, but not about the sticks.” Then he grinned. “If I’d known you could do that kind of precision flying, we could have been working on aerial dances during the past couple of weeks.”
Jaenelle gave him a sour look. “I’ve done a couple of aerial dances. They’re boring flutters for weak-winged women.”
“With your skill, I can see why you would be bored with the simplest ones, but the real aerial dances are a combination of grace and precision that require fire and courage. Of course, there haven’t been witches who could do those dances since Andulvar Yaslana’s time, so your instructor probably didn’t even think about showing you.”
Now what had he said that could put that much hurt in her eyes?
He approached her cautiously. When she didn’t snarl at him, he drew her into a gentle hug. “The man who taught you,” he said quietly. “He knew you before you were”—he forced the word out—“hurt?”
“And he waited with your father for you to get better?” He waited for her confirming nod and sighed. Would he have been any less protective, any less fearful of having her hurt or lost again after coming so close once? Yes, he answered fiercely. The risks would have been calculated, encouraged in areas where her interests and his strengths met. He would have let her take the small hurts so she would learn how to prevent the large ones. Yes? he asked with rueful honesty, remembering that he’d forbidden her to make the Khaldharon Run. All right, he was entitled to a few mistakes in judgment. After all, he’d never been an older brother before.
When she wrapped her arms around his waist, he rested his cheek on her head. “Men who get scared to the marrow can become overprotective and not even be aware of it.”
“We’re not all overprotective.”
“Yes, you are,” she muttered. “You can’t help it, though. It’s part of what you are.”
Lucivar shook his head, thinking of the Eyriens he knew. “Not all Eyrien males are protective of females, let alone overprotective.”
“No, but all Warlord Princes are.” She sounded exasperated. “Doesn’t matter what species you are, either. All Warlord Princes are like that—arrogant, aggressive, dominating, territorial, overprotective, possessive bullies.”
“I am not a bully," he said heatedly. “I won’t argue with the rest of it, but I’m not a bully.”
Jaenelle glared at him. “Who used Craft to freeze my chair in place until I’d eaten all the snap beans?”
“You need to eat your vegetables.”
“You put too many on my plate. And I don’t like snap beans.”
“That makes me a bully?”
Lucivar chuckled. “I wonder why you put up with us then.”
“You have some good qualities,” Jaenelle grumbled. “I can’t remember what they are at the moment, but I’m sure you have some.”
Giving her a final squeeze, Lucivar stepped back. “Next time you plan to do something that will make me hysterical or terrify me, tell me first, all right?”
“Why?” she asked warily. “So you can talk me out of it?”
“I won’t talk you out of it as long as I’m invited to come along.”
She looked stunned. Then she grinned. Then her silvery, velvet-coated laugh filled the air.
The wolves came out of hiding and sent polite but pointed thoughts that all centered on the picnic basket.
“You really think I can improve with the sticks?”
Lucivar gave her his lazy, arrogant smile. “Getting tired of being knocked on your ass?”
“Once we’ve adapted the standard moves into a fighting style that suits you, you’ll be able to hold your own with just about anyone. Not me, of course.” Grinning at her snarled, “of course,” he opened the picnic basket and started handing out food, making sure the wolves got the plain beef sandwiches. Wolves, he’d been told with a growl, didn’t like mustard. He unwrapped a sandwich for himself. “Cheer up, Cat. There isn’t anyone else who can take me either.”
“I’ll try to remember that when I’m sitting in the dirt.” Jaenelle looked at the four males stuffing their faces and lunged for the picnic basket. “Hey! Where’s mine?”
“Help yourself,” Lucivar said magnanimously, careful not to wave his sandwich or his hand too close to her teeth.
Even the wolves agreed that, when hungry, Jaenelle wasn’t a force to be played with.
Sated by food and sun, Lucivar watched Jaenelle amble up from the river. She’d changed into knee-length trousers and a gauzy, tie-string blouse, and had tied her hair back in that loose, careless braid he found maidenly and charming. He wondered if she’d finally worked herself up to telling him whatever had been on her mind since they’d finished eating.
Jaenelle sat beside him, plucking grass. “Lucivar,” she said with quiet care, her eyes fixed on her hand. “I did a little research on the Eyrien traditions about making the Khaldharon Run. I know a man is supposed to receive a reward if he’s successful.”
The food solidified in his stomach. The traditional reward for an Eyrien warrior making the Run was the woman of his choice for a night. The thought of Jaenelle offering herself or offering to obtain another woman to...
Don’t offer it. Please, don’t suggest it.
She swallowed hard. “The traditional reward would have been...a bit difficult, and from some of the things you’ve said, I didn’t think you would consider it much of a reward.” She glanced at him anxiously and chewed her lower lip.
He melted in relief. “No, I wouldn’t have.”
“So I thought, maybe, if you wanted to, we could go to the Fyreborn Islands tomorrow, spend the day there, and return the following morning.” She nervously plucked grass.
Lucivar tucked his wings in and rolled onto his side. “The Fyreborn Islands? Where the dragons live?” When she nodded, he surged to his feet, dragging her up with him. “Come on. If we’re leaving early tomorrow, you need to get some sleep.”
“Sleep? It’s still afternoon! Are you figuring on getting up at three in the morning?”
He narrowed his eyes and gave her a considering look. “You think we can get up that late and still have you fully awake by dawn?”
She hissed. She spat.
Should he pet to soothe or... “You know it always takes you a few hours to wake up fully after you grumble out of bed, and until you’ve had some coffee, you’re really not fit to talk to let alone do anything else.”
Ignoring her detailed threats to various parts of his anatomy, Lucivar vanished the picnic basket, whistled for the wolves, and tossed Jaenelle over his shoulder. “Come on, Cat. Let’s go meet some dragons.”