pawed it and tried to lie down.

'Hold her standing while I tie up her tail,' Dent said. 'Keep her calm. You know best.'

Bro did. Five years ago, Dent would have held the mare while Bro did the chores; now Dent wrapped the mare's tail in a tattered length of cloth while Bro stroked her head. In the Yuirwood, the Cha'Tel'Quessir were hunters and, for their own sakes, they quenched the innate rapport they felt with wildlife. It was different on a farm-harder in some ways because, in the end, farmers were hunters, too. But before the end, farmers needed rapport with their animals.

'Good, Bro… good. Let her down now, if she's ready. Keep her calm. That's good, Bro.'

They worked together well enough at times like this, and Dent was careful to praise his wife's son, which wasn't, in truth, something Rizcarn had done very often. And maybe that was the root of Bro's problems: It wasn't easy to be around Dent without feeling disloyal to his father. The only way he could balance the guilt was with rudeness.

Not that guilt or rudeness mattered right then. The mare had foaled before. She tolerated men's hands because they'd always been on her. Straining, resting, then straining again she birthed her foal while Bro whispered gentleness in her ear.

'Got yourself a colt-foal, Bro,' Dent exclaimed when the birth was well underway.

Bro and the mare sighed together, but there'd never been any doubt, not in Bro's mind.

When the mare was standing again, Bro joined his stepfather in the doorway. The mare whuffled her acceptance of this offspring, then, in the grip of nameless instinct, she licked the life into him.

'You're a man of property now, Bro,' Dent said, a bit too casually, as the colt thrust a spindly leg forward, tested its strength and collapsed. 'Time to start thinking of your future. Gudnor's widow-sister has come to keep house for him, now that his wife's gone. She's got two daughters, dowered by their dead father and both unspoken for. Be a good time for you to make yourself useful to Gudnor. I give you leave.'

Bro ignored him; his future most emphatically did not include Gudnor's sisters, regardless of their dowries. The silence grew thick, until Dent cut it again.

'I've never seen that color before, all fog and twilight. Old Erom's stud-horse throws blacks and bays, regular as rain, but in all my days, Bro, I've never seen a twilight horse.'

There was a challenge in Dent's words, for all they were soft-spoken. Unafraid, Bro met his stepfather's eyes. 'I took her-' he admitted, an admission he'd made before and that had resulted in his one beating at Dent's hands. 'I rode her to the Yuirwood and back again. We met no one, man or beast. If Erom's stud-horse didn't sire her foal, I don't know what did.'

The words weren't lies, but they weren't true, either, and Dent was wise enough to ken the subtle differences.

'You're a man now, Bro. No good comes from the lies a man tells or the secrets he keeps from his kin.'

You're not my kin! Those were the words battling for Bro's tongue. In the beginning, when Shali first came to Sulalk to keep house for another man, Bro had thought Adentir was a lack-wit. He knew better now: Dent was a simple man, simple in the way that good, honest men were often simple, simple in a way no son of Rizcarn Golden-Moss could imitate or defeat.

With the sounds of the mare and foal behind him, Bro saw his stepfather as his mother saw him: as different from Rizcarn as night was from day.

Probably, Dent would understand. Probably, Dent would light his pipe and listen to anything Bro might say about his father. For all their disdain, villagers were insatiably curious about the Yuirwood and the Cha'Tel'Quessir. Possibly, with a pinch of effort, Bro could have reconciled himself to his mother's second husband, to Sulalk and farming, to the pure humanity that lay generations deep in his heritage.

But because reconciliation might have been possible, Bro maintained an arrogance that masked, however inadequately, both loneliness and fear. He strode away from the shed, from his stepfather and the twilight colt.

'Will you be back?' Dent called after him. 'What do I tell your mother?'

Bro hunched his shoulders and kept walking. He'd be back; for two more years he'd be back, training his colt. Then he'd be in the Yuirwood where, if he were lucky, he'd never see the naked sky again.

He'd been back just once, when he stole the mare. Driven by a persistent dream in which he'd seen the trees and heard his father's voice, Bro had ridden her to the forest edge, just as he'd confessed. He'd arrived at twilight, beneath a full moon. A deep-wood wind blew from the trees. A sign, he'd thought: an invitation to put farms and human farmers behind him. He pointed the mare into the Yuirwood, felt the dappled moonlight on his skin-or imagined he could. Come morning, though, he was back in the meadow beside a flock of sheep.

The Yuirwood had rejected him.

With no one to watch or care, Bro had crumpled into the dewy grass. He'd wept himself sick: his dream had been mere delusion or, worse, deliberate deception; he could hear his father's laughter in the morning breeze.

Bro had ridden the mare back to Sulalk. Where else could he go if the forest wouldn't have him? He'd admitted his folly and taken his punishment: four strokes for thievery, another three for deceit. He'd tried to hate the man wielding the short whip, but there were tears in Dent's eyes.

Winter had been cold and dreamless but lately, as the birthing season approached, Bro had begun to dream again. He'd seen the mare's foal, a twilight colt of the Yuirwood.

When the birthing shed and Dent's hurt-puzzled face were behind him, Bro settled against one of the great trees that still grew here and there in the farmland, sentries of the vanished Yuirwood. He closed his eyes and opened his thoughts to Relkath Many-Branched, as Rizcarn had taught him to do.

Relkath was Lord of Trees, Godhead of the Yuirwood and buried so deep in time and memory that listening for his voice was like listening for the splash of a single raindrop during a summer storm.

If no one listens, Rizcarn had said, why should Relkath Many-Limbed ever talk to us again? If enough of the Cha'Tel'Quessir listen-truly listen-he'll hear our faith.

Bro remembered his father's words better than he remembered his voice or his face. He could summon Rizcarn's particulars: his deep, mottled, copper-green skin, raven hair, even darker eyes, and flashing, ivory teeth. His laughter, always faintly mocking, even at the last, when Rizcarn had balanced on the tree limb, chiding everyone for clumsiness a moment before he slipped and crashed headfirst onto the hard ground.

Bro could see that image-his father, facedown, limp, lifeless and odd-angled-but try as he might, Bro couldn't fit the living pieces together.

When Shali first brought him to Sulalk, Bro had come to this tree to grieve. He'd grown too old for tears. Today, as it had been for at least two years, he was simply numb and empty, thinking nothing, until there were voices and laughter coming along the path. Bro recognized one of the voices: Varnnet, a farmer's son a few years older than him; the other voice belonged to a stranger, a woman, one of Gudnor's eligible nieces.

Bro made himself small in the tree's shadow. He'd tangled with Varnnet a few times and never come out the victor. It would be worse if Varnnet thought there was a woman at stake. Bro told anyone who asked that the Sulalk women didn't stir him in the least, but that was another lie. His heart leapt to the sound of a woman's laughter, the sway of her skirt as she walked past.

'You're growing up, Ember,' Shali had said when he first confessed his wayward thoughts. 'Soon the girls will notice you and you'll be breaking hearts until you fall in love yourself. I'll lose my son to another woman!'

Her conclusions frightened Bro as few things frightened him: he'd become a stranger in his own body and his mother laughed! It was better now, or he'd grown more accustomed to the way his idle thoughts slewed. Bro drew his knees up to his chin and wrapped his arms around his ankles as the merrymaking voices came closer.

Walk on by, he thought, squeezing his eyes shut, as if his thoughts were wishes. I'm ignoring you, not looking at you at all, there's no reason for you to see me. Why did I come to this tree? It's too close to the path to Gudnor's farm.

As Bro's luck would have it, they stopped on the tree's other side. The woman's light, musical voice was enough to drive Bro mad, especially when he felt the fringes of her skirt brush lightly against his arm. Varnnet, surely, was standing nearby, fists cocked, waiting to pound a luckless Cha'Tel'Quessir rival. Bro gritted his teeth till his jaw ached. His pulse was loud enough to drown out the laughter.


That was her voice, her name, her breath on the back of Bro's neck, teasing him while Varnnet flexed his muscles. Desperate, Bro flailed an arm, expecting disaster, finding only air beside him.

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